BY PETER McCALLUM
You can’t help but feel for Morris Iemma.
A straightforward family man, he was handpicked for the leadership as one who had managed his portfolio well and who seemed to be the only minister who didn’t have ‘baggage’. The heir-apparent for the premiership, Carl Scully, had held the poisoned chalice of transport and become unelectable.
Morris is now discovering why transport in NSW can be poison for a politician.
As Premier he is burdened by several millstones around his neck, the first of which is the bureaucracy with its two key power bases, Treasury and the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA).
Treasury has a peculiar attitude to transport. While money spent on roads is always ‘an investment’ and therefore good, they claim money spent on public transport is a ‘cost’, to be avoided no matter what!
Michael Costa was an earlier strange choice for Minister for Transport. His first claim to fame was to order the ripping up of the train tracks into Newcastle’s CBD. Developers and Newcastle’s mayor applauded as they had designs on the waterfront land but the rest of the Hunter district was in uproar.
Morris wisely removed Costa from Transport and reversed his instructions to rip up the railway. Shortly after that, Costa was made Treasurer but that gave him even longer-term power over transport planning. Observers started to mutter that Morris had created another millstone for himself.
Treasury has under its influence the small but powerful Ministry of Transport. Knowing the Premier was keen to fix the ailing transport system, they created a grand plan for a railway from the new housing estates in the north west to the city and on, with a tunnel beneath the old swamplands of Kensington to Malabar. The railway stock was to be totally incompatible with existing trains and have very few seats, despite the long travelling time.
It is not possible to build this railway and the bureaucrats know it.
Meanwhile that other great bureaucracy, the RTA, having destroyed its previous Minister Carl Scully with the private high-cost Cross City Tunnel project, and worse, is now promoting an unwanted second bridge at Drummoyne and chasing federal funds for an M4 extension to the city ‘ to further clog the CBD with cars.
So the RTA is already working against the Premier’s doomed northwest railway.