Nick Greiner is a loose cannon on the gundeck of government
27 September 2011
Every spin doctor worth his salt knows you have to keep a sharp eye on the negative metaphor meter.
With his huge majority in parliament, Barry O’Farrell should be cruising along with the job of government, steadily implementing the backlog of public transport infrastructure left by his hopeless predecessors. Positive metaphors like “safe pair of hands” and “runs on the board” should be the order of the day but things are stalling and ghastly negative political metaphors are already piling up like Winston Churchill’s “terrible ifs” accumulating.
Let’s start with a couple of classic cliches: Barry is sitting on a political time-bomb of his own making; hoist with his own petard. Hey, if you don’t like Barry, don’t bother getting aroused by those rumours about a National Party minister exposing himself in back lanes in Darlinghurst. That sort of scandal might just chip one or two MPs out of a huge majority, but handing a group of ideological market-fundamentalist nut-jobs an institutional platform to lord it over elected cabinet ministers and meddle in the running of the ship of state is just stone crazy.
I refer of course to Infrastructure NSW.
This dumb saga brings to mind the old fable of the turtle and the scorpion.
One day a turtle met a scorpion on the banks of a swollen river. “Please, I have to cross the river, but I can’t swim. Can you carry me on your back?” said the scorpion.
“Are you kidding?” replied the turtle (who was a decent but plodding soul). “You’ll sting me, and then I’ll die. No way I’m giving you a lift!”
“But if I stung you, then I’d drown. That’s your guarantee”, the scorpion replied.
The turtle thought about this. It seemed a reasonable point and maybe, just maybe, his act of kindness would be remembered and might forge a friendship, so he told the scorpion to climb on his back and they set off across the river.
When they were half way across, the scorpion stung the turtle.
“Now we’ll both die!” The hapless turtle exclaimed as he started to loose consciousness. “Why? Why?”
“Because I’m a scorpion”, said the scorpion, whose name was Nicolas Frank Hugo ‘The Pusher Man’ Greiner.
The word is all over town that Greiner, with a staggering lack of discretion, is bad-mouthing, to anyone who’ll listen, Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian – perhaps Barry’s best and most popular minister – and her new integrated Transport for NSW ministry.
From whoever you hear it, the story is pretty much the same. The Pusher Man has “issues with” Gladys who is moving “too fast”on public transport projects like the North West Rail Link; Greiner’s Infrastructure NSW bunch are going to “beat up” Transport for NSW who know nothing about transport planning; Sydney needs more and bigger tollways and “congestion charging” on the whole the road network; the government isn’t really committed to light rail, and Greiner wants everything to stop for 18 months while he devises a 20 year plan for everything in the state.
What on earth was O’Farrell thinking when he set up Infrastructure NSW and appointed the former premier and his big business privateers to the board? It can’t be a nod to Greiner’s political genius because the man managed to transform an electoral landslide in 1988 into a minority government in 1991. It can’t be because of his infrastructure expertise because so many of the public-private partnership projects sponsored by the old Thatcherite idealogue and his mates have proved to be planning and fiscal disasters. And it can’t be because of his blameless reputation because subsequent to his short-lived premiership he headed up the Australian operations of British American Tobacco, the knowing purveyors of death by cancer.
The only half-workable explanation for Infrastructure NSW I’ve heard so far is that Greiner’s gang are incredibly powerful in the counsels of the Liberal Party and that Barry thought he’d buy their silence by giving them the political equivalent of a sand pit to play infrastructure games in, asked them to come up with some interesting concepts he could maybe think about, and told them not to rush it.
If that was the strategy, it’s already gone disastrously wrong. No premier can afford to have a loose cannon like Greiner crashing around the slippery and lurching gundeck of government.