Just like starting over: Who will help reform NSW Labor?

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Current NSW Labor leader Luke Foley (top right), with leadership hopefuls (clockwise from top left) Chris Minns, Michael Daley, John Robertson and Jodi McKay

Luke Foley is not the leader to take NSW Labor to the next election, says Peter Wicks — so who is?

You would assume that the Liberal Party would be having a good laugh at the recent chaos in NSW Labor, which has seen the state secretary pack it in under a cloud of controversy brought on by a sex scandal — but you’d probably be wrong.

The Liberal Party will be looking on with envy in their eyes.

If only they’d had a sex scandal to help them force out their former Victorian Liberal state secretary Damien Mantach, a close ally of current Victorian Liberal Leader Matthew Guy. Instead of being able to take the moral high ground about making a stand against sexism and workplace bullying, they had to go through a very public saga involving the fleecing of the membership with the  theft of around $1.5 million by the secretary. This is a disgrace that is still not fully resolved and, while Liberal Leader Guy may want to be taken seriously, it’s hard to have any respect for someone who has stayed intentionally mute on such an important issue.

Meanwhile, within the NSW Labor Party, debate rages about whether stability should be the most important image to project to the public. This is really the only shred of hope that Opposition Leader Luke Foley has to cling to as leader.

It is my opinion that stability is vital in the Party if Labor ever fancy themselves as having a shot at governing in NSW within the nextcouple of decades.

However, I also believe that stability should not come before hitting the reset button. In my mind, stability in a system that has only succeeded in producing instability seems a trifle self-defeating — but, hey, that’s just me! If Labor are seeking to continue watching the polls plummet further south from record low levels, branch stacking to run riot and the continued loss of members than I'd say: "keep it up".

I was someone with a great deal of respect for Luke Foley, and I’ll admit that dwindled when in order to become leader he did a deal with Jamie Clements and Noreen Hay. The whole messy saga of how Foley ended up in his Auburn seat is, in my view, a shameful episode in the Party’s history.

Another question that should be pondered is: “Does Foley really want to be Leader?”

He makes all the right sounds at times it’s convenient for him, but this is not a role that takes convenience into account.

Fairfax has reported that Foley had been unable to comment whilst the Party he led imploded, as he had intentionally left his phone at home so he could enjoy his holiday.


So how did he communicate with Deputy Leader Linda Burney? Mental telepathy? Carrier pigeons?

Whatever method Foley used, it apparently only works for deputies and not media outlets.

If it smells like bullshit and looks like bullshit, there’s a reasonable chance that, perhaps, it is bullshit, which does not augur well for someone the public needs to trust.

But let’s assume it is true. Foley is not some ripped off HSU member cleaning toilets who sorely deserves a holiday, he is someone who leads Australia’s largest political party in the most populous state. He is someone who seeks to be the premier of NSW. Someone in that position should not be saying “Stuff it, I’m leaving the phone behind for a few days”. On the contrary, the phone should be permanently fastened to his hand with Liquid Nails.

At no point in time should his tanline take priority over the citizens of NSW.

So, if Luke Foley’s polling and behaviour suggests he is not the man for the top job, then who is? And when is a good time?

I, for one, think the timing is perfect with the state conference only a couple of weeks away. 

To rule a line under this episode and come out of conference with a fresh and bold new leadership might, perhaps, help Labor take itself in a new direction in NSW. Forward.

As for the who, well, in my view there are four choices.

Two likely candidates:

  • Chris Minns
  • Michael Daley

And two outsiders:

  • John Robertson
  • Jodi McKay

Long shot: Jodi McKay (Image via @mckay_jodi)

If Chris Minns becomes leader it should be taken as a sure sign Jamie Clements and Noreen Hay are still running the Party from the murky shadows.

Michael Daley is the man who is seen as the likely choice. He has enjoyed a close working relationship with new acting state secretary Kaila Murnain for years. He has the experience, the intelligence and is in tune with the public. He also has the personality and wit to take on Mike Baird and for the public to fondly relate to.

John Robertson, the former leader, was in fact the last leader of the Party that saw polling improve on his watch — something many have conveniently forgotten. John stood down as leader due to internal pressure over being the unlucky soul to have once been the member in Man Haron Monis' electorate and his office having done a representation for him, as is their job. Robbo, as he is affectionately known, is seen as someone who strongly represents traditional Labor voters. Adored in his electorate and respected amongst the membership, Robbo should also not be ruled out.

Jodi McKay is a long shot. Hugely respected by all, Jodi is known as someone prepared to stand up against corruption in her Party, and has fantastic media skills. During the last election, Jodi also refused to be parachuted into a safe seat and instead moved to Sydney and fought a hard battle to win a highly marginal seat in a year where Labor lost ground. At a time when there is a call for an increase in female participation in politics, Jodi is a fantastic example of why, and is an excellent role model for women seeking a career in politics.

Whoever is leader in a month will need to be a strong support to the current acting secretary – and presumed future secretary – Kaila Murnain. The task ahead to reform the Party in NSW for Murnain is enormous.

To do this, she will need to take on some powerful factional leaders and powerbrokers, powerful union leaders and likely her own admin committee.

If Bill Shorten has any backbone, he will need to assist Murnain by giving her 100 per cent unconditional support as she performs tasks that others have not had the stomach or willpower to tackle.

NSW Labor could be on the verge of, at long last, taking the Party out of the hands of the factions and giving it back to the rank and file members, in doing so it would be the only party in NSW able to honestly make that claim.

There will be tough decisions and there will be further controversy – and there will certainly be blood – but Murnain is the one the membership hope can persevere and get the job done.

A strong woman cleaning up a horrible mess left behind by weaker men.

Peter Wicks is an ALP member and former NSW State Labor candidate. You can follow Peter on Twitter @madwixxy

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