Monday, November 16, 2009

You Can’t Say Nathan Rees Didn’t Warn Us

You can’t say he didn’t warn us. From the beginning of his time as Premier, Nathan Rees has observed that he has been underestimated by people all of his life. It seems that his own Labor Party colleagues are the latest to fall for the trap, finding themselves stunned and amazed by his move at the Party Conference over the weekend to literally take command. Nobody expected it, and nobody was ready for it, so when Mr. Rees demanded the authority to appoint his own cabinet it was given to him. While there may have been those who went along with it because they felt that they had been snookered, I suspect that many rank and file party members might have been happy with the opportunity to allow their Parliamentary Leader to actually make leadership decisions.

This is a significant step, something which itself should not be underestimated. It overturns more than a century of Labor tradition, a tradition which in many ways is central to the Labor philosophy of consensus and compromise. But it also recognizes the reality that the old way has left the party struggling with the practicalities of modern politics, as well as leaving it mired in internal divisions when it needs to be focusing on external imperatives such as building infrastructure and fostering economic growth. For much of the current term this government has been seen as not only ineffective but also incompetent. It has developed a reputation for promising everything and delivering nothing.

As premier, Nathan Rees has had his fair share of stumbles. Most notably, the infamous mini budget of last year was tremendous misstep as it tightened fiscal policy to the detriment of economic growth, while abandoning the original Metro plan seemed to confirm that nothing the government promised could actually be counted upon. Nevertheless, as repeated reports emerged of internal plots to replace the Premier, Mr. Rees stood his ground time and time again. As more and more Ministers fell by the wayside through their own folly, such as the couch dancing Matt Brown, Mr. Rees stuck to his guns. As the opinion polls fell to near fatal levels, Mr. Rees has simply become even more determined.

I have said repeatedly that this government cannot survive the next election, and that changing the leader now would not make any difference. None of the likely contenders have shown anything to indicate that they would fare any better, and in many cases quite the opposite. If there is to be any hope at all for the government to reverse its fortunes before the next election it can only come from one thing. Leadership. And that is exactly what Nathan Rees has done on the weekend. He has made a decision, taken decisive action, and put his own position on the line, but done it in a cool calculated way which left his opponents little if any option.

There’s no need for the party to be looking for a leader… they already have one. The sad truth however is that the disaffected powerbrokers will most likely continue to conspire to replace the Premier. If and when they do, it will be clear that they do so out of personal motivation for revenge and power rather than any consideration for what’s in the best interests of the party, the government, or, most importantly, the people of New South Wales. Ultimately, that would be just one more indication that the party really doesn’t deserve to be in government at all. But if Nathan Rees can successfully keep the plotters and schemers at bay between now and then, perhaps it would also be a mistake to underestimate his chances of winning the election.

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