The rise of Richard di Natale and reforming the NSW ALP

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NSW ALP general secretary Jamie Clements and new Greens leader Richard di Natale (Clements image via theaustralian.com.au)

The other political parties are all trying to copy the Labor Party — even though it still needs reform in NSW, says Labor member and former NSW State candidate Peter Wicks.

So it seems the other political parties are all seeking to emulate Labor at the moment.

On one side, we have the Coalition aiming for a budget about which Scott Morrison says:

"A truly reforming Labor government, in the Hawke-Keating mode, would approve of this budget."

A Government desperate to regain some credibility and popularity after their last budget disaster is finding itself so far out of their comfort zone by not being in opposition that trying to impersonate the current opposition must seem like a good idea.

Realistically it won’t be fooling too many though.

On the other side of the spectrum there is the Greens, with the least transparent leadership transplant in memory.

The farcical change of leaders to someone who is apparently more centrist means even they realise that they are struggling for credibility as a party for anything more than a protest vote.

For those in Tasmania, who saw Bob Brown and then Christine Milne providing strong representation in the Senate for the State, never mind, you still have Eric Abetz and Jacqui Lambie.

Greens supporters hail Richard di Natale as the man who flew to Africa to fight Ebola, despite saying he was going nowhere near the frontline of the Ebola battle, leaving us scratching our heads as to why he would go at all considering we now have Google and Skype available. At the time, however, he sought to turn this into political point scoring by requesting taxpayers fund consular assistance for him, giving him the ability to say the Coalition had rejected his efforts to save us all. Perhaps he should have discovered Google earlier, as the tiniest amount of research shows Australia has no embassy in either Liberia or Sierra Leone, where he was going.

Richard di Natale went to his first press conference as Greens Leader and promptly complained about listening to people “bickering” inside Parliament (perhaps an insight into the Greens caucus) and then being asked questions outside by more than one journalist at a time.

Let’s all slow down and wait our turn shall we? Perhaps he’s in the wrong line of work?

Also at the presser, Christine Milne refused to answer questions about whether she fell on her sword to beat another challenge by Sarah Hanson Young and Adam Bandt, the new leader responded in clear frustration:

"Look, someone may have been disappointed with the outcome. Surprise, surprise, that's politics."

Suddenly, the leadership change Greens supporters called "bloodless" sounded more like a scene from Wolf Creek.

New to Australian politics, however, is the idea of having two deputy leaders, as the Greens now have in Larissa Waters from Queensland and Scott Ludlam from WA. It doesn’t take a massive cynic to notice that these are two states where the Greens are desperate to gain traction at State level, not having a single member in the Queensland State Parliament and a weak presence in WA.

Two deputy leaders out of 11 members including the leader? If we put that into perspective it would be like Labor having 14 deputy leaders.

Speaking of Labor, the question on the lips of political commentators now is

“What will Bill Shorten do to set himself apart?”

I’m not expecting Bill to do a remake of Eminem’s The Real Slim Shady, however with everybody else playing the childish game of copycat, Bill will have to do something to show his differences.

So, I have a suggestion — maybe even a dare.

How about Bill bring about the desperately needed reform of NSW Labor.

Labor in NSW has a cancer. It is a cancer eating away at Labor's heart and for all the talk of previous attempts to address to problem, nothing has been done of any substance.

The public are crying out for it, the rank and file membership are desperate for it and, for the Labor Party nationally to find themselves once again seriously ahead on the playing field, they are in dire need of it.

Shorten is perhaps the man to actually do the required job. He certainly has the drive to take on the big issues and, perhaps more than any other in recent times, has the support of the union movement behind him to do what is deemed necessary.

If anything will show the voting public around the country that Bill Shorten is a force to be reckoned with, this is it. He will have to fight members of his own team to accomplish it, but he will emerge all the stronger for it if he is, indeed, up to the challenge.

I am of the view that any clean-up of the NSW branch needs to start at the top — the general secretary.

Jamie Clements was gifted his current position of Secretary by being inserted as “acting secretary” for several months before facing the election process at state conference. As most would realise, elections are usually easier for the incumbent, making electing Clements a mere formality using the proxy voting powers of those right leaning unions who had gifted him the position in the first place.

Under the leadership of Jamie Clements, we are no closer to reform than we previously were; in fact, many are of the view that we are even further away.

The leadership of Clements has been constantly under fire for many reasons, including a woeful pre-selection process for the recent state election that has been widely reported on. That process saw many seats still fighting pre-selection battles a few months before the election.

To many, it seemed Clements completely let factional players with their own motivations put their agenda ahead of members' interests in determining many candidates in the recent State election.

Some have even questioned whether the disastrous strategy from Sussex St to only highlight one issue in the State Election – the lease of the power network – was a bad decision, or whether it was, in fact, intentional sabotage. Some have suggested a sabotage that was even more effective than Martin Ferguson's act of utter bastardry?

Some have expressed the belief there were elements within the party hoping that Labor would pick up some seats, but ultimately fail to achieve a win or make huge inroads. The alleged reasoning behind this is that it would allow for the replacement of leader Luke Foley at a later date so that Jamie Clements' mate Chris Minns might be elected leader.

I have nothing against Minns, who thanked Clements in his inaugural speech as a

"... my great friend and my's son's godfather".

Minns may well be the best thing since sliced bread, however he needs to carve a path based on his talent, not on his relationship with the “Godfather”.

The situation has become so comical that the opposition are taking pot-shots at Labor Leader Luke Foley at any opportunity.

This week in Question Time, Nationals MP John Barilaro commented that Foley had  

"... threats to his leadership to worry about, such as that from the Member for Kogarah [Minns]."

Minns has been an MP for a heartbeat. If there is to be a change of leader – and that is a colossally huge if – there are others such as Michael Daley who have already proven themselves.

Another clear sign that NSW Labor needs a broom put through it is the fact that with the support of Jamie Clements, Noreen Hay is now Opposition whip. This is perhaps the biggest insult to members in recent history.

Why would we not have an Opposition Whip that is not factional? Clayton Barr, in particular, leaps to mind, well liked and respected by all in the Party.

Instead we have a whip that has been the centre of controversy her entire career.

However, what irks many MPs I have spoken with, who have been around a while, is that Noreen has a reputation for not showing up to caucus meetings, arriving late and even, once, reportedly deciding she’d take off overseas for a week for a holiday while Parliament was sitting.

I could be wrong, maybe a controversial figure with a history of not turning up is just what the Labor Party in NSW need as Opposition whip. I could also be mistaken in thinking that backwards is the wrong direction for the State secretary to be taking the Party. Maybe it’s just what the members deserve?

However, I for one, think members deserve better.

I hope Bill does too.

Read more by Peter Wicks at Wixxyleaks or follow him on Twitter @madwixxy.

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