Why did the State of New South Wales have such a mediocrity inflicted upon it as premier after Mike Baird’s exit from politics in January 2017?
Why did Australia get such an ersatz conservative as prime minister in 2018 after the disastrous premiership and ignominious exit of Malcolm Turnbull? He who heads a “cabal of chancers and second raters”, as one political pundit has termed the Morrison Government.
Why is the forgettable leftist Maryse Payne our Foreign Minister, representing Australia to the world?
Why did we just get outrageous infanticide-on-demand laws in New South Wales imposed on us, despite the issue not being raised in any form in the 2019 election campaign that took place only months before?
Why don’t incompetent failures like David Elliott (Police Minister) and Brad “I get my photo taken celebrating with the pro abortionists” Hazzard (Health Minister) ever get sacked from the NSW Cabinet? (Ironically, in these COVID days, Hazzard is called a “cluster minister”. He didn’t do much to help the poor sods caught in other kinds of clusters aboard to Ruby Princess or in the Western Sydney nursing home that is coronavirus central, but that is another story).
Why do the Liberal Party’s economy constraining environmental ideologies so resemble the ALP’s suicidal policy approach that is captive to the climate change hoax?
Why are so many NSW Liberal and National politicians so in thrall to the gay lobby?
Why was the rabidly pro-abortion and generally undistinguished NSW Minister Andrew “transport bungles” Constance recently promised a free ride into Canberra – that is, if he won the forthcoming Eden Monaro by-election mandated by ALP member Colonel Mike Kelly’s departure from politics – over the wishes of locals, over the legitimate expectations of prospective local candidates (and over the aspirations of a conservative rivals in Jim Molan)? Local candidates who had been working year in, year out, for the Liberal Party for much of their adult lives and who wrongly believed that their political involvement could achieve great things for democracy and for their electorate. This would be the same Andrew Constance who claimed in 2019 to have been “appalled” at the placement of a pro-life advertisement on the side of a Newcastle bus. The heart beats at four weeks advertisement. The same, notorious transport bungler Andrew Constance who was at the wheel when the Sydney tram cost blew out from $1.6b to $2.9b. Oh, and the same Andrew Constance who a month or so ago said he was getting out of politics after his local bushfire recovery work was complete. Then backflipped on that undertaking. And now, of course, in an incredible shambles of farcical proportions, a mere day after he announced his intention to run, Constance then withdrew from the Eden Monaro race! The point remains, however.
The answer to each of these questions is – the NSW Liberal Party is not run by its members, nor by legitimately pre-selected candidates for political office.
Rather, the NSW Liberal Party – from which swamp emerged our last three prime ministers – is controlled, utterly, by powerful leftist elites, dealmakers, hidden backroom factional players, often unelected, of moderate ability but decidedly not of moderate ideology nor ego. Ironically, yes, these people are actually called “moderates” within Liberal Party circles. In reality, they are radical progressives, wedded to globalist philosophies and extreme, anti-family social liberalism. They are leftist wolves in Liberal sheep’s clothing. They are also system gamers. They make their money as lobbyists by having the Liberal Party they control in office.
They run the State of New South Wales from within their bubble. And this stinks to high heaven.
We Deserve Better Than the Factional State
It behoves us as Australians living in a federation to create and maintain great and well governed states (and territories). Especially for those who sing the praises of federal systems and extol their benefits for freedom, democracy and plain old good governance, we wish for sub-national jurisdictions to do well.
Alas, we disappoint ourselves.
In every state of the Commonwealth, we are governed by tweedledum-tweedledee managers of limited ability with a propensity for dispensing favours to allies within and beyond the political classes, buttressed by the mutual reinforcements of patronage.
And the poor condition of territorial governance is only getting worse as time passes. The pages of our newspapers are strewn with reports of the latest victory or defeat of individual factions within the major parties, mostly over this or that parliamentary or administrative position. The spoils of victory in these often abstruse, internecine battles mark as notches on the wall, as we bury our hated opponents in the political dirt.
The battles are not without policy intent or significance, at least not always. See under same sex marriage and freedom of speech outside abortion “clinics”. More so in the Liberal Party, the factions seem mainly to revolve around individuals whose reputation for thuggery far exceeds their ability to achieve anything much of substance.
