NSW election: Sabotage from within

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If it wasn't for a number of rats chewing out the Labor Party from within, the result of last weekend's NSW election could have been rather different, writes Peter Wicks from Wixxyleaks.

IT MAY BE HARD to understand, but there are some within the Labor Party that were hoping that Luke Foley would lose the NSW election over the weekend.

Clearly former Federal Minister Martin Ferguson was one of those and should be expelled from the Labor Party immediately for his attempts to derail the Labor campaign in NSW.

It is one thing to have a former Labor Party MP’s quote used on a Liberal Party commercial, but to be interviewed to appear in a Liberal Party advert is quite another. The commercial also failed to mention that Ferguson is currently a lobbyist for the energy sector. He took up the role as chair of peak oil and gas industry lobby group APPEA within six months of quitting as Labor's Federal resources and energy minister. Revolving door, much?

To follow that up with a campaign in the printed media about why Mike Baird and the Liberal’s plans to take the NSW power distribution network to the pawn shop is a good idea and why the campaign of Luke Foley has been a failure is an act of pure bastardry.

Former premier and retiring MP Nathan Rees put it best when he described the actions of Martin Ferguson – and similar actions from former NSW Labor Treasurer Michael Costa – like this:

“Not content with having made a living off their involvement with industrial Labor and then Parliamentary careers, both men sought to not just bite the hand that fed them, but savage the throat of its owner. Be very clear, holding different views isn't the issue here; it's the deliberate sabotage of the Labor campaign."

Despite the brave faces, I’m sure many within the Labor Party machine would be gravely disappointed that it didn’t pick up 20 seats, or get to the 15 that seemed to have become the magic number to aim for in the days prior to the election.

So why didn’t the ALP pick up the extra seats?

Some of that unfortunately comes down to some lazy campaigns and poor choices in candidates.

One such example of a poor candidate was in the seat of Seven Hills.

Laurie Ferguson had chosen to back a candidate arguably as compromised as his brother — a man by the name of Susai Benjamin. I won’t go into Mr Benjamin’s history again, however it is something that Laurie Ferguson and Sussex Street were well aware of and yet still chose to back his campaign.

While other candidates were complaining of their opponent's teams pulling their corflute’s down, in the seat of Seven Hills it was joked the Liberal candidates team were putting Susai’s corflutes up, so bad was his reputation.

All joking aside though the Seven Hills area is one that Labor had held for over half a century and yet this time Labor attracted less than one-third of the votes while the Liberal candidate Mark Taylor (not the cricketer) cleaned up with over 50%.

Labor will just have to hope that Laurie's candidate wasn’t so bad that the earth has been salted behind him for future candidates.

Maybe next time a community pre-selection would be good so that the alleged branch stacking is neutralised.

Yesterday, Laurie finally spoke out to Fairfax on his brother's appearance in a Liberal Party television commercial, saying he did not think his brother's

"...intervention in New South Wales was helpful to Labor Party interests."

Geez, ya reckon Laurie?

There were other candidates whom I won’t name that thought they would be able to ride the wave in as the swing came back towards Labor. Unfortunately for both Labor and these candidates, they soon discovered that laziness does not pay dividends. While they sought to blame other factors, those who were working on the campaigns could see the stats from other campaigns, on things like phone calls made and number of doors knocked, and some of those who did the least are now crying the loudest.

So what about the campaign itself?

Luke Foley himself did a remarkable job in such a short time, particularly when you take into consideration the fact he had to win his own seat of Auburn for the first time. Something he achieved despite their being some major hurdles in the electorate to overcome.

The overall result Foley achieved was portrayed largely as acceptable, however when you consider that he was running against the Colgate candidate Mike Baird, with the weight of the Premier's office behind him, Foley’s efforts seem more significant — and when you also consider that, only three or four months ago, nobody aside from political junkies knew who he was, then his achievements look quite remarkable.

