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New Premier for NSW, and happy King Coal

October 8, 2021

Comment by Greg Ray

IT’S difficult for me not to feel nervous about the new premier of NSW, Dominic Perrottet. After all, it was only in July that Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda sheets were applauding the then-treasurer for standing up in Cabinet against “Go-Slow Gladys” and her lockdowns, in favour of more opening up – just as the Delta variant of the Covid-19 virus was starting to bite.

Also troubling – to me at least – is his status as a pro-Trump pseudo-ideological warrior. In his tribute to Trump’s election victory in the USA Perrottet appeared to implicitly declare himself a climate change skeptic, anti-gay and “conservative”. Many, like Perrottet, declared Trump’s win as a victory for some supposed “silent majority” who just wanted a fair go but had been held down by “the left”. Pardon me, but how was the ascendancy of a shonky businessman, a compulsive liar and cheat whose life has been spent in the service of big money at the expense of small businesses and ordinary people a win for “the people”? It wasn’t, and only the seriously deluded still imagine it was. Did Trump do anything to make life easier for ordinary people? No. Did he do anything to hold big money to account? No. Now the pundits are proclaiming that he’ll be back for another term. I’m willing to wager he still won’t do anything much to help ordinary people, but is sure to enrich himself still further.

These days, hard-right conservatives who talk about “the people” only mean the 10 to 15 per cent of our Western populations which includes dyed-in-the-wool religious bigots, racists, homophobes and the like. Because that is the sector of electorate that can win elections for them. They are not a majority, and certainly not silent. Most Australians, and most Americans and English people too, are actually very reasonable people with very enlightened views and hopes for society. But because they fracture fairly neatly into blocs that reliably vote for two major parties, the bigoted, problematic 10 to 15 per cent becomes electorally decisive. That’s why Pauline Hanson was able to emerge and drag the main parties into the policy mud with her. That’s why we have Shooters and Fishers, and United Australia and One Nation and that whole clamour of little parties and candidates trying to control that decisive minority chunk of people. On early indications it seems that the new NSW premier might be the sort of person who is going to embrace that segment with enthusiasm.

The Murdoch seal of approval

Gladys Berejiklian – a pro-privatisation, asset-stripping, service-slashing Liberal – became popular by trying to stand up against the big business forces that want to let the coronavirus rip, because they consider the economy (that means their own wealth) as paramount. She wasn’t the only state premier to do that: most state leaders pushed back against the Morrison federal government’s “open up or else” rhetoric, and copped a caning from Australia’s Murdoch-dominated media for doing so. Dom Perrottet will not be another Gladys in that respect. It is clear he will push for as much opening up as he get his cabinet to agree with, and he will get the full support of the Murdoch media in doing so.

So, is our new leader talented? It’s hard to say. He has been criticised for the operation of the state’s workers compensation scheme, icare, which he set up in 2015. It cut benefits to injured workers, spent a fortune on an office refit, gave an $800,000 no-tender contract to the wife of its former chief executive and made a $3billion loss. So that doesn’t seem to augur well.

Eyebrows have been raised too, about Perrottet’s oversight of some rather speculative Treasury investments.

He is apparently strongly religious and says he believes in “family values”, which these days may often simply be code for anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-immigrant – a dog-whistle to that 10 to 15 per cent I mentioned before. Perrottet is Catholic – in no way a bad thing in itself, but troubling when it is being alleged that he is actively working on behalf of his own church in the matter of control of NSW cemeteries. You can read about that on Crikey and in Michael West Media.

Perrottet’s announcement of post-Covid stimulus spending for Western Sydney, too, has something of the spiv written on it, as this excellent article by Wendy Bacon illustrates.

In summary, based on the above, we might expect a Perrottet government to be “let-it-rip” as far as Covid-19 is concerned, which might not matter so much now that a large proportion of the population is double-vaccinated but might spell problems for the regions that haven’t had as much access to vaccines and perhaps also harbour higher proportions of anti-vaxxers. Economically we might expect it to be even more pro-privatisation and anti-service-provision than the Tory-lite administrations we have come to expect from the NSW Liberal Party. Mr Perrottet’s icare record suggests the likelihood of minimal competent supervision of expenditure – much in the vein of the Morrison government. We can surely expect a stronger pro-coal stance and even less support for renewable energy.

Perhaps, now he is premier, Mr Perrottet might make an effort to put his own views aside in the interests of governing for all of the state. Or the rest of the state Cabinet and party room might exercise some influence and pull the premier back to the “centre” in policy terms. Or perhaps he will strive to follow his own political instincts which appear to happily align with those of the prime minister and the Murdoch press. Time will tell.

King Coal puts his crown back on

Speaking of coal, any hope that some of the environment-wrecking plans on the drawing board of the mining industry might have been quashed by the global move against coal appear forlorn, thanks to massive energy crunches in China and India. Thermal coal prices have surged and seem set to surge further. Whether China will be able to maintain its petulant boycott of Australian coal much longer in the face of its domestic energy crisis seems doubtful. The mining companies are raking it in, and will be wanting to make as much profit as they can, while they can. Royalty-addicted governments in quarry-nations like Australia will do whatever they can to help.

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