July 20, 2004 | Jeff Wall

John Laws takes on the big end of town – a spectacle not to be missed.

IN recent days John Laws has demonstrated two things. Firstly, he has not entirely lost his enthusiasm for radio after 51 years, and, secondly, talkback radio remains a powerful political medium.
It’s been compelling listening as John Laws has taken on the NSW Labor Government, and the far too influential shopping centre giant, Westfield.
His cause has been the jobs of 450 workers, and the future of 62 small businesses, at the Orange Grove outlet centre at Liverpool in Sydney’s west that are at risk following court action by Westfield to effectively close the centre down.
John Laws is normally well disposed towards Bob Carr, but in recent days he has given the NSW Premier, and a couple of his Ministers, a real hammering. He has given Mark Latham a spray for good measure.
And his listeners have lapped it up. There have been mums and dads, and young girls who work at Orange Grove, ringing up in tears appealing for their jobs and small businesses to be saved.
Yesterday he had Orange Grove developer, Nabil Gazal, on after Premier Carr had described Mr Gazal as “a known associate of former Fairfield councillor, Phuong Canh Ngo”. That’s akin to be named as a “known associate” of Saddam Hussein. Ngo is serving a life sentence for the murder of NSW State Labor MP, John Newman.
Whoever advised Bob Carr to link Gazal with Phuong Ngo should be sent on extended “gardening leave” for, as Laws gladly pointed out, Phuong Ngo was “a known associate” of Labor Party Members – and a Labor Party activist himself.
But it got worse. Gazal was even happier to point out that he had been introduced to Phuong Ngo by Carr Government Minister, Reba Meagher, and Labor Party faction heavy and MP, Joe Tripodi. Ouch!
The Carr Government has handled this one appallingly………..and has allowed itself to be seen to be doing Westfield’s bidding.
And Laws has taken Westfield and the Government to the cleaners in a forensic and generally libellous dismantling of its refusal to prevent Orange Grove closing down as a result of Westfield’s court victory.
The issues are complex, and not really relevant to the point I want to make……but it would suffice to say that Liverpool Council (once headed by Mark Latham) gave approval for the Orange Grove outlet centre, but that was overturned by the Land and Environment Court after the centre had already opened.
Law’s main complaint is that the Carr Government has rejected Liverpool Council’s plan to rezone the Orange Grove land to enable the outlet to remain open.
There is some irony in this position, as Orange Grove was officially opened late last year by – wait for it – the NSW State Planning Minister, Craig Knowles! His Assistant Minister, Diane Beamer, is in the firing line good and proper, and her refusal to go on radio and defend the Government’s position has enraged Laws, and made the Government’s position look very sick.
(Diane Beamer would seem to be Bob Carr’s equivalent of John Howard’s hopeless Veterans Affairs Minister, Dana Vale).
The “Daily Telegraph” columnist, Piers Akerman, has sided with Westfield, and has tried to drag Mark Latham onto centre stage, with limited success. The original Orange Grove application goes back to the early 1990’s and over the weekend he claimed that Mark Latham was Mayor when the original application was refused by the Liverpool Council. Wrong – as Akerman gingerly pointed out in today’s “Telegraph”.
But John Laws has been far more effective in dragging Mark Latham into the action, and, once again, Latham’s media advisors have let him down rather badly.
By not taking sides on the future of Orange Grove, Latham has left himself open to the claim that he is backing the big end of town against small business and the workers.
One of his backbenchers, Julia Irwin, the MP for Fowler, has been much smarter, She has been on John Laws program twice in recent days giving her full backing to Orange Grove, its tenants and workers – and her voters who shop there!
Laws has been at his cutting best for the best part of a week. The Carr Government has been made to look mean spirited, and, to put it bluntly, very sus!
Yesterday we saw the partial back down.
Minister Beamer said the Government would allow the outlet to stay open if it reverted to its lawful use as a “bulky goods” outlet. That will be cold comfort for small business.
I doubt John Laws, or Orange Grove, or the traders and staff, will be satisfied. Small businesses will still close, and jobs will be lost.
The standing of the NSW Labor Government in its heartland has taken a real battering. Mark Latham runs the risk of being hit by some of the fallout.
The biggest losers will be Westfield, who have been portrayed as heavy handed, mean spirited and good at calling in political favours.
They might be getting used to that claim. If I was advising Westfield, I would be counselling the Company that it needs to urgently review its whole approach to competitors, and to small business – including its own tenants.
The day will come when a section of the media will delve very deeply into Westfield’s deals, and how it deals with its tenants.
It won’t be a pretty sight!

Posted by Jeff Wall at 7:42 am | Comments Off on John Laws takes on the big end of town – a spectacle not to be missed. |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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