Tuesday, 13 March 2012

HE HAD HER AT HELLO (Fin Review March 5)

It’s a marriage made in Labor heaven. The Master of Spin hooks up with the Mistress of the Backroom Deal. Two needy, lonely hearts, who in embracing, compensate for each others glaring deficiencies. As Renee Zellweger said to Tom Cruise in chick-flick ‘Jerry MaGuire’: “You complete me.”

For Julia Gillard, her debilitating inability to connect with the public will now be handed over to the man of the mellifluous voice and head-line grabbing soundbites, while her complete lack of political nous will be more than compensated for by the wily former Premier’s almost canine-like knack of sniffing every nuance floating on the political breeze.

For Bob Carr, who has fantasised about this job but was never prepared to put in the hard yards to earn it, he now has the queen of the late night negotiations doing the dirty work for him, leaving him free to pester the newsroom in the wee hours of the morning before he “shoots off” overseas. Of course, the fact that he is able to waltz into one of the cushiest, most high-profile gigs in Australia without actually having broken into a sweat says all you need to know about the political quagmire that is our current federal cabinet.

Bob Carr is the architect, interior designer and chief salesman of one of the least attractive governments in NSW history; the eyesore on the political landscape that was the 1995-2010 Labor government. His record in government is woeful, with Sydney’s infrastructure shamefully neglected during his decade in power. Now, as well as wallowing in a highly-paid job with Macquarie Bank, he is an avid student and blogger on foreign affairs. This is probably the first time in our history that this most coveted and critical ministerial position has been awarded to someone simply because it’s their hobby. It's like putting the builder of Redfern’s notorious, recently-demolished Block onto the Architectural Council just because his favourite TV show is 'Grand Designs.'

Carr's 1995 "written in blood" pre-election promise to resign if he didn't halve hospital waiting lists within twelve months was as brazen as Gillard’s "there will be no carbon tax under the government I lead." The waiting lists soared, while Carr unblushingly stayed put. But where Gillard has been brought to her knees by her foolish pre-election promise, Carr’s mastery of spin saw him slip out unscathed. No wonder she’s a fan.

Similarly, his eleventh hour promise to scrap M4 and M5 tolls - a commitment that saw two crucial Liberal seats in Western Sydney fall to Labor and thereby put Carr in Macquarie street by one seat - was abandoned straight after that same election. According to former Roads Minister Michael Knight, in Marilyn Dodkin’s ‘Bob Carr: The Reluctant Leader’: “The toll was a big mega-example of a broken promise. It wasn’t the toll per se that was hurting us, it was the character trait of breaking promises and of being untrustworthy and shifty.” Sound familiar?

The current federal government have earned themselves a formidable reputation for grandiose promises that are casually dumped into the ‘too-hard’ basket post-election (last weeks axing of solar rebate springs to mind, along with the ETS, cash-for-clunkers, grocery watch and so on) but Gillard and Rudd are mere babes in the wood when it comes to Bob Carr's track record of ditching promises and avoiding commitments. A master of timing, Carr sensed precisely the right moment to jump before the public realized that the Good Ship NSW was riddled with holes.

Carr and Treasurer Michael Egan were the Gillard and Swan of their day when it came to lazily relying on "taxing the boom" to account for supposed sound economic management. For Carr, Sydney's 1990's real estate bonanza provided a never-ending cascade of ready cash. Quick to capitalize on it, the pair introduced the unpopular NSW Land Tax (decried at the time as a wealth tax, death tax, investment tax and envy tax all rolled into one) followed by the greedy and short-lived Vendor Tax. According to Dodkins, “Carr was seen as a Robin Hood, taking from the rich to give to the poor. He revelled in (it).” In much the same way, Gillard and Swan are revelling in the promise of milking the resources boom and re-distributing the nation’s wealth through the mining and carbon taxes. Wayne Swan’s recent attack on “tycoons” makes it clear that he, too, views himself in the Robin Hood camp. Julia, presumably, will be happy to play Maid Marion.

Already, Carr has put to good use his booming voice and new-found relevance to spruik Julia’s favourite obsession. “The horror of an Abbott-led government,” was his first classic sound grab, eagerly lapped up the newsroom.

No wonder he had her at ‘hello’.

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