Labor feels a dam coming on
THE State Government is starting to resemble a psychologically troubled consumer. Plagued by self-doubt, every so often it launches itself into a shopping spree, hoping to bury its lack of confidence and feelings of inferiority beneath a welter of pointless purchases.
Exhibit A: the CBD Metro, announced with much fanfare by the Premier, Nathan Rees, before the plan had been studied adequately, subsequently hedged about with doubts by rail planners trying to work out how its services could be made to fit in with existing transport modes, and then rejected for funding by the Federal Government.
Now we have Exhibit B: the Tillegra Dam.
Documents released by the Government - late, and with the greatest reluctance - show that the dam was announced by Mr Rees's predecessor, Morris Iemma, even though the project had not been properly costed. Hunter Water has rated the dam the second least desirable option to provide water to the Central Coast and Hunter region. (Desalination, which was then being used to supplement the water supply on the Central Coast, was the least desirable.) Why would Mr Iemma have been so determined to press ahead with a project for the Central Coast and Hunter which the experts - the local water authority - held in such low regard?
A glance at the headlines of the time may hold a clue. Mr Iemma announced the dam would be built on November 13, 2006. By then, several Labor identities from the region were in trouble. Kerry Hickey, the local government minister and member for Cessnock, was charged with speeding offences on November 6, the same day that an endorsed Labor candidate for Port Stephens, Aaron Beasley, withdrew his nomination after being caught driving over the alcohol limit. Most serious of all, Milton Orkopoulos, then minister for Aboriginal affairs and member for Swansea, was charged with child sex offences on November 7.
Combined with other political difficulties, including the sacking of Carl Scully from the ministry for misleading Parliament, Labor was looking rather tattered in one of its heartland regions. And the election was four months away. The Tillegra Dam announcement could be expected to give the party an appearance of decisiveness, if nothing else, to dispel the general air of despondency.
The premier may have changed, but that priority has not. Appearances are now what matter most for Labor. Everything - including sound decision-making - must be sacrificed to the need to look decisive. As with the CBD Metro, NSW is going to get the Tillegra Dam whether it needs it or not.
My previous comments about the expensive, unnecessary dam are here: