Friday, February 15, 2008

Bad news for Mick Costa

The corporate raiders of the world have a very nasty case of indigestion after overindulging massively for a decade or so, and that's very bad news for Mick Costa, Minister Representing Merchant Banks, in the NSW Labor government.

Costa wants to sell the state's electricity network to corporate raiders, probably with Macquarie Bank in the mix in some way, but as a report in today's Sydney Morning Herald points out, the raiders have a bad attack of gas (for which we all have to suffer the consequences) and have lost their appetite.

The global credit crunch makes loans a lot more expensive, and it will probably be difficult to find a buyer for NSW electricity system, big-end-of-town adviser Standard and Poor's says.

This is extremely bad news for Mick Costa, who is reportedly planning to follow former Labor premier Bob Carr into a financial career. He may have left his run too late. Carr jumped while the bulls were in full cry, but whether Costa will be of much use to his banker mates in the new circumstances is questionable.

Costa is cracking hardy, saying: "Standard and Poor's provided yet more evidence that electricity was an increasingly risky business from which the government should exit".

Hang on a minute, isn't electricity an essential service? Costa seems to be saying it's okay to hand over this essential service to a company that's silly enough to invest in a risky industry. What happens when the company that makes such a bad business decision goes bust?

Costa also repeated the claim that the power generators would not be sold. As Bernie Riordan has already pointed out, leasing the facilities to private companies for 99 years or so amounts to selling them, because at the end of that time the leasors would own any improvements.

All in all, things are not looking good for Costa's jump to the big end of town. Better go now, Mick, if the offer's still on the table. It may not be for long. I hope that doesn't mean we get stuck with you.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Days of Hope

So much has been written and spoken already about yesterday’s formal apology by the Australian Parliament to the stolen generations it has been impossible to absorb and reflect on it all in the way I would like. This is a gift that will keep on giving, its meaning and repercussions long unfolding. We must hope, and ensure, these will be overwhelmingly positive.

That it was a tremendously emotional and important day, both happy and painful, for so many was plain to see from the expressions on faces, particularly those of the 100 indigenous representatives and members of the Stolen Generations invited as special guests to the opening of the new Parliament and to witness the long wished-for apology. And who will soon forget the sight of all those rapt, attentive and finally joyful faces of the people gathered in front of screens at countless sites around the country: in schools, public places from Redfern to Bourke, and at my workplace in Sydney, where I watched the speeches and ceremony in the company of dozens of Aboriginal colleagues.

That it was a political victory and I would say, in the circumstances, a very big political victory, is undeniable. And political victories are important. When the Bringing Them Home report included in its recommendations, an apology, who would have thought that it would have taken more than 10 years for such a simple act to occur? That it has now finally taken place is because there was clear support among a majority of Australians for an apology to take place and because it was patently evident that while it would cost the new Labor government almost nothing to make it, it was unthinkable not to do so when it would mean so much to Aboriginal Australians and be an indispensable part of their healing.

Of course, the much more difficult and complex work now begins. Kevin Rudd’s inclusion of the Leader of the Opposition in his new bipartisan approach to addressing the social and economic needs of Aboriginal people was a master stroke and will help undercut any party political backlash from the significant minority of Australians who think quite enough has been done to help Aborigines and who disagreed with the apology. Many Aboriginal people I spoke with today were very upset and angry at the response in Parliament by the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson.

As johnQ on the ABC website blog said of his speech:

All Brendan Nelson had to say was that he endorsed Rudd's speech. Instead he long-windedly indulged in justification of harmful actions taken, a dismissal of
impacts, a dismissal of any responsibility, a dismissal of any opportunity to ever be compensated in any way, an attack on Aborigines and cheap political point-scoring on Howard's controversial interventions - effectively seeking to undo the apology. Could there have been a more disingenuous apology?

