Monday, February 16, 2009


New Robertson role a 'stitch-up'

Andrew Clennell and Alexandra Smith, smh

February 16, 2009

JOHN ROBERTSON'S role in government has been surprisingly bolstered by the Premier, Nathan Rees, putting the former union boss on the powerful expenditure review committee, without consulting the Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal.

The move has raised eyebrows among senior ministers but there is also conjecture that it may be part of a plan by Mr Rees to make life tough for Mr Robertson.

The former union boss has ambitions to be premier and some Labor Right MPs view him as a possible replacement for Mr Rees, despite being in the upper house.

Senior Government sources have suggested it was a serious attempt to "stitch up" Mr Robertson by giving him the prisons portfolio, where there is a privatisation agenda in play, and public sector reform, as his first portfolios as a minister.

Putting him on the expenditure review committee, which also contains the Treasurer, Finance Minister, Deputy Premier and Premier, could put him in the firing line when it comes to making cuts and taking on public sector unions.

A spokeswoman for the Premier, Korena Flanagan, said: "The very obvious answer [why he was put on the committee] is he is on the ERC because of his role as public sector reform minister."

Mr Rees's leadership has been strengthened for the short term after the federal and state Labor head offices intervened to stop further divisions in the NSW Right, amid speculation that a federal election will be held later this year.

The Herald has been told that a key reason for the appointment of Graeme Wedderburn as the Premier's chief of staff - organised by powerbroker Mark Arbib and national secretary Karl Bitar - was to stabilise the Rees regime for the looming federal election.

It is understood Mr Wedderburn was given the position partly to do a "federal job". The Herald has previously revealed he has been promised a Senate seat in return.

The Labor Party's head office recently forced the Police Minister, Tony Kelly, to cancel a barbecue he was to host for MPs in the Right faction not associated with the powerbrokers Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi in a bid to quell speculation that forces were gathering against Mr Rees.

A Right MP said party bosses were trying to "bottle up opposition" to Mr Rees until after a federal election.

"There is no doubt they are trying to put a lid on NSW because they don't want the focus to be on a caucus fight," the MP said. "The feeling is that there will be an election later this year and they want to keep NSW's problems off the radar."

The federal Finance Minister, Lindsay Tanner, attempted to hose down speculation of an election yesterday, which has also been fuelled by the fact the Labor party's national conference has been brought forward. The conference was moved from January 31, next year to July this year.

Mr Tanner told the Ten Network: "That's [an early election's] certainly the last thing on my mind, and I'm sure the last thing on the Government's mind. People … expect us to govern, deal with the crises we've been presented with.

"An election, I don't think, would … help us tackle the huge problems we have arising from the international recession. We are committed to doing what is needed to govern Australia to protect jobs."