Monday, November 07, 2005

Reform needed for post parliamentary jobs

The Sydney Morning Herald's Paul Sheehan explores the mess that has become the Carr/Iemma Labor government's vigorous embrace of Public Private Partnerships. Particularly so with the daily entanglements of the Cross City Tunnel and the black hole swallowing Joe Trippodi in Epping. Not that Joe is to blame - it seems the knives are out for the luckless Carl Scully or 'Snarl Cully' as he is tagged by local government Councillors who have dealt with his brusque manner over local roads issues across the state.

Whilst I am a strong supporter of PPP's and point out to critics that thus far any losses the CCT is making are being wholly born by the private partner. Those (mainly in the left) who say PPP's privatise profit and socialise the risk need only look at two spectacular failures that have cost the private partners big money whilst the public partner (the taxpayers) have been insulated from any losses. One off-shore is the Wimberley Stadium PPP that has caused Multiplex so much stockmarket pain. Another closer to home being the Flinder's Street Station upgrade in Melbourne that has been nothing but bad news for the Leightons Construction whilst the Victorian government rests protected from losses (but perhaps not the growing electoral anger). Even the collapse of the Lanecove Tunnel will cost no money to the public purse as the construction firm will be insured and is already offering appropriate compensation to those affected - inevitably including the governemnt.

PPPs bring forward major capital works projects that government's are either not in a position to finance or do not prioritise highly up the list. If the CCT was to be publicly financed I suspect that the Carr government would have shelved the expensive project in favour of upgraded hospitals and schools in key regional and outer suburban seats. (note PPP's are already building and running schools in NSW). I believe that to build the City's ambitious $2 billion light rail network we will have to consider PPP's at some financing and operational level.

Whilst PPPs have their critics it is not helped when government decision makers jump across the line and become players in the private part of the partnership. Perception is as important as fact in maintaining public confidence and former Premier BoB Carr joining Macquarie Bank as a well paid consultant does raise legitimate questions on probity and transparency. And yes I know the Liberals are also guilty of this employment trend. I support a one year moratorium for former Ministers and Premiers/Prime ministers being employed by the private sector in areas that have business interests in their former areas of responsibility. If for no other reason than to maintain public confidence in PPP's. It's not like they need the money straight away with generous retirement pensions (no longer applying to new MP's). If the 2007 State election delivers a hung parliament (with 6 or 7 independents) then I suspect this reform may well be forced upon the government of the day.

It's high time Nobody was given the boot
November 7, 2005
Down the road the Cross City Tunnel "toll" won't be $3.56, writes Paul Sheehan.

IN MY living room I have a statue of Bob Carr, about a metre tall, one of the caricatures by the Herald's John Shakespeare, some of which are in the Australian Museum in Canberra. Early one evening, the phone rang and on the other end was the unmistakable stentorian baritone of the real Bob Carr.
I mentioned that I was standing next to my statue of him. The then-premier, without missing a beat, replied, "I look forward to the day when everyone will have a statue of me in their living room."
Effigy would be more like it these days, if he were still in charge.
As much as I miss having Carr around, his sudden and unforeseen resignation announcement on July 27 this year - he would clean out his office and be gone from politics within six days - appears, in retrospect, to be an act of supernaturally good exit timing.
In the short space since his departure, plans for the construction and financing of a desalination plant in Sydney have been unveiled, revealing that the plant would add the equivalent of 53,000 new vehicles in greenhouse gas emissions annually and that the millionaires factory, Macquarie Bank, is looking for a piece of the action.
Then there is the grotesquerie of the Cross City Tunnel, which has opened up a chasm of credibility in public trust for the State Government and the tunnel's owners, a consortium led by a subsidiary of the Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa, by Deutsche Asset management, a subsidiary of Germany's Deutsche Bank, and Bilfinger Berger BOT, a German infrastructure group.
And on the subject of chasms, there is the Lane Cove Tunnel excavation.
Carr got out just in time. But all these infrastructure projects began on his watch. He has earned every right to make a buck in his post-political life, but there is something queasy about him so quickly becoming a well-paid consultant to Macquarie Bank. Especially now, when the whole nature of so-called public-private partnerships and the brave new world of privatising the public realm is beginning to smell like plutocracy to the taxpaying, toll-paying electorate.
The decision to make the Cross City Tunnel free for three weeks was not merely a sign of panic, not merely a public relations stunt, but an attempt by the owners to get some estimate from Planet Earth, rather than Pluto, about how much traffic this asset may ever generate. What this ad-hoc survey told them was that even as a toll-free expressway, only about 50,000 use the tunnel per day.
At least Carr won't have to answer the hard questions that have not yet even be put, let alone answered:
Did the contract for the Cross City Tunnel breach the Main Roads Act (1924), which requires the state to build roadways for public use, not close them for private gain?
Were details of the project leaked strategically to CrossCity Motorway Inc, as claimed by the former transport minister, Carl Scully?
Who in the NSW Government was responsible for signing this contract and endorsing the traffic projections which underpinned it?
If it was Scully, why is he still a minister in the NSW Government, given his previous misadventures with the railway system?
Does the Premier, Morris Iemma, regard the contract, with its commitments to close public roadways, as acceptable?
read more here

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