Wednesday, December 24, 2014

NSW Labor-6 leaders in 9 years

Former NSW Labor leader John Robertson. Credit:Local Government and Shires Association of New South Wales

New South Wales's Labor Party leader John Robertson has quit, in circumstances that revolve around a letter he allegedly signed  recommending that Sydney Lindt gunman  Man Haran Mounis be released on Father's Day to meet his son.

This is a relatively minor sin, compared to the recent acts of some NSW politicians. However, NSW Labor is understandably terrified of any sort of major scandal, given that they are only just recovering from an unpopular term of government in which some very serious scandals involving Labor MPs were exposed.

The 2011 election was a disaster for NSW Labor (results here), but the election was one only the hopelessly delusional thought Labor would win. Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell was elected to the Premiership, and proceeded to govern for a relatively uneventful 3 years. O'Farrell is generally considered to be a moderate within his party, and he was able to, more or less, unite a rabble of an opposition.

However, O'Farrell resigned after he failed to disclose to the Independent Commission against Corruption that he received a $3000 bottle of wine from the CEO of a water company involved in controversial deals with NSW's water supply. He was replaced by State Treasurer Mike Baird, who is regarded as more of a conservative.

Robertson's leadership came about after the 2011 election, when he won the lower house seat of Blacktown, but with a 19% swing against Labor. He was previously a member of the upper house, and before that a secretary of Unions NSW.

He was elected NSW Labor leader unopposed, and didn't do much until, in October 2013, he revealed that he had been offered a $3 million bribe by businessman and property developer Michael McGurk in 2006. McGurk was murdered in 2009, and was accused of involvement in shady deals, so it is not especially shocking that he offered the bribe, but for Robertson to keep it secret for years is rather odd, especially given that Robertson turned down the bribe and would not have been personally implicated in any investigation.

Anyway, Robertson bumbled along for a bit, failing to do much to improve Labor's performance in the opinion polls. Labor was stuck below 40% two-party preferred until 2014, but they still trailed the Liberals by a comfortable margin, under both O'Farrell and Baird. While it is rather rash to suggest that Labor could make up the difference in NSW after a landslide in 2011, Queensland Labor has managed to close the polling gap significantly despite receiving an absolute pasting in 2012. This may have more to do with the fact that the Queensland government has been significantly more controversial than the NSW government.

However, Robertson is now gone. I don't know much about succesors, but currently Michael Daley, the Shadow Treasurer, has announced that he wants the job, while Luke Foley, the upper house leader. and Linda Burney, the deputy leader, have all been suggested as candidates. Leading NSW Labor into the 2015 election looks like a suicide mission, and a wise candidate will do well to distance themselves from any loss.


  1. Henry, why has NSW struggled with political leadership in contrast to the VIC scene? Sorry I realize it's a very large question but I'm thinking that in your close analysis the reasons would be apparent.

    1. Thanks for your question. I think that given that Labor had ruled for so long, and that the party is dominated by one faction, undue influence on government was exerted by that group. In Victoria, the Labor Party is more factionally balanced. Also, there is far more investigation of and paranoia about corruption in NSW.


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