Pre­mier who never was set­tles the score

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

In 2009 an em­bat­tled Nathan Rees warned that, should he not be NSW pre­mier by the end of that day, his suc­ces­sor would be noth­ing but “a pup­pet of Ed­die Obeid and Joe Tripodi”. This marked a de­ci­sive mo­ment in the dis­in­te­gra­tion and de­gen­er­a­tion of NSW La­bor.

Rees, who had suc­ceeded Mor­ris Iemma 12 months ear­lier, in­deed did not see out that day as pre­mier. His speech had an elec­tri­fy­ing im­pact that con­tin­ues to res­onate.

Kristina Ke­neally, hand­picked by Obeid, Tripodi and Ian Mac­don­ald to re­place Rees, tried to re­as­sure vot­ers that she was “no­body’s pup­pet” and “no­body’s girl”.

For­mer min­is­ter Carl Scully, in this self-pub­lished mem­oir, Set­ting the Record Straight, pulls back the scab on these un­happy events and the pus oozes out.

This is an im­por­tant book that de­serves a wide au­di­ence be­cause he is pre­pared to tell the truth about the de­crepit state of NSW La­bor in the post-Bob Carr era. Its pub­li­ca­tion is timely ahead of next week­end’s La­bor state con­fer­ence.

The au­thor tells me that the party had to atone for al­low­ing “crim­i­nals” to ef­fec­tively ap­point three pre­miers fol­low­ing Carr’s re­tire­ment in 2005. Scully is re­fer­ring to sub-fac­tion king­mak­ers Obeid from the right and Mac­don­ald from the left. Ap­point­ing the pre­mier, one ob­server tells me, was like the mafia loung­ing around in the back of a greasy pizza par­lour in New York, di­vid­ing the spoils among the made men (and women).

Scully is un­fair to Iemma, who was el­e­vated to the premier­ship with the sup­port of Carr and the im­pri­matur of Mark Ar­bib, then NSW La­bor sec­re­tary. His Sus­sex Street suc­ces­sor, Karl Bi­tar, played a de­ci­sive role in smooth­ing a path for Rees to become pre­mier in 2008. Rees was ousted be­cause he sacked Tripodi and Mac­don­ald from cabi­net. With­out Obeid, Ke­neally would never have become pre­mier. She re­turned Mac­don­ald to the cabi­net.

It is true, how­ever, that Iemma was not hun­gry enough for the job and Rees never ad­e­quately filled it. Iemma, de­spite Scully la­belling him “the mas­ter mum­bler”, did win re­elec­tion in 2007. This should not be dis­counted. Ke­neally, how­ever, in 2011 presided over the worst elec­tion re­sult for La­bor in more than a cen­tury. These dis­as­trous years are now un­der­scored by for­mer min­is­ters oc­cu­py­ing jail cells. Others may soon join them.

Scully is not an im­par­tial ob­server of these events. He had long as­pired to become pre­mier. His sights were set on suc­ceed­ing Carr af­ter the lat­ter’s stel­lar elec­toral suc­cess, win­ning two land­slides in 1999 and 2003. But Scully was blind­sided when Carr an­nounced his re­tire­ment in 2005.

“I im­me­di­ately felt an enor­mous surge of elec­tric­ity through my body,” Scully writes about the mo­ment he heard the news. “My time had now come. I felt over­whelmed with emo­tion and ex­cite­ment. I was ready. I was go­ing to be pre­mier.” Flanked by his fam­ily, he held a press con­fer­ence and an­nounced he was run-

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