Setting the Record Straight (paperback)

ISBN 9780646970011

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  • Dedication
  • Poem
  • Acknowledgements
  • CHAPTER 1 The early years – what drove my passion to serve?
  • CHAPTER 2 Joining the ALP – the dream begins
  • CHAPTER 3 The campaign for pre-selection – climbing the political Mt Everest
  • CHAPTER 4 The backbencher – reaching for executive power
  • CHAPTER 5 The illusion of freedom of speech – over-reaching on ‘sacred’ ground
  • CHAPTER 6 Law & order – the cases of Vo and Lewthwaite
  • CHAPTER 7 Winning government – exercising executive power
  • CHAPTER 8 The Sydney Motorways – what it took to build them
  • CHAPTER 9 Road safety – saving lives
  • CHAPTER 10 Connecting communities – anecdotes along the way
  • CHAPTER 11 Running the railways – managing unbridled economic rationalism
  • CHAPTER 12 Delivering transport for a successful Sydney Olympics
  • CHAPTER 13 The premiership denied – what really happened?
  • CHAPTER 14 The dream ends – Iemma strikes again
  • CHAPTER 15 Privatising electricity – The destruction of a Labor Government
  • CHAPTER 16 The aftermath – transition, renewal and new beginnings
  • Back cover


I want your resignation”, mumbled Premier Morris Iemma in his Parliament House office, without making any eye contact.

That brought to an abrupt end the dream and desire of my whole adult life to serve and make a difference. What began as a 17-year-old with a dream awakened by the re-election of the Whitlam government in May 1974, ended on the 26th of October 2006 as a 49-year-old in the cold, harsh reality of political life.

It had been a very long journey and a much tougher one than I had ever envisaged it would be in my teens and early 20s.

Friends and family had often asked that I record my story since my earlier than expected retirement from politics in March 2007. I have thought on more than a few occasions of putting pen to paper, but decided instead to let time pass, let some scars heal and the dust settle somewhat on what had been a high profile public career before doing so. It now seems opportune to record some thoughts and recollections from a personal, political and professional perspective.

I am mindful of what the late Neville Wran, former New South Wales Labor Premier, and in my view, a titan of New South Wales politics, once said to me when I asked him why he had not written an account of his rich political life: “Too many of the bastards are still alive”. I thought this was classic Wran to the last. Brilliant, witty and to the point. It also emphasised the main risk in writing a political account from a personal rather than an independent perspective.

It is usually a lot easier to leave it all well alone than run the risk of former colleagues, journalists and many interested parties strongly disputing how events are described or recalled many years later. This was a factor in my not wanting to put pen to paper. But, after several years out of politics and with most of the ‘bastards’ still alive, I decided it was time to record the events as I remember them.

I had dreamed since the age of 17 of one day leading the great Australian Labor Party and whilst I did not quite achieve that political mountain, I did go a lot closer to it than many. And on that long path to just below the pinnacle of power, I had a rare privilege of service and achievement which few can look back upon over their working lives.

This is the story of my own personal journey in serving the great cause of Labor and of the community, including the joys and challenges of delivering to Sydney and New South Wales, new motorways, freeways, rail lines and housing estates, delivering transport for the Sydney 2000 Olympics, running for the premiership and being hurled from Office on a whim by the man who beat me to that position. It is a journey, rich in battles won and battles lost – a journey of achieving great things and being denied in the end the opportunity to do much more.

It is also an opportunity to correct the record, or at least to add to the record on both the wider circumstances of my unsuccessful bid for the premiership, and the suggestion by many journalists and media outlets that I had misled the Parliament about the existence of the Cronulla Riot report and as a result was forced to resign.

Misleading the house is a vague notion, ill-defined and lacking any process for assessing guilt or innocence. On most occasions, including my own, when the allegation is made, it is usually the media acting as ‘Prosecutor’ before what they believe is the ‘Court of Public Opinion’, which they have in turn whipped into a frenzy. An experienced Premier like Bob Carr was well aware of the pack-like mentality of many political journalists and often stared them down until a ‘crisis’ of their making had passed. But, Iemma was never going to be a Bob Carr. By removing me from the ministry at the height of the media frenzy over unfair and unsustainable allegations of ‘misleading the house’, he left me appearing in my view, as if I had to resign for some kind of dishonesty. This hurt deeply, was blatantly unfair and untrue. I had always valued my reputation in both words and deeds for being an ethical, honest and moral person in all my personal, professional and political dealings. My late parents would have expected no less.

That a dubious interpretation could possibly be made to how I had conducted myself both publicly and privately was deeply wounding to me and took a long time to heal. The assurances to the contrary in more recent years, from MPs from both sides of politics and even some senior journalists, have been greatly appreciated.

I have also welcomed the opportunity to draw some closure on what had been a pretty tough time in my life. I am aware that MPs are expected to be made of ‘sterner stuff’ and take whatever life dishes up to them, but we are no less human than the citizens we represent.

Thank you for allowing me the privilege of sharing my memoir with you.