Branded with a “do nothing” tag … NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell with Treasurer Mike Baird.With a single decision to fund a single motorway, Barry O’Farrell has taken his best shot at slaying the beast that has been threatening to devour his first term in government.
In the 19 months since he was elected there has been no more damaging complaint than that O’Farrell is a timid Premier with a closer eye on the polls than the future of the state.
His refusal to sell the electricity ”poles and wires” to raise infrastructure funds and a penchant for commissioning reviews then not acting on their recommendations has led to accusations he is squandering a historic opportunity to spend some of his vast political capital to fix the state.
The ”do nothing” tag has grown like a cancer, with even the traditionally Coalition-friendly business lobby groups eager to weigh in to press the case.
Naturally, the government will be desperately hoping this week’s announcement that it is backing construction of the $10 billion WestConnex motorway with a commitment of $1.8 billion in public funds will stop the rot.
So far, it appears to have had the desired effect, with positive headlines hailing ”BOF the builder” in an unintentionally ironic echo of the ”Bob the builder” nickname given to the former premier Bob Carr.
For the first time, the way O’Farrell is being portrayed in public is being matched by his ambition to be known as the ”infrastructure Premier”. Restive backbenchers spooked by recent polls showing a backlash against the government are breathing a little easier.
But it remains to be seen how much political mileage can be wrought from a single announcement and whether it will satisfy those baying for more action.
O’Farrell was this week reminding us the decision fulfils an election promise to begin a major road project in his first term.
It’s an important message for O’Farrell as he has sustained slings and arrows in his determination to stick with his political strategy of not overpromising while in opposition and doing precisely what he has promised in government.
Now he can bank that promise along with the one to build his pet project, the north-west rail link.
No doubt this will gain him some respect from the electorate, but there are significant tests ahead.
First, neither O’Farrell nor the Treasurer, Mike Baird, would guarantee this week the project would be completed. They both know the dangers associated with infrastructure provision and just how quickly big projects can go wrong.
Given the importance placed on the WestConnex, it could either make this government’s reputation or become a political albatross for years to come.
Second, the government is promising its full response to the Infrastructure NSW plan by the end of the year, including to proposals for an F3 to M2 tunnel and new underground bus terminals at Wynyard and Town Hall, which would cost billions.
Whether this is likely to be the first stumbling block will depend on whether O’Farrell feels emboldened enough by the plaudits to go beyond his natural inclinations.
There is already a backlog of recommendations the government has failed to address from two reports it has commissioned from the former Treasury officials Michael Lambert and Kerry Schott, not to mention those in its draft transport master plan.
To date the criticism has been that plenty of reports are being commissioned but their findings are being ignored. In a sense, the decision to back WestConnex was an easy one as it was an election commitment.
Finding the will to commit to – and to fund – more of Infrastructure NSW’s plan will be harder.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.