Thursday, September 04, 2008


Red News Readers,

John Watkins is a political chameleon. After the speech he made at the State Conference supporting privatisation he now takes on Costa in Cabinet. Well done John!! But he then resigns!? Who will keep Costa in line now? Or is Costa going to do us all a favour and resign too to take up his much treasured sinecure in some corner of the business world?

Jenny Haines

The deputy bows out leaving his boss in the lurch

Andrew West, smh

September 4, 2008

JOHN WATKINS, the man Morris Iemma yesterday ordained as "one of the greatest marginal seat campaigners in Labor history", may have been able to charm his way into office four times in the quintessentially middle Australian seat of Ryde.

But yesterday, as he stood before his boss to announce his resignation as deputy premier and MP, the sweet talk was transparent.

The Premier gushed cliches about his departing deputy: "My friend and colleague", "an outstanding figure of modern Labor politics [who] never lost his sense of decency", "a man of defining achievements", "a political natural", "always a man of reason and commonsense", "a trusted and worthy ally".

Watkins, in turn, spoke of being "really flattered" that Iemma was attending this valedictory press conference.

But the friendship ended a long time ago. Every time Watkins disavowed an interest in Iemma's job - as he has done so frequently this past year - it was not so much a demonstration of undying loyalty but a blunt message that, sooner rather than later, "I'm outta here".

Watkins admitted as much yesterday when he said his resignation from politics had come a year earlier than expected: "I had decided this would be my last term and expected to perhaps serve for about another year."

Note the timing. He was not planning a mid-term retirement to the back bench, serving until the next election. Watkins was admitting that he planned to leave Parliament about 18 months before the 2011 poll, at an even more vulnerable moment for Iemma or, as is looking increasingly likely, his successor. He even cited the mid-term resignations of Bob Carr, Andrew Refshauge and Craig Knowles as precedents.

This is not the sign of a harmonious government, seamlessly regenerating itself with fresh talent. It is a government hemorrhaging talent.

It is also a sign that the Treasurer, Michael Costa, still has Iemma in his thrall. Watkins and Costa loathed each other but Iemma chose Costa.

Watkins believed that in two key portfolios, police and transport, he had been brought in to clean up Costa's political debris. The two clashed constantly and publicly contradicted each other recently over the issue of redundancies in CityRail. While Watkins declared in the Herald that CityRail jobs were safe, Costa told The Weekend Australian cuts were going ahead.

On Monday, the normally placid Watkins unloaded at Costa in cabinet. He attacked the Treasurer for leading the party into a political dead end over electricity privatisation. Costa reportedly fled the room; Iemma was speechless.

Labor holds Ryde with a margin of 10 per cent, having suffered a 5 per cent swing against it in 2007. Last night, Labor officials were speaking pessimistically about the party's chance in the by-election, likening it to the 17.5 per cent swing the Unsworth government suffered in Bass Hill after the retirement of Neville Wran in 1986.

As one party figure put it, this early retirement "is Watkins's revenge".