A prime example of the phenomenon is the Premier State. It could more accurately be known as the State of Patronage, or the Factional State. (For the sake of brevity and immediate relevance, let us confine ourselves here to the current party of government, both in Macquarie Street and in Canberra).
Such is the extent of the activities in the Factional State that New South Wales could have been a prime case study for Niall Ferguson’s recent, magisterial account of the national and global power of networks, The Square and the Tower.
Many people outside the premier state would never have heard of the names of the personalities who drive these factions. Many people within New South Wales would never have heard of them. Few inside the ruling Liberal Party would NOT have heard of them, nor be ignorant of their deeds and the breadth and depth of their power – to destroy careers, control parliamentary numbers, steer preferred policies through the legislative process, and even to install and de-install leaders, all the while building networks with rewards that involve spouses, family members and mates. All in the name of The Faction!
Factional Warlords and Their Consultancy
These are people who were (at least partly) responsible for Tony Abbott’s removal as the duly elected Prime Minister of Australia and the installation of the Malchurian candidate in his place, back in 2015. They were, indeed, by Turnbull’s side at the time of the coup. Their actions ushered in a disastrous period of instability and policy failure for the Liberal led Coalition that haunts it to this day. They are responsible for installing leftist Gladys “Ruby Princess” Berejiklian as premier of the Factional State. She who DIDN’T stop the boats. As noted at the outset, they run the ruling “moderate” faction of the NSW Liberal Party, known when it came into being formally in the 1990s as “The Group”.
A former employee of THE key lobbying operation in Sydney – Premier State Consulting, led by one Michael Photios – is currently the Liberal Party’s State Director, a position that one might normally simply regard as a routine (though high level) administrative position. Perhaps a mere coincidence. Former MP for Lindsay, Fiona Scott, who rode to office on Tony Abbott’s coat tails in 2013 then helped vote Abbott out of the leadership in the ballot that installed Turnbull, only to lose her seat in 2016. In her view this was the fault of Tony Abbott! Scott now runs the Canberra lobbying arm of Premier State Consulting. This firm is NSW Liberal Wets Central.
Yes, the traffic is frequent and goes both ways – Liberal Party to Premier State Consulting, and Premier State Consulting to the Liberal Party. Cosy, no?
The NSW Premier, once described as a “wholly owned subsidiary of Michael Photios”, was asked in a 2013 Estimates Committee hearing – what is your relationship with Michael Photios? How often do you speak with him? Her helpful answer was “Meetings with lobbyists are in accordance with the NSW Lobbyist Code of Conduct.”
“Next premiership set to be a Photios finish”, as one Labor campaign advert suggested back in 2015.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported at the time:
Opposition Leader Luke Foley has attacked the manner in which Ms Berejiklian secured the numbers to secure the job, declaring that "the powerbrokers and lobbyists who pull the strings in the NSW Liberal Party have decided Gladys Berejiklian will be their Premier".
Photios himself noted that “members of the left faction had now secured the jobs of Prime Minister [Turnbull] and NSW Premier”. And of course they also helped secure the next prime minister too. Morrison is a creature of the Alex Hawke led “soft left” faction, as opposed to the “hard left” faction that was formally led by Photios, and is now informally led by him.
The lobbyists, the same puppeteers who, with their Young Liberal and former Young Liberal puppets, are lurking behind the scenes and working the party branches to within an inch of their very existence determine who gets to be a minister in the NSW Government. They drive pre-selections for state and national seats in parliament. On the back of broad and deep system knowledge, they work in their day jobs as advisers to all sorts of companies who profit from the incestuous power plays going on. (One such is the foreign company that was part of the consortium recently digging up Sydney and inflicting on NSW taxpayers substantial cost overruns into the bargain, all in the cause of building a light rail system no one wanted and the city of Sydney doesn’t need.)
Another client of Premier State Consulting, aka the lobbying industrial complex, is AGL. AGL, is, of course, current owner of the controversial and recently privatised Liddell Power Station in the Hunter Valley. Coincidentally, AGL wants to get out of coal (a source of power unfashionably favoured by non-moderate Liberals) and to take up more of the Turnbull – Morrison Government’s generous subsidies of solar and wind, while at the same time not taking up the commercial opportunity to sell Liddell.