But I reminded each of these people whose anger I shared that in a day of meaningful symbols perhaps one of the the most beautiful and hopeful was the presentation of a gift to the Australian Parliament from an indigenous woman representing the Stolen Generations, a gift of a coolamon, the carrying vessels generally made by Aboriginal men from a hardwood such as mallee and traditionally used by the women to carry water, fruits, nuts, as well as to cradle babies.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Time's up for the bankers' friend

Breakfast has been a bit quiet at my place for the past week or so. The once deafening crowing of the neocons from the opinion pages of the papers has become the odd cluck here and there.

Minnie Devine, for instance, was reduced to writing about house renovations a day or so ago. Albrechtson and Henderson churned out some ho-hum stuff about the federal government's proposed apology to indigenous Australians. (Yes, we know it's symbolism that doesn't mean much without real policies to back it up, but on Australia Day some at least of the neocons seemed to think symbolism was quite important. Have they really lost interest in symbolism since then or is it just this particular piece of symbolism that sticks in their throats?)

Of the other neocons, Sheridan seems to be missing in inaction (perhaps on leave) and a politically sobered up Shanahan is off to greener pastures in New York, apparently.

Things brightened up this morning with NSW Labor Party president Bernie Riordan's call for Treasurer Mick Costa to resign now, rather than next year, when Costa's fat lifetime parliamentary pension falls due after eight years in Bullshit Castle (sometimes called the NSW Parliament).

Riordan, also secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, said Costa had told him he would retire from the gas house next year and offered him his parliamentary seat. That shows pretty much what the bankers' mate thinks about consulting the ranks of the Labor Party on such matters. Costa apparently thinks he owns the seat and it's his to dispose of.

Riordan was a touch annoyed that Costa had said the NSW Labor government would go ahead with the privatisation of the state electricity system regardless of Labor policy, which already opposes such a sale, and of a proposed Labor Party state conference specifically called to consider the matter. Costa went further and he didn't care if the Labor Party expelled him, the sale would go ahead.

You can see Riordan's point. Parties have policies. In the Labor Party those policies are developed by the ranks of the party, including affiliated unions. Politicians elected to represent the Labor Party are expected to carry out those policies. The process is a bit different in the Liberal Party, which doesn't have many members or affiliates, but which listens very carefully to business-funded think tanks, chambers of commerce, big banks, and the like. Costa appears to have become confused about which party he's in.

Riordan's point seems straightforward enough: parties have policies and elected politicians of those parties work to make those policies law, but a lot of politicians over the years seem to have had a lot of difficulty with it.

Once they've got their bums on the leather benches plenty of MPs seem to think they can do whatever they like. Just to name a couple of famous examples, Billy Hughes, a Labor prime minister, thought he could support conscription for World War I even though the Labor Party opposed it, so Labor expelled him. William Holman, Labor premier of NSW at the time, also supported conscription, was expelled and went over to form a right-wing government with the Nationalists. He survived one election but lost his seat in 1920. Hughes and Holman were known forever after in the labour movement as Labor rats.

Apparently Riordan has ruffled a few feathers at cowards' corner, as the Sydney Morning Herald reports a “senior government source” saying: “there was outrage within Government that the party president is acting that way”. How come it's an anonymous source? Riordan is prepared to speak up for his views, and in support of Labor policy, why is the government source not named? Ashamed would probably be hoping for too much, as moral fibre is not a highly valued quality on Macquarie Street. Keeping options open is more likely.

And just in case the point is lost, let's hear it again: Riordan is speaking up in support of Labor policy and some brave soul high up in the Labor government says the government is outraged.

Costa says he doesn't care if Labor expels him, the privatisation will go ahead. No doubt that's causing the odd bit of outrage among Labor Party members and others who helped to put Costa in parliament thinking he would represent them. If they had thought the big end of town needed more representation, they would have voted Liberal.

Off you go, Mick. You don't represent the labour movement and you shouldn't be in the Labor Party. Your merchant banker mates will look after you, so you don't need the pension. Go now!