O'Farrell has shot himself in the foot

O'Farrell has shot himself in the foot

Since announcing his government's intention to sell the state's electricity generators, the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, has withstood a barrage of criticism from groups wanting him to extend his privatisation plans to the more lucrative poles and wires, or network businesses.

He has remained steadfast, arguing that to do so would represent a broken promise - something he could never contemplate.

Short end of the stick ... Barry O'Farrell's decision to deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party may have destroyed any trust established in the minds of the public.

Short end of the stick ... Barry O'Farrell's decision to deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party may have destroyed any trust established in the minds of the public.Credit:Quentin Jones

His stubbornness might not have won him many friends in the business community, but it did cement in the minds of the public that O'Farrell was a man of his word whose promises could be banked. That trust has since become a cherished political asset.

But he and his closest advisers know the decision to deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party over the power legislation might have destroyed all that.


As has been well noted, the deal O'Farrell has done to get his electricity bill through Parliament - opening up 79 national parks and reserves to recreational hunters - has striking parallels with Julia Gillard's experience at the last federal election.

Both feature a government that was delivered a difficult Parliament by the electorate being forced to make a deal with a minor party to achieve a critical outcome.

In Gillard's case, it was a deal with the Greens to introduce the carbon tax in return for their support to form government.

For O'Farrell it is the bargain with the Shooters and Fishers that will deliver him the billions of dollars from electricity privatisation to build the infrastructure that will keep the Coalition in power.

And O'Farrell, just like Gillard, knows he has broken a promise in doing so. The decision has also trashed the government's environmental credentials but it is the appearance of dishonesty that will worry O'Farrell the most.

Apart from undermining the value of his future promises, the impression that O'Farrell's word cannot be relied upon has given the Labor opposition its most potent weapon yet.

In truth, O'Farrell has only himself to blame. The guessing game over how he would deal with the upper house has been going ever since it became apparent in polling before last year's election that he could gain a working majority there. Those predictions held that while he would not win outright control of the Legislative Council, the government could secure passage of its legislation with support of the conservative MPs from the Shooters and Fishers and the Christian Democratic Party.

The predictions were proven accurate. But O'Farrell - perhaps flush with hubris because of the commanding majority he had just been delivered in the Legislative Assembly - wouldn't have a bar of it.

Questions from the Herald and other media about what deals he might be required to make to secure his legislative agenda were met with derision.

Not long after the election, O'Farrell's spokesman said the government ''won't be doing any deals with any of the minor parties or independents on our election commitments''.

He repeatedly ruled out granting the Shooters and Fishers Party the item on top of their list of demands: allowing recreational shooters into national parks to shoot feral animals.

His Environment Minister, Robyn Parker, even told Parliament last August that shooting in national parks was not government policy.


It's true O'Farrell was backed into a corner over his power privatisation bill and it can be argued that the end - $3 billion in infrastructure funds - justifies the means.

But it is just as true that the decision has left O'Farrell and his government with a big credibility problem, which Labor will fully exploit until the 2015 election. Regaining the trust of the electorate will be no easy matter.

Sean Nicholls is the State Political Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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