Energy is one of the core policy fights over which the NSW Factional Party is currently fighting, a fight inexorably linked to the battles at the recent (May 2019) Commonwealth election over the political futures of at least two then members of parliament (Craig Kelly and Tony Abbott), one, of course, a highly respected former prime minister. The irony here is that this same prime minister was the one who tried, valiantly but without ultimate effect, massively to reduce the power of lobbyists in The Factional State and in particular to reduce the connections between party office holding and day-job lobbying.
No less a factional warrior (in the same place but at a different time and for another party) than one Graham Richardson has stated that “ … in NSW if you are not a friend of Michael Photios, you have a very limited future”. If true, such factional power wielded by any single individual should give considerable pause to all of us federalists and conservative believers in good governance and honorably constructed, well intentioned party administrative structures. More on Michael Photios, the powerbroker and the man, anon.
The very attempts by some within the NSW Liberal Party recently to create more democratic party structures, to give grass roots members some cause to hope for decent opportunities to influence pre-selections and to allow them to participate more meaningfully in policy debates, have merely served to strengthen the resolve of back-of-house powerbrokers to shore up their influence and keep the baying branch members at a distance from real power within the Party.
Can anyone spot a pattern here?
We get to pick ministers and premiers, help determine who even sits in parliament, shaft and install national leaders, try to have them removed from parliament, then we influence the decisions ministers make – the ministers we have had installed – by bringing to the table clients seeking commercial opportunities in the Factional State. We steer the conversations at many levels, in many contexts, all the while keeping our paws on the levers of power across the Party.
So much for the party manipulations we routinely witness. What are the philosophical pre-occupations of the ruling faction of the Factional State? Do they care about policy?
The Progressive Ideology of the Factional Warriors
Sadly, the moderates DO care about policy.
We know they like renewable energy. Led by leftist environment minister Matt Kean, they blame bushfires on climate change. They blame most things on climate change. They are, indeed, mini Al Gores in terms both of their virulent capacity to help their day job clients make a buck out of renewables and of their persistent ideological cheer-squadding and flag waving. This after governments have tilted the energy rules in their favour, what with subsidies at every level of government and farcical constructs like the National Renewable Energy Target. The ruling NSW faction has indeed set up the grandly titled “North Shore Environmental Stewards”, pretty much merely a front group charged with ridding the party of anyone who favours cheap, abundant, fossil fuel energy. And they are patronised by one Nick Greiner, that old factional warrior who somehow always managed not to seem to be one.
The lobbying industrial complex is, indeed, a climate industrial complex that is overseeing the destruction of Australia’s former competitive advantage in cheap energy, within a single (no pun intended) generation. The power brokers, ironically, seem not to like power. They like power companies, of course, at any rate the ones to whom the Liberal Government recently sold power stations.
What else does the Factional Party favour?
Well, there are close links between what used to be called simply The Group and the long-functioning pro-abortion, pro-homosexual wing of the NSW State Liberals. They cheer the Gay Mardis Gras. They were leading the charge in the same sex marriage referendum of 2017. They were behind the NSW Premier’s bizarre and deadly decision in 2019 to bring infanticide-on-demand to the premier State, just after an election when life issues were never even mentioned. Next, no doubt, will be liberalised euthanasia, already being spruiked by the NSW Nationals.
They are, of course, Keating-Turnbull-FitzSimons Republicans.
Beyond rampant social liberalism, new urbanism (that conveniently also advances the commercial position of the development sector who busily erect multi-story apartment blocks along new rail lines) and activist Soros-tinged green environmentalism – in other words the preoccupations of the globalist elites that also infest the upper reaches of the Labor Party and the Greens – the answer is, probably not much else. But these are the anti-priorities of the many “dis-cons” who have left the Liberal party in droves. These are the sworn enemies of The Group.
The trouble-at-mill in the Factional State does not begin with current factional warriors, of course.
