From under the linoleum
Old newspapers show Mussolini's imperialism looked a lot like today's

I sat on the floor and picked through the tragedy of the country we now call Ethiopia laid out on the yellowing pages. It was eerily reminiscent of the current Iraq adventure.

A tale for our times
The December 1934 assassination of Sergei Kirov

Seventy years on, the killing of Sergei Kirov casts an eerie light on the events of 11 September 2001, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the “war on Terror” and the state-sponsored hysteria surrounding the shadowy figures of Osama bin Ladin and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Ninety-three years of bombing the Arabs
It was the Italians, hell-bent on acquiring an African empire, who got the ball rolling. In 1911 the Libyan Arab tribes opposed an Italian invasion. Their civilians were the first people in the world to be bombed from the air.

Dispossessed all over again
After spending nearly two months in the West Bank the pull towards my village was growing stronger, especially after being detained twice and threatened with deportation … an Australian Palestinian returns to her ancestral home.

The tragic inevitability of a forlorn hope
Australia slides further into the Iraq quagmire
Cabinet documents recently released under the 50-year rule show that, in 1954, Liberal (conservative) Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, and key figures in his Cabinet were extremely gloomy about the prospects for success in an American war against nationalists in Indochina. But eventually they went to the Vietnam War anyway.

Bombing King David
One man’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist

Some historians date the beginning of modern terrorism from the 1946 bombing by Zionist terrorists of the British military HQ in Jerusalem.

Don’t loiter near the exit
Military debacle and economic decline haunt the Bush regime

When I was just a young possum in the school cadet corps there was a hoary old war story that we all knew. It was almost certainly apocryphal, but it ruefully expressed a nasty historic truth about the US role in the demise of the British Empire.

 


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The new Rum Corps
Who or what is Infrastructure NSW?

9 October 2012

A raft of former state Labor ministers are under the ICAC hammer and the Sydney Morning Herald has raised questions about the former government’s “probity auditor”.

We can only guess where all this will lead, but at least Labor and its senior figures can be held to account. Trouble is, there’s a whole new racket in the Emerald City and it’s going to be harder than latte froth to pin down. I refer to Infrastructure NSW and the Greiner plan.

On the surface INSW is a government body, but look deeper and it’s no more than a front for the most rapacious private sector players. This pirate team have been given what’s virtually a blanket exemption from laws relating to conflict of interest because the Premier can allow any member of the board to take part even in decisions where he or she has a pecuniary interest. The line between private and public – so necessary for honest, transparent  and efficient governance  has been hopelessly blurred.

Put simply, at the Premier’s discretion, INSW can recommend whatever it likes and its members’ can benefit from the rivers of gold that will flow from projects they recommend. In a state where gold-digging has been raised to an art form, it’s the most outrageous self enrichment regime since the Rum Corps.

The great advance of the Carr Years was the cushy post-politics job for senior government figures. Bob Carr himself went straight from the premiership to a reported six-figure job with the Macquarie Bank, whose fortunes his government had done so much to promote. Carl Scully (formerly Roads minister) went to the consultant Evans and Peck where he now works with Paul Forward, the former head of the RTA who he sacked over the Cross City Tunnel debacle.

So who are Infrastructure NSW?

The laughingly-named ‘Independent Chairman’, Nicholas (Nicotine Nick) Greiner needs little introduction. Right after his failed premiership, he went into the tollway business. Those were the years when it looked like car-use would go on rising strongly forever. Now it’s falling and tollway companies are in trouble. Transurban, in particular – loaded down with ever increasing debt – is on a death ride. INSW’s nutty $10 billion WestConnex proposal is a doomed attempt to rescue tollway investors with one last round of induced traffic growth.   

The Board has seven private sector types (including Greiner and CEO Paul Broad).

According to the Act it may have “… not more than 5 persons appointed by the Premier from the private sector who together have skills and experience in infrastructure planning, funding and delivery”.

Legally speaking a lot hinges on whether  “together” means “collectively”, because some of the private sector members have fewer relevant skills than an accountant who catches the train to work.

Max (the Axe) Moore-Wilton passes muster because he used to be head of the RTA and has had more than a little to do with airports since then.

Rod Pearce might just scrape in. He was managing director of Boral and is a panel member of Wollongong Smart Infrastructure Advisory Panel, whatever that is.

Carolyn Kay’s background seems purely law and finance. She’s is a director of Brambles, the Commonwealth Bank and Gerard Henderson’s right-wing Sydney Institute.

In the 1980s David Gonski lost many many millions for Westfield’s Frank lowy. He’s independent non-executive chairman of the federal government’s  Futures Fund which is the biggest shareholder of Transurban but he has scant experience in infrastructure planning, funding or delivery.

And then there’s Roger Fletcher, a glorified drover who formerly exported livestock to Libya. I guess he might come in handy introducing cattle class metro rail.

Frankly, apart from Moore-Wilton, these people look like they’re merely reliable friends of big business.

Then there are four public servants. There used to be five but Les Wielinga, Transport for NSW Director-General, resigned, citing the old problem of trying to serve two masters. Not surprising that, since he seems to be pretty loyal to his embattled boss, Gladys Berejiklian.

Still on the board are Chris Eccles, the D-G of Premier and Cabinet,  Sam Haddad, D-G of Planning and Infrastructure, Philip Gaetjens, Secretary of Treasury and Mark Paterson, D-G Trade, Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services. These are all men who can be relied upon to be obsequious supporters of Greiner’s Thatcherite world view.

Haddad served the Carr government and its Labor successors faithfully. On his watch there was a total failure to enforce an orderly development of the South-West Sector land release areas around the South West Rail Link. After a decade on-again, off-again, the rail link finally got the go-ahead only in the dying days of the Robertson administration. And we paid the usual suspects about seven times as much as we should have to build it.

Philip Gaetjens, the Treasury guy, is an ominous inclusion. Treasuries are conventionally regarded as anally-retentive guardians of fiscal rectitude, but that doesn’t apply in NSW. Our Treasury loves roads and hates any form of public transport apart from buses. For decades its officers have corruptly winked at grossly inflated traffic forecasts for motorway proposals and encouraged wildly inflated estimates for rail and light rail projects. In the result, billions have been wasted.