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cash n carry

Pub: Sydney Morning Herald

Pubdate: 22-Oct-2009

Edition: First

Section: News and Features

Subsection: Opinion

Page: 15

Wordcount: 825

Sartor’s attempt at foreplay comes across as smarm


THE final appearance in The Wire of Senator Clay “Sheeeeeeeeeit” Davis is a masterpiece of political screenwriting. The senator is on the stand, defending corruption charges. He answers his attorney’s Dorothy Dixer with a four-minute solo riff of such righteousness, pathos and humour that he is instantly recast as an unsung Robin Hood. “Damn sure it went into my bank account … records? … My world is strictly cash’n’carry. I am Clay Davis. My people need something, they know where to find me.”

Neither Frank Sartor nor Graham Richardson reached quite these dizzy oratorical heights on the witness stand in Rooms 814-5 this week (and yes, two rooms were needed), one floor up from Parliament’s waratah-ugly fountain. But with Sartor’s skills and Richo’s slippery grip on his memory (“a diary? … no, the diary that I keep … is much more up here than down there”), we had the makings of a good yarn.

The spirit, though – the attempts to play the room like a fiddle, the reliance on the way stuffing 50-odd humans into a laminate-lined shoebox brings out the universal chimpanzee, the limelight-wallowing, the greasepaint self-pity and the patent (you might say frank) narcissism – the spirit was vintage Wire.

Take Sartor’s female-baiting. Assiduously smarming anyone with power (like the inquiry’s chairwoman, Jennifer Gardiner, or party colleagues Amanda Fazio and Kayee Griffin, both primed with their own Dorothy Dixers), Sartor aimed his pea-gun safely at minorities.

The Greens MLC Sylvia Hale, for example, had to smile through four lots of “why are you so horrible, Sylvia?” and two of “go on, be nice, Sylvia”. The planning consultant Sonja Lyneham came in for “pushy” three times – including one “pushy as two semitrailers” – and a “hands up in the audience who have met Sonja Lyneham”, which was designed to implicate the room in the sledging that followed.

Maybe that’s OK. It gets a laugh, although the “hands up” jape had most of us staring at our shoes.

Accompanied, however, by Sartor’s constant references to how “so many people out there hate me” and his deliberate black-is-white implication that while developers may hate him for his too-principled stance, everyone hates Sylvia because she is simply “horrible” (when vice versa is more like it), such antics are clearly meant as softeners; manipulatory foreplay.

The other purpose, of course, is diversionary, based on the local custom that planning, like politics, is less about what you stand for than what you can get away with. I believe Sartor when he says he’s not corrupt. His crime, rather, was to preside over changes that allow an already corruption-friendly system to become more so.

I also believe the Badgerys Creek inquiry will find little of substance. Of all the land dealings in the state, McGurk had to touch the one with no rezoning and no on-selling. Why do you think the Government let the inquiry happen?

A failed inquiry is worse than no inquiry. A failed inquiry erects a screen of we-told-you-so innocence behind which business as usual can flourish. This is getting away with it, a four-year-old’s approach every bit as childish as the developers’ collective threat to take their bats and balls – or bats, anyway, which at least we know they have – to Melbourne.

I say goodonyer. Go. Because the biggest difference between Melbourne and Sydney, they’ll find, is that Melbourne has rules and applies them – which is why Melbourne is not only more engaging than Sydney, but also more viable.

What we really need, instead of a weakling upper house inquiry, is a royal commission, looking at the entire planning system and whether zoning is something we’re old enough to handle.

Land-use zoning, the Canadian criminologist Mariana Valverde said in Sydney recently, evolved from the law of nuisance. But where nuisance is retrospective, local and subjective, zoning is prospective, universal and abstract. Zoning tries to generalise from simple neighbourliness to a coloured map of land uses, ordained in advance. This makes it look like science.

In many places, zoning is now reviled as an instrument of colonisation. But it took Sydney to wield it as an instrument of cronyism. Here – one young listener (not your humble reporter) told a shocked Valverde – “you just pay someone enough and whammo, your land is rezoned”.

This goes to our presumed right to speculate, so that every ageing couple on the western fringe has already factored their personal rezoning into their super.

And it’s why Sartor’s look-at-me-Mummy 3A legislation is such bad law, because it encourages random rezonings like those that took Catherine Hill Bay and Huntlee from list-bottom to list-top. It’s bad for the land, and bad for our rep.

Well might Richo argue he simply “educates” his clients. Well might the Mediches insist they hand over their bulging money bags, sit through tedious, $13,000 ALP dinners, with nothing but altruism in their hearts.

But when the game gets too grubby even for developers, like when the hookers started abandoning the Cross, sheeeeeeeeeit, you know it’s time.


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