A Little History
The NSW Liberal Party has had a decidedly chequered history, well documented by, among others, former ANU historian Ian Hancock in his 2007 book, The Liberals: The NSW Division 1945-2000. (Yes, ANU did once teach history). In the 43 years since 1975, there have been 14 state leaders of the party, who, apart from Nick Greiner (nine years) and Barry O’Farrell (seven years), all occupied short and unremarkable tenures. Only one could you say was a great Australian, and that one, Peter Coleman, former editor of Quadrant magazine and an outstanding intellectual, was decidedly not that great at party or retail politics. Greiner literally threw power away in the 1990s after having introduced some derivative and decidedly pedestrian “reforms” in the area of public sector managerialism. Many of the others never saw government and lasted barely a year or so in the job. Neville Wran and Bob Carr, respectively, routinely disposed of opposition leaders with nonchalant ease. We have had three Liberal premiers, and counting, since 2011, and none have distinguished themselves with any degree of major achievement or finesse.
The NSW Party has never really attempted to be a “broad church” philosophically in the tradition of Menzies, Howard or, indeed Abbott. Far preferable have been games of factional influence and control, and the goodies that come with these. The factionalism that stifles decency in personal relations and competence in governance really emerged big time only in the 1990s, when the appallingly misnamed “moderates”, then (as noted above) known simply and sinisterly as “The Group”, already held sway. Generally, the faction has been led by political gnomes, starting with professors of non-achievement like Ron Phillips in the 1990s, and nothing much has changed since. The current leader of the moderates is Trent Zimmerman (pictured above in his Liberal rainbow tee shirt).
In terms of political achievement, the relatively rare NSW Liberal governments have been, at best, mediocrities. Under the Gary Sturgess-styled “dry and warm” Greiner, Bruce Baird painted the railway stations and bought a few new trains. Terry Metherell, a feral greenie in his day, did some surprisingly good things in (of all places) education, or at least he was hated by the right people, aka the Blob, as the education establishment has been delightfully described in the UK. The Greiner government overall was in thrall to the false promise of the ultimately chimeric “new public management” theory. Then, of course, Greiner lost the political plot and committed Steele Hall-like electoral suicide.
Three Key Questions
But back to the fruits of the current factional warrior class.
There are three questions arising from all this. One, does The Group’s domination of NSW politics matter? Two, how did it happen? And three, what can, and should, be done about it?
For those of us who favour good governance, of course it matters. For those of us who favour principled politics, it matters. For those of us who favour “broad church” parties in which all points of view get a reasonable hearing, it matters. For those of us who are philosophically conservative, it matters. For those of us who would prefer not to be governed by socialists, it matters. For those of us who don’t like compromised process, it matters. For those of us who favour transparency in government, it matters. For those of us who want young people to be politically engaged in positive ways, it matters.
Why, then, do NSW politics so often revert to a race to the factional bottom, bereft of lasting achievements and of stable, purposeful governance – including in the Liberal Party, which is meant to be non-factional in contrast to the infamously faction-controlled Labor Party? And why is the State of NSW especially bad in this respect?
In a sense, none of this should be surprising, in any polity. Students of public choice theory, so eloquently developed by American economists Gordon Tullock and (1986) Nobel Laureate James Buchanan, will understand that all the actors in the political game – be they voters, politicians, lobbyists or bureaucrats – will primarily act in their own self-interest, just like players in the marketplace. Two problems arise – when government gets very big, and where government gets involved intimately with the development industry, especially in the era of the financialisation of global markets.
The interesting historical question in relation to NSW politics is the seeming correlation between the prevalence of factional war games and immensely poor governance. Clearly, politicians who prioritise winning factional power games are less likely to be kicking policy goals and achieving memorable outcomes for the voters. Factional warlords tend also not be interested in building cross-party, policy-driven solutions to the problems that beset the state. And state politics, with the focus so much on development, planning and construction projects, are seemingly just begging for deal making, blurring of the boundaries of propriety and general murkiness between the public and private sectors. Throw in the party politicisation of local government and the factions that operate at the local level and the recipe for disaster is complete. In the colony of the Rum Corps, perhaps history has not been on the side of The Factional State.
It still begs the question, perhaps, why is it that such mediocrities as The Group’s current “leadership” are the movers and shakers to have emerged in states such as New South Wales?
The Photios Party
After all, Michael Photios himself was a politician of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Who, then, is Michael Photios? Is there anything in his background or early career to suggest he would end up, in effect, running a state of Australia?
