ICAC, Baird and corruption par excellence

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Dr Evan Jones analyses the NSW Baird Government's performance to date and finds incompetence, corruption and prolific abuse of power culminating with the latest ICAC scandal. 

NSW PREMIER Mike Baird is a criminal.

Never has a government plundered the public domain so voraciously.

And who built the public domain in yesteryear? Hardly radicals. Some “progressives” but mostly far-sighted conservatives.

Lunching with an ex-student who works in the State bureaucracy, I referred to my accumulated evidence that there is now firmly embedded in the Australian banking sector a culture of corruption. And that that culture is perpetuated with impunity.

He noted, well what does that mean for a State now run by an ex-banker (and having an ex-banker as Treasury Secretary)? There may be a useful head for figures but to what ends is such talent directed?

For corruption par excellence, there is the conveniently amended ICAC Act in 2015 ahead of "Operation Spicer" donations findings released yesterday. The amendment precludes corruption findings on donations law breaches – a counter-intuitive move since breaches of donations law are intrinsically corrupt. Absurdly, the amendent also means charges may only be laid against public officials — those running for office and party officials were placed outside this purview.  

There is also the twovotesforbusiness. What the …? Alex Greenwich, MLA for Sydney, notes in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) the contempt held for the public by the instigators:

But business will now have two votes in the City of Sydney while residents only have one, because the government says business contributes more in rates and representation at the ballot box should be based on wealth.

The government's other reasoning is that the average household has two people - so each business should have two votes. This really is clutching at straws. Resident voters do not represent their household, they represent themselves.

It is possible that these spivs copied this absurdity from the practises in the City of London — that unaccountable state within the state of the United Kingdom, but which dictates its interests to the latter’s government. Nicholas Shaxson’s masterly book Treasure Islands (ch.12) provides the background to this modern-day travesty.

The masses are finally revolting

In my decades of reading the Sydney Morning Herald never has a Premier been such a sustained object of outrage in the letters page.

And here is an SMH editorial lamenting Baird’s declining “popularity” with muffled criticism. A reader, Mark Horn, has it exactly right, 29 August:

The Herald criticises Mr Baird's selling of his "difficult reforms": "Tree clearing for the much-needed light rail … was handled poorly"; "Land grabs for WestConnex have created an impression of poor process", "On council mergers … the government failed to sell the reforms efficiently".

I suggest that in each case there are problems that go well beyond "handling", "impressions" and "selling". A focus on these marketing elements distracts attention from the substance of the issues.

The problem, says the editorial, is that Baird has failed to sell his agenda. What?

Tell it to the Haberfield home-owners who have been brutally dispossessed and whose carefully constructed domestic nirvana is gone forever.

Tell it to the women threatened by domestic violence who have failed to find sympathetic refuge. Oh, some of them are dead, murdered. Water off a duck’s back.

So much for Christian charity.

Faith, hope and charity

Says church going Mike:

Jesus is my hope!

When he was elected in March 2015, Baird claimed that the voters chose “hope over fear”.

Perhaps the voters had in mind too many rotten apples in Labor’s barrel. Whatever then, the voters are now terrified. Hope is long gone.

Baird has done one decent thing — the extension of the light rail service on the old goods line in Inner West Sydney from its temporary terminus at Lilifield to Dulwich Hill. The extended line has been successful beyond expectations.

Baird has also introduced lock-out laws to stem late night alcohol-fueled violence. Bizarrely, some Baird opponents see the lock-out laws as his most objectionable act.

Unlike many of my inner city comrades, I’m not with Baird on the blanket cancellation of the greyhound industry in NSW, with most National Party members playing dead, oblivious to their constituents. Why not go the whole hog and cancel horseracing? No more non-performing horses to the knackeries.

Everything, especially urban land, has its price

There’s the electricity infrastructure. There are the colonial sandstone edifices. There’s Bidura, the Children’s Court on Glebe Point Road (high rise on the way). There’s Long Bay Gaol, very nicely located for mega development, on the way.

The Powerhouse Museum. A scandal. Nothing to do with bringing good stuff to Parramatta at all. Parramatta as dumping ground? If Baird cares about cultural life in Parramatta he should issue a moratorium on high-rise immediately.

There’s Sirius. All this stuff about brutalist architecture is just so much palaver. I love Sirius.