It is my humble opinion that Foley was let down by Jamie Clements and the Sussex Street machine — and no, that is not a band name, and it also does not include every person in Sussex Street, some of whom do a fantastic job under enormous pressure.

Where NSW Labor actually followed its own rules and pre-selected candidates a year or more out from the election, it worked a treat. One such example was the superb campaign run by Trish Doyle and her team in the Blue Mountains, which saw her deservedly win the seat from the Liberals by a more than comfortable margin, another was the campaign of the tireless campaigner Pru Carr with a massive win in the Londonderry seat.

If only the Party had given all candidates this much time.

The decision to make this a campaign about one issue was a foolish one. The privatisation campaign was all well and good, but it should not have been our only message to the people of NSW. The decision later in the campaign to switch the focus to the fear of foreign ownership may have held some merit, however when implemented it seemed more like xenophobia and more than likely only served to alienate huge parts of the community. The evidence of this can be seen in electorates like Parramatta, which have a large Chinese population.

Negative campaigns are not popular with the public. That is something that has been proven time and time again, so to run an entirely negative campaign was a bad decision, particularly when there were some positive messages that could have got some mileage.

Labor launched the most comprehensive animal welfare policy in the country, but it came out late and was not pushed hard enough. This is policy that, if pushed harder, could have made a huge difference in seats such as Newtown and Balmain.

As it turns out, it was used to help secure Greens preference votes in the seat of Strathfield, with the welcome support of a fantastic team from Oscar's Law who helped Labor with the puppy farm section of the policy. However, though generously offered, Oscar's Law's assistance was not sought by Sussex Street.

There were some huge announcements made regarding health policy, including hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on desperately needed hospital upgrades after years of Coalition cuts as well as a guarantee of fixing nursing ratio’s to one nurse for every three patients.

There were also huge announcements of spending on schools and increased funding for TAFE, whose students have seen their courses shut down or their fees soar under a government with a privatisation agenda.

The way I perceive it, the powers that be were seeking to win some seats back – at least enough to put a victory in reach next time around – but not enough to see Foley showered in praise. Thus leaving the door ajar enough for a leadership challenge in a year or so.

However this is just my opinion, but if Noreen Hay ends up as Party Whip it will be a bad sign.

Labor do not want to continue being the party with a revolving door of leaders, no matter who was best man at whose wedding.

Looking at the last two leaders in NSW that were knifed by the faceless and yet had the strength of character to stay on, you wonder at the point of the seeming bloodlust within elements of the party.

Nathan Rees, who has now retired, was well-respected on all sides of the political spectrum and was adored in his electorate. He will always be remembered as the leader and premier with the guts to stand up against Obeid and Tripodi. Taking his place as a Labor candidate was the aforementioned Ferguson backed Susai Benjamin who suffered a loss that is so humiliating to Labor that the electorate we will be forced to wear the shame for years.

The other leader is John Robertson, MP for Blacktown. Robertson in his time as leader also took on corruption launching a policy entitled “A New Standard”, with a zero tolerance approach at its heart. Robertson was ousted as leader after it emerged that his office had done what it is there for and made a representation for a constituent on face value. Unfortunately, years later, that constituent was responsible for the Lindt Café siege. The decision was taken that this would reflect poorly on Robertson who was just unfortunately in the wrong electorate office at the wrong time.

So poorly was the reflection on Robertson that he won his seat on the weekend with a huge swing towards him of over 10%.

As a party we need to learn from past mistakes not try to gloss over them.

Luke Foley is a great leader and has proved himself as such in a remarkably short time. Let’s not make the foolish mistake of making a move on him before the next election.

On the Liberal Party front, I was struck by a complete lack of surprise when, while the votes were still being counted, Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey once again brought the GST into the conversation.

I wonder why that didn’t come up a week earlier…

Peter Wicks is a Labor Party member and a former NSW ALP State candidate. You can read more by Peter at Wixxyleaks or follow him on Twitter @madwixxy.

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