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It was Carr asleep at the wheel

By Patrick Baume - posted Monday, 28 March 2011

There's a myth being paraded by most of the Labor faithful and many in the NSW media that we shouldn't forget that, while they may have gone off the rails a teeny bit at the end, for most of their 16 years, particularly the ten under Bob Carr, the Labor Government was good, solid and competent.

No they weren't.

While the public disintegration of NSW Labor over the last four years was undoubtedly different to the relative discipline and outward professionalism of the first three terms, the fact remains that the single person most responsible for the parlous condition of the State, and in particular Sydney, and who deserves to be held to account for this belated thumping at the polls is one Robert John Carr.


Once you strip away the scandals, the rumours and the inbreeding that any long term government inevitably suffers from, the biggest reason for this result can be brought back to one word – transport.

For the vast majority of its residents, Sydney is a considerably less pleasant place to live now than it was 15 years ago, and also a far more expensive one. It regularly comes last in Australian metro liveability surveys and the general mood of the city in transit is a cross between anger, depression and resignation. Bob Carr's ten years of being asleep at the wheel in terms of transport infrastructure created problems that those who followed him were completely unable and/or unwilling to deal with, and the problems mounted accordingly.

The two things that Carr did very well was manage the extraordinarily supine NSW Press Gallery and gazette National Parks. Good for him on the latter, but there was also a State that needed running, and Australia's largest city that, owing to its organic beginnings and the geographical barriers all over it, needed more planning forethought and strategic thinking than most. On those two counts he failed miserably.

Unless you believe the conspiracy theory that the beachside living, non-car-driving Premier's long term solution to Sydney's planning was to make it so uncomfortable to live in the western suburbs that people stopped moving here (and he has fed that conspiracy theory with his open support for zero population growth) then you have to assume that it was just all too hard.

And indeed it may have been. The vertical fiscal imbalance of our nonsensical Federal system (a system that our two most successful post-Menzies Prime Ministers, Bob Hawke and John Howard, now agree is wrong) coupled with Carr's inability as an ALP Premier to effectively take on the transport unions, or to even make a serious attempt, left us with the situation we have now.

12 of the 13 biggest swings in ALP seats occurred in outer Sydney commuter seats, the exception being Drummoyne, formerly held by the last of the scandal bringers Angela D'Amore but also for anyone who tries to battle Victoria Road or Parramatta Road of a morning, so congested that it might as well be on the outer fringe of the city.


People are undoubtedly upset by scandals and infighting of the type that led to three different premiers in three years, but it is the issues that affect them every day of every week that really make them angry. If the Labor Party fails to recognise that it was poor planning and a lack of appetite for reform from 1995 on that led them to where they are now, and not just the fin de siecle stupidities of the last term, then they have once again missed the point of this most thorough political divorce in Australia's history – it's not about them, it's about us.

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About the Author

Patrick Baume is a Media Analyst who blogs on politics and sport at

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