He is an old boy of The King’s School Parramatta. He is, therefore, of the establishment, or at any rate the would-be establishment. He is in his sixtieth year. He is a lobbyist. A party animal too, in every sense of the term. He has spent considerable time living in a “pad” in the trendy Woolloomooloo Wharf complex, and once famously opined:
There is too much mediocrity and boredom in politics...we should all get a life...If I've been known to go to a party or two, I'm happy to go to another. My advice would be for everyone to try it.
What a philosophy of life!
Photios was first elected to the NSW parliament in the Nick Greiner landslide of 1988 as the member for Ryde. He then represented Ermington during the 1990s. Photios was only briefly a minister (of multicultural and ethnic affairs), alas, in the ill-fated Fahey Government of the 1990s. This is the bungling and ethically challenged government which also contained a used car salesman who bugged his clients, a Police Minister who routinely groped his staff and a backbench member who rang up local councillors and threatened to kill them, all the while using an Italian accent.
Photios lost his parliamentary seat in 1999 and has never made a parliamentary comeback. He hasn’t needed to.
He has had a colourful personal life. Like Trump and (well, almost) Boris, Photios has been married three times. Once termed a “love rat” (by the Sydney Daily Telegraph), he left wife one (while pregnant and with a young child) in 1999 for wife two. He left wife two in 2007, also with a young child, then shortly thereafter found wife three, twenty-five years his junior.
There was nothing in Photios’s short and undistinguished parliamentary career to suggest he would one day become THE powerbroker of New South Wales. He has simply learned how to game the system to sequester private wealth and wield influence.
His lobbying clients, in addition to AGL and Acciona, have included the Australian Hotels Association, Caltex, Merivale Group, N.S.W. Minerals Council, Sydney Fast Ferries, Transfield Services and X Strata Coal. All while maintaining considerable relations with the NSW Government and influence with key areas of policy making. Whatever one thinks of the activity of lobbying, so entangled is this peddling of influence with the awful dark arts of modern governing, the virtuous circle for Photios and friends is the control that they have over the Liberal factions which in turn means controlling the Government. Good work if you can get it. Politics as a cash cow.
How Does This Fiasco Continue? And Can Anything Be Done to Fix It?
There is no easy answer to the question – how did all this happen? It is, at bottom, the result of brutal power plays, the State’s parties being tethered to the convenience and rewards of factional systems and the skill set deployed for modern networking. Brute power effectively used to achieve influence, influence breeding perceived success, and success creating a reputation which leads to yet more influence and more success. All the while the key players nurture the factions and create, in effect, the next generation of bullies and gamers. Controlling pre-selections and branch stacking are critical to the process, of course.
Finally, how on earth are these fetid political swamps to be drained? Especially as it is THE party of patently criminal behavior and THE party of factional warriors like Richardson, Sam Dastyari, Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald, that lies in wait ready to assume government in NSW should the Libs eventually implode. Inviting these guys back to Treasury benches to “clean up” NSW would seem to invoke images of Dracula and blood banks. Removing Labor from office marginalises the Richardsons, at least in Macquarie Street. Getting Labor back in marginalises the Liberal warriors. Tweedledum and Tweedledee?
The Denmark of Shakespeare, it must be said, has nothing on The Factional State. With apologies to Marcellus, speaking to Horatio in Hamlet, there is something rotten in the State of New South Wales.
As one observer of Hamlet has observed:
No nation is entirely free from corruption. Nevertheless, if corruption is strong enough, it can hinder the good governance and decay the fabric of society.
Is Photios the Claudius of New South Wales, the ultimate source of the self-serving and malicious corruption of the polity? Or is he merely one successful player in a broadly rotten and diseased system?
Whatever one’s answer, there is one conclusion on which all can agree. Until those who run the major parties find a way to rid the place of factionalism + lobbying, the premier State will remain a political cesspit. Lobbying will, alas, always be with us. With big government that is involved in just about everything, it is inevitable that people affected by government decisions or wanting some new action will use fair means and foul to get governments to do things to favour them, to advance their interests. The problem in New South Wales is that those doing the lobbying have already rigged the system to ensure they win. Like I said, this stinks to high heaven.
If the parties do not somehow force changes themselves, the growing cynicism that has infected the polity across all of Australia - witness the simultaneously farcical and appalling recent events in Canberra – and has led to the creation of myriad third parties and independents, will only grow stronger against the perceived corruption of the political elites, and will lead to a political counter revolution.