This from that monumental air-head (to put it kindly), Dominic Perrottet:

My own view of the Sirius building is that it's about as sexy as the car park at my local supermarket.

Before Sirius comes down, the wretched UTS tower should be an object of attention.

Pirrottet, as previously posited, is a joke and dangerous. Sirius is being pulled down because of the per square metre hyper-value currently being flushed down the toilet on public housing tenants.

The key element neatly hidden by the Baird wreckers is that Sirius was compensation to the local community for the earlier destruction of its habitat and community. As letter writer Adrian Bell noted, SMH on 16 August:

The excellent series of articles by Elizabeth Farrelly documents the vandal-like and rapacious destruction of Sydney's and NSW's heritage and historical culture, such as the Sirius building, for transitory cash returns to private interests. … perhaps some small credit should be offered to its main instigator, the NSW Minister for Planning and Environment at the time, Paul Landa MLA.

Landa decided the existing tenants had the right to remain where they had grown up for generations. Thus the Sirius was built as much as a social statement of value as an architectural project.

Public housing. No public housing site or proposal is safe. Serco, that appalling firm, and pushed by that appalling ex-Greiner functionary, Gary Sturgess, is on the prowl. Prisoners, asylum seekers, public housing tenants — what’s the difference? Money for jam in managing and manipulating human suffering.

Then there’s the public schools fiasco. Ultimo, Homebush. Schools are placed stupidly where there should be more high rise. Let our children eat cake. The private schools, stashed with taxpayer cash, are ready and waiting (unless your kids are of the problematic kind).

But the ultimate crime is the mooted privatisation of the Land & Property Unit. Labor’s privatisation of the State Lottery was crazy. This idea is diabolically criminal. And stupid beyond belief. Why is the business community not beating down Baird’s door to tell him to lay off this asset of fundamental significance to commercial and personal security.

Technical and further education ...

There’s the dismantling of TAFE. What a scandal.

In a chance encounter with an another ex-student, now in Premier & Cabinet, said fellow claimed that TAFE was inefficient.

Well, that’s the nature of the beast. And one doesn’t cure inefficiency by hiking fees through the roof, cancelling courses and sacking swathes of teachers. And don’t talk about private for-profit colleges — well they’re a model of efficiency in the rip-off stakes.

Then there’s the mooted sacking of specialised teachers in prisons. Has Baird thought through the implications?

It’s an ideological thing. Nothing but ideology. As in every department.

Fragmenting the (unionised) public railway system

By all means give the long-suffering North-Western Sydney population railway access. But a privatised cut-down Metro is not the way to go. And the pushing of a privatised Metro on a key section of the the Bankstown line, all for mega line-side high rise, is a disgrace. Truly whacko. The adverse “externalities”, supposedly a mainstream economics affectation, will be long with us.

I took the train from Redfern recently. No ticket-seller; no-one to ask advice, to be sociable. It was the end of an era. No paper tickets on any transport — the domain given over wholly to Opal (commercial-in-confidence). No consideration for those not integrated into the digital age. Buggar off, grannie — you’re past your use-by date.

I needed help recently at Central Railway on a weekend when taking a bus replacement to Wollongong. I live in Sydney, English is my native language and I have multiple degrees — and I can’t work it out. Central is now a forbidding place — in spite of an information counter (albeit with long lines). The hi-tech timetable panel is flawed. The platform indicators are often unreadable. The airport line is off the map. All vehicles for raising the panic index.

And what’s a mickey-mouse light rail doing in centre city? South-eastern suburban residents didn’t ask for it either. And we all lament the loss of the Alison Road trees for the sake of a private interest.

Behind the scenes and unarticulated, getting rid of (unionised) workers seems to be a major imperative for these piecemeal changes. And, of course, upping private company access to public services, the profits from which go straight overseas.

WestDisConnex and the council massacres

Then there’s WestConnex. Nuff said. Criminal.

As Greens MLC David Shoebridge has emphasised, a landmark piece of legislation was passed by the Wran Government in 1979 — the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act. The developer sector, with bipartisan connivance, has been pushing to emasculate the Act ever since. Baird has merely upped the pace.

Behind the quelling of dissent or resistance is the totalitarian destruction of local councils.

Baird has used as vehicle for council demolition, corrupt in itself, the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, IPART. Convenient for Baird, the man overseeing this rort is former federal bureaucrat Peter Boxall .

