OUR SAY: The evil that men do

By: Rob McKay

Corruption and arrogance has sideswiped an industry that has its own problems.

OUR SAY: The evil that men do
BP and Transpacific learned from McAleese's handling of the Cootes tanker tragedy.


It has been yet another tough past few months for the industry’s profile. A company-fine record — Scott’s, set earlier in the year — was broken by Lennons’; BP’s national fleet, modest though it is, was grounded; then a second, more substantial one in Transpacific’s — both following multiple-fatality accidents.

Those who observe such things may have heard echoes of McAleese’s response to the Cootes tanker conflagration last October. The approach involves being seen to take responsibility, not least by taking the fleet off the road for a safety audit.

Learning from McAleese’s stumbles, BP and Transpacific were seen to bear the initial financial pain of being thorough because being at once a news story and compliance issue that won’t go away is always worse.

We’ve been here before and doubtless will be again and, as said before, the only reasonable response is deep sympathy for the bereaved and hope that lessons learnt will mean longer periods between such incidents.

An altogether shallower emotion, anger, is the correct response to the story heard at the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) related to events in and around Newcastle in the lead-up to the state election.

While it would be wrong to paint this an intrinsically NSW phenomena, it is tempting to think of the state’s politics as a particularly rotten Magic Pudding. A gift that keeps on giving, leaving the most violent indigestion in its wake.

It is just too easy to say, as counsel assisting the inquiry Geoffrey Watson did note, that this has been the most corrupt period since the Rum Rebellion.

And only the very unkind would remind us that in in 1920s the state once hosted perhaps the country’s only multiple murderer to hold a cabinet position, Justice Minister Thomas Ley.

For the morbidly curious, the ICAC transcripts relating to Operation Spicer and Operation Credo are recommended reading. Despite Watson’s bravura performance, however, those quick to fury should steer clear.

This writer had a hard time of it, and not just because he shares a surname with the traduced former Newcastle MP Jodi McKay.

It is true she might have been dumped anyway by an electorate sick of Labor. But it is doubtful she deserved to go, especially in this way.

For it seems her main sin, one that drew a greedy and corrupt response from those who sought to gain extraordinary riches at the expense of the public, was to put the state first.

Making it more egregious, if what Watson says is borne out, the instrument of her political destruction was none other than former ports minister Joe Tripodi. The same Tripodi that help deliver some order to trucking interface with Port Botany.

What was at stake? Well, only the state’s future second container port.

That need is going nowhere and to have the best site sat on by a coal terminal presaged enormous expense in a worse option or hundreds of millions in recompense if compulsorily acquired.

This option would be at a cost to civil and social infrastructure including that which saves lives. Had the Newcastle Port Corporation not resisted stoutly, that would have been lost.

And how was this done? By demonising the trucking industry through a smear and fear campaign.

‘Stop Jodi’s Trucks’ should remain an infamous slogan and source of shame in the lifetimes of all involved. As has been pointed out, McKay is too scarred to return to politics and evil has won a victory.

It takes a certain over weaning arrogance to engage in the bastardisation of an industry and the otherwise blameless, who make their living in it.

Only the particularly hard of heart and of blind of insight can have formulated such an argument as cardinal George Pell did in the way he did.

Australian Trucking Association (ATA) chair Noelene Watson was right to give him such a well-judged and incisive response. It is worth repeating:

"There are more than 170,000 professional truck drivers in Australia. They have families and children. Cardinal Pell’s analogy is a deep insult to every one of them.

"These comments are a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the Royal Commission being faced by the Catholic Church and other institutions that deal with children.

"Cardinal Pell must realise he cannot solve these problems by insulting Australia’s hardworking truck drivers who deliver the goods we use every day."

Those in the wrong are not personally in Ley’s class but, unchecked, they would have done more damage.

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