Comparisons have already been drawn by some commentators between the elevation of Morris Iemma to the premiership of New South Wales in August 2005 and the unexpected rise of Nathan Rees to the same position this week. If anything though, it is arguable that the rise of Rees has been even less of a rational leadership transition than that of his predecessor. Prior to his gaining the premiership, Morris Iemma did have nearing fifteen years of parliamentary experience behind him, including a relatively high profile stint in the Health portfolio. Rees, by comparison, has served less than two years in parliament and despite the touch of (welcome!) colour in his early job history, he can certainly be regarded as an apparatchik premier. For the majority of the last fifteen years he has worked as a political staffer.
The Murdoch press (as expected) is running a typically unreasonable line about the emergence of Rees which seems to imply that New South Wales will soon explode in a ball of uncontrollable flames. Realistically the only reasonable perspective, of course, is to welcome the departure of Iemma, Costa and Watkins as the breath of fresh air that it represents, and to wait and see if the new leadership team cuts the mustard. Given that they have had only a couple of days in the job, any more aggressive attacks on the Rees/Tebbutt team can be dismissed as the vainglorious acts of political expediency that they are.
Given that I know about as much about Nathan Rees as the average person (e.g. nothing), I thought it might be worth while having a bit of a look through his contributions to the Hansard over the last couple of years to try and get a feel for where he stands. There are a few excerpts and thoughts over the fold.
Since May 2007, Rees has made 52 contributions to the Hansard in the NSW Parliament, and from most of these contributions, little insight can be gained into the new Premier’s character or personal views. For an inaugural speech, the one delivered by Rees on the 8th of May in 2007 seems – at least to my eye – to be quite short and sweet. Certainly one observation that one can draw from the speech is that Rees seems to have traditional centre-left Labor values on economics and the “fair-go” at his core. This passage in particular is certain to have strong supporters of the state’s public education and health systems nodding their heads in agreement:
The guiding principles for the health of our community should not be determined by what people can afford, but rather the values we want our society to embody. For example, how can we provide health care for those who need it most in our society if a government believes one’s sickness is one’s fault and that medical costs should be decided by market forces, no matter how sick one is? That is the Howard health care ethic; a slow but inexorable move towards privatisation of our health system in which the market will decide, according to income, who gets to be treated by a scarce medical workforce—and, left unchecked, the market will decide. It will decide to let the poor and the ageing take their grumbles and their aching teeth to their graves. We can do better than that. User pays is no way to treat matters of life and death. User pays will not get young doctors to rural areas with shrinking populations. User pays will not stop the referral of the sick to treatment centres far from home.
This eloquent and succinct summary of the role that politicians need to strive to play in today’s political age is also worthy of excerpt:
…we need to do more to sell the idea that politics is a bridge between a desire for the good and the machinery of the possible, and that regardless of ideology we in politics are here to try—at least to try—to bring about the changes that make this world a better place. The distance that can exist between us and the electorate too quickly grows to cynicism and then outright condemnation of us, our system and the polity and democracy in general. I am brand new in this place but I hope in my time here I can do my bit to narrow that distance.
As Minister for Water Utilities, Rees has provided on numerous occasions a spirited defence of the Iemma Government’s desalination plant plans, although one presumes that the minister was in this case forced to defend a policy decision already agreed on by the government. Rees’ employment history has also resulted in some curly questions for him within the parliament; he offered this quite succinct response to describe how he felt when he learned of the allegations directed at his former employer Minister Milton Orkopoulous:
I recall exactly where I was and what I was doing, and I felt ill. At no time during the investigation, or subsequent to it, was I contacted by the police, the prosecution or the defence. The prosecutor made it clear during the case that the former Minister led a secret life; secret from his wife, his family, his friends, the community and his colleagues. Most compellingly, it is difficult to imagine the pain, grief and anguish of the young victims who came forward, and our sincere sympathies are with them. I have just outlined the facts of the matter. I have stated them simply, clearly and honestly. I cannot prevent the Opposition from raising this issue. However, if it does after, having been informed of the facts, it will be a function of one of two things: stupidity or errant grubbiness.
The only other major issue of note on which the incoming Premier has added his personal views to the public record relates to therapeutic cloning, which he supported despite his purported Roman Catholicism. He also took the opportunity to sneak in a cheeky jab at Cardinal Pell after Pell’s public comments regarding the therapeutic cloning bill:
I think Cardinal Pell has three options: he can apologise, he can run for Parliament or he can invite further comparisons with that serial boofhead Sheik Al Hilali.
One would think that anyone who has the guts to suggest that Cardinal Pell might be acting like a bit of a boofhead (particularly when, as in this case, he was) will indeed give his stint in the Premier’s chair a “red hot go”. We shall see. For the sake of the people of New South Wales and the state’s distressed economy, I hope he makes good on that promise and makes his mother proud.