Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Rebirth of a Premier? Unlikely
It’s only a week but already I’m over politicians who, like so many stolen Mercs in a Five Dock car yard, are instantly rebirthed the minute they make leadership. A handful of Hail Marys and we’re meant to believe the very sins and peccadilloes by which they scaled the gory heights have fallen away, leaving said pollie as pink and glistening in the new dawn as Paris Hilton after a peel. Well sure. The priest might swallow it, but that’s just another reason to keep our frocked friends tucked safely into their little wooden boxes.
Weird though, isn’t it, how in this most fly-blown of governments it’s become the thing to trot your intellectual cred. Maybe it’s the Bob Carr legacy – you know, all that civil war stuff designed to suggest we were in good hands while the state quietly rotted beneath.
Nathan Rees, you recall, came in on Paradise Lost and went out on ethics. In between, though, he was as wooden as a ventriloquist’s dummy, and for all the good his IQ did us he may as well have flunked preschool. Kristina Kerscher Keneally, who really is a ventriloquist’s dummy, reversed the order – ethics first, then Beelzebub – but the gist was the same.
Inside a day we were seeing her like a little gardenia in her first communion dress, and hearing her described as a “trained theologian” – although whether half a PhD would cut the mustard in many theological circles remains moot.
Also on day one (and hard on Tony Abbott’s precedent) she invoked Catholicism’s constant-cleansing principle. “Today is where we begin again,” she told the ABC, and you can see why she might want to. But by their fruits ye shall know them. As ye sow, so shall ye reap, and so forth. Some things don’t disappear when you exfoliate and KKK’s decisions as planning minister will be with us a lot longer than she stays looking pink.
Her second press release promised to accelerate rezonings and approvals. She wasn’t wrong. In 14 ministerial months Keneally made no fewer than 422 determinations, mostly under the despised Part 3A legislation. Of these, three were refusals (including Currawong – which has since been sold anyway to the developers – and the Double Bay Stamford). Everything else – 419 proposals with more than 10,000 public submissions between them – was approved. Tick, tick, tick.
A sandmine today, tick. A whopping new marina tomorrow, tick. A bloody great office park on Tuesday, tick. She must have been ticking like a time-bomb, more than one major project a day, including weekends, Good Friday and Christmas.
And a sooty old time she had of it, communion dress or no, approving more than 30 new or expanded coalmines across the state and doubling the by-road capacity of the Port Kembla Coal Terminal from 5.2 million to 10 million tonnes per year. In Parliament Keneally defended this “streamlining” of coalmine approvals, saying: “The NSW economy received more than $500 million in royalties from mining”.
I know, she never said she was green. “Social justice” is the only non-ecclesiastical mast to which Keneally will publicly nail her colours. Social justice is her core personal belief and core political commitment. Clearly, too, it guided her planning ministry.
Social justice for whom? Well, for all those poor developers wearied and worn down by debate and public outcry. For Stockland ($131,000 donated to the ALP), with their $200 million takeover of sweet little Vincentia. For Star City Casino ($380,000 to the ALP), with its jagged new 300-room hotel and 550 extra car spaces in the heart of Pyrmont’s heritage precinct. And for the Pitt Town developer Keith Johnson ($440,000 to the ALP), with his $108 million mixed-use marina-with-heliport at Lake Macquarie. Tick, tick, tick.
Justice for Lend Lease, with its 800 new Darling Harbour car spaces (just what the city needs, more cars). For Jose de la Vega’s $400 million office park, spot-zoned by Keneally on prime agricultural land at Albion Park. For supporters (like gun activist Lisa Milat, sister-in-law of Ivan) of the 1000-hectare Southern Highlands Shooting Complex in conservation forest. And for the RTA, with its wilful and wasteful Iron Cove Bridge duplication. Tick, tick, tick.
Justice too for those mega-mall developers heartsore from having to disprove economic harm to local shops. Keneally’s draft centres policy promises to remove such protections, to ease spot-rezoning – as peddled by our friendly Urban Task Force – and to deliver “merit approvals” (code for flexibility, as in bending over backwards).
You can’t help feeling her mental model for NSW is something like her home town, Toledo, Ohio, where edge cities are rampant, all transport is road transport and even the malls are dying from excess competition. Keneally’s preferment was a dark day for feminism, since no one’s pretending she got there under her own steam.
But developer donations are just the visible tip of the problem. If, with her legendary cleaning skills, KKK can thoroughly disinfect this putrid state, dispelling its now international taint (to wit, Francesco Forgione’s fingering in Rome last week of Five Dock as a top Mafia money laundry) then, like the Wise Men, we’ll all attend the rebirth.
ILLUSTRATION: Edd Aragon.