Following a stint in the ideologically-driven IMF, Boxall has a PhD in economics from the University of Chicago, under some of the “driest” economists on the planet. For a man devoted to the virtues of the private sector and the “free market”, he has a remarkable affinity for taxpayer-funded occupations.

Perhaps tired of Canberra winters and now overseeing the regulation of utility pricing, Boxall opined that there was no longer any need for it in NSW, as the market was now desirably competitive.

This in June 2013:

We have formed the view that competition in the NSW retail electricity and gas markets now protects customers against market power by offering more choices and better price and service outcomes. We consider an effectively functioning competitive market offers customers the best protection from higher than efficient prices.

It can also deliver better customer outcomes in the long term, including better ‘value for money’ service through reduced costs and/or innovation. In short, competition is a superior way of driving these improvements compared to regulation.


Strange then that electric power utilities, cartel-like, took the regulator to court for the “onerous” terms dictated to them by the regulator, and have walked away in February 2016, courtesy of the Australian Competition Tribunal, with the imprimatur to raise their prices collectively. Competition? I don’t think so.

Strange also that domestic gas consumers, industrial/commercial as well as retail, find that they are facing higher prices than customers of gas exporters from Australia. What company would set up shop in Australia under these colonial-cringe conditions?

Having dispensed with the onerous task of regulating utility prices, Boxall could thus devote his energies to playing the front man for Baird’s agenda of dismantling the councils. The mantra has been that council amalgamations will generate much needed efficiencies. It was and is a lie. Nobody pushing council amalgamations believes it. Will Boxall get a performance bonus for his pains?

I love this letter in the SMH, 16 May, from Noelene Haslett, Tumbarumba Shire Councilor 2003-08:

Tumbarumba Council was deemed fit for the future, is the winner of the Bluett Award for excellence in council administration, has a community fully behind no amalgamation, and was recommended not to be merged by the consultant, and yet will be forced to amalgamate with a council over 80 kilometres away. Totally absurd.

Oh wait. Tumbarumba is not in a marginal electorate. Mike Baird, beware of the folk from the mountains. We will not be moved.

Efficiencies my arse. The problem, of course, with Chicago economics is that evidence is irrelevant. We have the theory, and it is true a priori.


Then there’s Barangaroo. Apart from the diabolical aesthetics, truly criminal. It is staggering that O’Farrell and Baird got away with it.

In France, public officials and elected politicians are hauled before courts for this sort of thing. Indeed, the prosecution of such people (past President Nicolas Sarkozy as Exhibit A) is a major industry in France. Unfortunately, politics being politics, too many are given a minor fine and suspended sentence (peine avec sursis) but the principle is marvellous. Let’s import the practice here, and haul Baird before the courts.

Or haul Baird before ICAC? Baird and his Ministers are not personal beneficiaries but they are willfully handing over public assets and public funds for select private benefit.

The belated issuing of ICAC’s Spicer Report on the shenanigans associated with NSW Liberal Party election funding has Baird acknowledging “a very sad chapter” in NSW political history. But he wants to sweep it under the carpet as yesterday’s problem. He claims that his former colleagues have already paid “a very heavy price”.

Baird cares less about the principle than the fact that his colleagues and the Liberal Party machine were caught by ICAC’s investigations. Frankly, his ongoing sale of public assets and dismantling of public services, to date pursued under veneer of legitimacy, does much greater long term harm than does the electoral funding rorting — though the latter may see his undoing.

Dismiss Baird post-haste

To save the public domain from any more pillage, Baird needs to be dismissed post-haste. The survival of the commonweal can’t wait for an election (and a biased media that will accompany it).

I admit to being converted to bringing in the NSW Governor to do the job. After all, David Hurley must be looking for something to do. His military training must have him itching for action. Can I suggest that he declare war on Mike Baird?

Of course I have been previously totally opposed to the precedent cases. We all know about Gough Whitlam. But there’s also the maverick NSW Premier Jack Lang, dismissed by the then Governor in May 1932. Another political coup, like that which brought down Whitlam.

At the risk of being called unprincipled, I think it’s time to re-activate the measure. These are desperate times.

With due deference to Gough:

“Well may we say ‘God save Mike Baird’, because nothing will save the State on his watch.” 

Dr Evan Jones is a retired political economist. 

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