A former NSW politician telephoned me back in June saying: “Did you see that James Packer is planning to build a casino at the Barangaroo site at Walsh Bay?”
“Yes,” I replied, “ but there is no way will he get approval. There is already a casino in Darling Harbour – Star City – and it has exclusive rights to be the State’s only casino until 2019. Anyway, how can you have two casinos facing each other on either side of Darling Harbour? It’s a nonsense.”
There was a long silence before he replied: “All that may be true, but I can tell you that it’s a done deal. James Packer is going to get a casino as part of the Barangaroo development.”
To my eternal shame, I didn’t write it. Why not? I remained deeply sceptical of Packer’s chances of success and I thought that the fervent holy rollers in the Liberal and National parties would dismiss the proposal.
How wrong I was. The Coalition has grabbed the Packer plan with both hands and the so-called Opposition, i.e. the NSW Labor Party, is on side too.
Shadow planning minister Luke Foley, self-styled leader of the NSW parliamentary “left” and an ally of Anthony “Albo” Albanese, point-blank refused to condemn the Packer project on the ABC’s Stateline and wouldn’t even call for a public tender for the second casino licence which is being gifted to Packer. Foley has fallen into line … again. As he always does.
Meanwhile, big fat cheques and bonuses will be on their way to the lobbyists who made the deal possible. They are Mark Arbib, former Labor senator, former Sports Minister in the Gillard Government and former general secretary of the NSW ALP; and Karl Bitar, former national secretary of the Federal ALP and Arbib’s immediate successor as general secretary of the NSW ALP.
Arbib, once a reliable source of political intelligence of the American Embassy, and Bitar, are both leading members of the general staff of the dominant right-wing faction called Centre Unity, and both are now on the payroll of gambling tsar, James Packer.
Consider the implications: two leading figures in contemporary ALP politics leave their political positions and take up highly-paid jobs to promote gambling, a regressive, socially damaging, futile and impoverishing form of so-called “recreation”.
A party with any political principles or self-respect would terminate their party membership for promoting the addiction of gambling and being in the employ of a committed reactionary like James Packer. That won’t happen. In today’s ALP they will probably give them Life Membership.
GRATTAN ‘FESSES UP
Following Julia Gillard’s memorable parliamentary attack on Tony Abbott’s sexism and misogyny, the whole of the Canberra Press Gallery condemned her and not him.
It was a moment of truth about the gallery – they are a flock of sheep who follow the leader (usually News Ltd).
One of the gallery’s longest embedded journalists, Michelle Grattan, who criticised Ms Gillard in The Age and on the ABC has now changed her tune.
In a column headlined, “Gillard stonewalls opponents”, (October 26), she wrote:
“It looks like being a happier Christmas for the Prime Minister than either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott might have expected.”
She stated: “Since then, Abbott has been forced further and further onto the back foot in the gender wars. The culmination, but not the end, of Abbott’s gender trouble came with the PM’s misogyny speech, which has turned into a landmark moment for her.
“While press gallery commentators (including this writer) were critical, Gillard benefited from that speech on two fronts: it struck a chord with many women and it brought to the fore her feisty fighting side.”
Ms Grattan has had the courage to admit her earlier verdict was off the mark. But not a peep (bleat?) from any of the others.
A FOREST LEGACY
An anniversary of major historical significance should not pass unnoticed. Thirty years ago, on October 26, 1982, the NSW Cabinet of Premier Neville Wran deliberated for eight hours on the subject of rainforests.
The battle between environmental protesters and the logging industry was well underway in regional NSW, particularly on the north and south coasts.
Their clashes had a centrifugal affect, drawing in the media, the metropolitan middle class, the legal profession, academics and trade unionists.
At the conclusion of the marathon Cabinet a statement was issued declaring all iconic rainforests covering 89,000 hectares would be protected indefinitely as national parks. Alongside the rain forest protection policy, Cabinet approved an industry adjustment fund for timber industry workers.
At the following year’s NSW Labor Party conference in 1983 Wran told delegates at the Sydney Town Hall:
“I know it was not everyone who thought it was a great thing to save the rainforests, but I’ll make this prediction today. When we are all dead and buried and our children’s children are reflecting on what was the best thing the Labor Government did in the 20th century, they will come up with the answer: we saved the rainforests.”
Former education minister Rodney Cavalier has written extensively on this historic event.
Wran’s Cabinet victory was long in coming. At the May 1976 ALP conference, months before he won office, a motion to protect endangered rainforests was lost by 306 votes to 264.
By 1982 Wran felt strong enough to take on the union bureaucracy in Sussex Street and bring it into the pro-environment age. He saw the possibility of future electoral support for the ALP if the party tapped the radical and growing pro-environment movement.
Wran built a bridge to environmentalists then derisorily called “greenies”.
Today’s NSW Labor Party bureaucracy is busily wrecking that legacy.
This year’s NSW Labor Party conference was devoted to two days of green-bashing. Speakers from the right and so-called “left” queued at the microphone to denounce the Greens. I note that it is a posture that hasn’t influenced the ALP in the ACT.
The architect of this absurd strategy? Who else but Federal minister Anthony “Albo” Albanese, MP for the inner-Sydney seat of Grayndler who is fearful of the growing Green Party electoral challenge to his factional power base.
From Wran to “Albo”/ “Robbo” in 30 years. What a time line.