15 February 2015
The Liberal-National Coalition under Nick Greiner took power in New South Wales about three decades ago. It was March 1988, and Greiner led the Coalition to victory for the first time since the 1970s. Perhaps this time out of office made the Coalition’s win seem greater than it was – the Coalition won fifty-nine seats in the Lower House of Parliament but failed to win a majority in the Upper House, while the Labor Party won forty-three seats and Independents won seven, giving the Coalition a nine-seat majority in the Lower House. Seven ministers were among the Labor casualties as twelve years of Labor government came to an end.
But on a sour note, Greiner lost one of his frontbenchers, Liberal MP Michael Yabsley, to Independent candidate Clover Moore in the inner Sydney seat of Bligh. This wasn’t to be Moore’s only moment of peeving the Liberals. In fact, Moore would go on to annoy both the Liberals and Labor, to the point where hatred of her is, probably by chance, set to worsen traffic gridlock in the central business district of Sydney.
Years after Moore’s defeat of Yabsley, Greiner also fell victim to Moore. He’d governed well and seemed popular since winning the 1988 election. But a surprise swing against him at the next election, in 1991, produced a hung parliament, and the Coalition Government could only govern with the support of Independent MPs, with Moore among them. After this near-defeat, Greiner was accused of corruption, in trying to lure an Independent MP out of politics with a public service job. A subsequent investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption found against Greiner, the man who’d actually established the Commission, and he had to resign as Premier. Moore and other Independents could’ve tipped the Coalition out of office altogether if Greiner hadn’t gone. The Coalition took many years to recover from his departure, lost office in 1995, and didn’t win another election until 2011.
After regaining office in 1995, Labor sacked two local councils covering the CBD of Sydney and merged them into a single council. Locals saw this as an attempt by Labor to stack the council with people likely to approve major building projects proposed by money-hungry developers and the top end of town. Sensing local hostility, Moore ran for the job of Lord Mayor of this new council, and she won. She was therefore both a State MP and a local mayor, prompting accusations of conflicts of interest. But locals didn’t mind her. They saw the major parties as captive to the top end of town, and willing to develop the CBD to suit big business interests without consideration of local wishes, and they saw Moore as their “woman”, willing to stand up against the big guys.
As Lord Mayor, Moore was able to pursue an agenda of putting dedicated lanes for bicycles on streets both in the CBD and leading to it. She’s also sought to run light rail down the CBD streets, and to turn streets into car-free zones. Businesses hate the bike lanes in particular, as they take away parking spaces and kill off some of their daily trade, and they’ve been pushing to get rid of them where possible. The Liberals share this hostility, although there’s been less hostility from Labor regarding both Moore and the bike lanes, because Labor policies on environmental issues are thought more likely to accommodate bike lanes and light rail.
The Liberals have sought to get Moore out of politics ever since the Coalition’s 2011 election win. It legislated to stop MPs from serving on local councils at the same time, which meant that Moore had to leave Parliament after winning another term as Lord Mayor of Sydney City Council in 2012. But local support for her and her ideas remained strong, and another Independent won her old parliamentary seat.
While wanting Moore out of politics, the Liberals realise that locals in inner Sydney like her and they can’t afford to upset them. So the Coalition Government looks like leaving CBD bike lanes untouched, and seeking to run light rail through the CBD, just as Moore wants to do. This is a case of playing “me too” – the game played before the 2007 Federal election, when Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd defeated Prime Minister John Howard only after saying that he’d continue most of Howard’s popular policies.
The Sydney CBD has too little space on its streets to accommodate light rail and bike lanes. But it’s getting them. Ideally, until there’s heavy rail running from the CBD to parts of Sydney where it doesn’t exist, people will keep driving to the CBD, and fewer vehicular traffic lanes will worsen the gridlock. The CBD gridlock looks set to worsen because of a political agenda, which makes no sense.