27 October 2006

What happened to the NSW Labor Right?

In my day, the Sussex Street Right in NSW was Australia's most effective and fearsome political machine. It decided who was going to be PM and Premier and shut the Left out of every decision-making role, leaving them with the crumbs from the feast if they were lucky.

These days, they are a shadow of their former selves. If you dig a bit deeper into NSW Labor politics you'll see how much trouble the Right are in.

The Carr Government's best Minister was John Watkins, and he should have become Premier. Watkins is detail-focused with a sense of perspective; he's businesslike without being cold, personable but not oily. Watkins was not even considered because, oops, he's in the wrong faction. For the moment.

Shakespeare wrote that sweet are the uses of adversity, and the NSW Labor Left are in a sweet position. They haven't all pissed off and joined the Communists or the Greens and the fight has made them stronger. They've put forward quality people which can only stand them in good stead going forward. NSW may have a Labor Left Premier before it gets a Liberal one.

On the Federal level, the only reason why Labor is led by Kim Beazley is because John Faulkner won't make himself available. The NSW Labor right had no candidate in the recent battle for Labor's Federal Presidency. They were lukewarm on Rann who in turn saw no reason to suck up to Sussex Street. They were embarrassed that Crean was running at all. This ballot killed the idea that Mark Arbib has anything like the clout of Graham Richardson in his pomp. The aborted career of Mark Latham, a Sussex Street scion, and the coming defeat of Kim Beazley next year will cement the decline of the faction generally and Arbib in particular. Get out now Mark and ask for some career tips from Gary Gray, or CrosbyTextor.

The fact that Michael Egan tapped Iemma on the shoulder should have ruled him out. Iemma has all of the impact of Barrie Unsworth but no sense of policy. Like Steve Bracks, he'd rather do nothing than do anything controversial. Like a political hack he's bored answering questions: Iemma's been raised to believe that answering questions as a democratically-elected leader is somehow a departure from his real job. If Brogden was still Liberal leader he'd be running rings around Iemma: public servants seeking to survive a change of government would be leaking like mad, and the Birnam Wood that is the NSW Police would be in open revolt.

Of Scully, more in a future post. In the longer term, compare the Right's most recent state parliamentary leadership contest (Dull vs Sparkles) and the Left's (Watkins vs Tebbutt) and the difference between the two factions is clear.

The big areas of state government are Health, Education, Transport and Laura Norder. The Education Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, is from the Left. The Attorney General and Environment Minister, Bob Debus, is from the Left. The Minister for both Transport and Police is John Watkins, is from the Left. Do you see a pattern here? A whole bunch of ALP Right candidates and ALP head office wide boys are depending upon a bunch of Lefties.

Watkins has a "deputy minister" in the Right's Eric Roozendaal, but so what? This is a face-saving exercise on the Right's part, he might be keeping an eye on the Left but the policy is going over his head. He might be a big man in the back rooms but in person he oozes voter-repellent, and like Scully he's a crap minister because he has no sense of policy beyond the headlines. The Health Minister, John Hatzistergos, is a Right winger who spends all his time apologising for this week's balls-up: he has that Phillip Ruddock winner's pallour. How weak is Hats? So weak that even the Opposition have him on the ropes, and have opened the government's only substantial vulnerability. Neville Wran would have wrung his neck by now.

Iemma will probably replace both Roozendaal and Hatszistergos with members of the Left (yes, I am assuming Labor will be re-elected in March). Clearly, he could do worse. The future of the Labor Party in NSW is facing a fundamental longterm shift.


  1. A most interesting post Andrew.

    I think you are right that Iemma is prepared to give a lot of ground to the lefties. Arbib and Iemma don't appear to have the clout of Richo, which is a good thing, but then maybe Richo only got away with it because had formidable talents to push. Maybe they have more intelligence and maybe it is time to heal the breaches of those years.

  2. Thanks for the insights - from an ex-cornstalker. Like you, I see next year's fed. October election as foregone for Labor