"I'm a lover not a fighter" ... NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell. Photo: Wolter Peeters
THERE'S nothing wrong in principle with James Packer having a glitzy new casino in Sydney. That's the business he's in and it's a free country.
If planeloads of Chinese billionaires, the so-called whale gamblers, want to fly here to throw their money at him, by all means let them. We are told the joint will be for them alone, invitation only. There'll be no buses trawling the western suburbs for local suckers to empty their pay packets into the pokies as they do at the hideous Star Casino. So far so good.
It's how it's happening that matters. What sticks in the craw is the stampede to get the thing off the ground. Our ground. To point out the bleedin' obvious - but it seems necessary to do so - Barangaroo is public space, owned by the people of this state, who are entitled to the final say in what happens there. Yet before a sod has been turned, the normal checks and balances have been tossed overboard into the harbour mud.
"I’m incredibly grateful to the Labor Party for not playing party politics and I’m incredibly grateful to Premier O’Farrell and the Liberal Party for doing what it has done" ... James Packer. Photo: Andrew Meares
Barry O'Farrell has flung himself into the Packer embrace with orgasmic whoops of delight, like a nymphomaniac at a Bulldogs' end-of-season frolic. ''I'm a lover, not a fighter,'' he trilled when asked about a new casino licence last week.
The opposition and the unions have been squared away by the helpful Packer fixers Karl Bitar and Mark Arbib, famous in their previous incarnation for building the NSW branch of the Labor Party into the powerhouse of talent, policy and vision we see today. Why, the union that represents hospitality workers, United Voice, will even have an office in the new pleasure dome. How convenient. And a bar and restaurant tab too, I hope.
The love affair is mutual. ''I'm incredibly grateful to the Labor Party for not playing party politics and I'm incredibly grateful to Premier O'Farrell and the Liberal Party for doing what it has done,'' young James told a room of admirers at the Museum of Contemporary Art last week.
Well he might be. Clearly, the rules of the game give the Packer plan all the aces.
As the Herald's state political editor, Sean Nicholls, reported on Thursday, the government's guidelines for permitting a development like this to avoid going to tender have been secretly watered down. As if by magic, this happened a week after Packer's private meeting with the Premier and two weeks before he put in his formal ''unsolicited proposal''. What exquisite timing. If only the rest of us could get such swift approval for our unsolicited proposals for humble new carports and backyard granny flats.
So the deal is done. The government will pretend that everything will meet the closest scrutiny, ho hum, but this is the ham-fisted mob that managed to lose $1 billion from the state budget in the space of a month. It seems likely James won't even have to pay for a new casino licence.
We can only hope that when the Palazzo Packer does go up it has some civic and architectural merit.
BAHASA Indonesia is not a hard language to learn. I taught it to myself when I lived in Jakarta for three years in the late '60s, working by day as an ABC foreign correspondent and playing by night in the city's hottest rock band.
Indonesia was emerging then from its years of living dangerously, when Western culture and particularly music were taboo. The band was made up of guys from Sulawesi and Ambon, and we did Stones, Creedence and Bee Gees covers, faithful to the last note of every guitar riff. One of the best gigs we ever played was a Perayaan Sunatan, a lavish party thrown by an army general for his son's circumcision.
Them was the days. The sex, drugs and rock'n'roll were wonderful, and I picked up a rough Jakarta accent and slang which I can still manage, although it's a bit rusty. Today when I visit Bali, the elegant locals are politely amused to hear such vulgarity from a foreigner.
The point of this wretched excess of self-basting nostalgia is to argue that foreign languages are best learnt on the ground, not in the classroom. The government's new Asia white paper is a terrific attempt to shove things in the right direction, but the language teachers have almost all gone. For this we can largely thank Brendan Nelson, who stupidly axed the funding for Asian language studies when he was John Howard's education minister in 2002. What a wonderful ''saving'' that was.
By all means, let the classroom teaching begin again. But better for the government to fund seriously generous scholarships for thousands of our kids to study at Indonesian - and Chinese, Indian and Japanese - schools and universities. That way they get the culture too, although I'd vehemently warn against the drugs. That was then, this is now.
ONE curious omission from the white paper was any discussion of an Australian republic. In all the fine phrases about the brilliant future that awaits us, the idea that we might improve our constitution and our system of government did not get even a sentence. I thought that was gutless, really, particularly for a Labor government.
Asians find it odd, to say the least, that we still acknowledge the English queen as our head of state. This amuses Indians in particular, who shook off the Raj in 1947 and seem to have pottered along OK since with a vibrant democracy and an elected president.
The Indian example is one we could well follow. The process is complex but, basically, the president of India is elected for a five-year term by the vote of all members of the two national houses of Parliament and the state legislatures. It works well, without political conflict and with general public acceptance. The Indian constitution specifies that the president must act in accordance with the advice of the prime minister.
This is apparently beyond us here. The presence of Charles and Camilla Mountbatten-Windsor at Tuesday's Melbourne Cup will produce another pathetic round of royal grovelling, you watch. I have nothing against them in person, not at all, but the idea of them becoming our king and queen is ridiculous. Yet it will happen the moment the present monarch gasps her last.