Like bears in the woods, NSW MPs have gone into winter hibernation for 12 weeks. They return to “The Bear Pit” when parliament resumes on September 23.

Of the 135 MPs in both houses, more than one-third are either overseas or interstate on holidays. (If your MP is on an overseas fact-finding mission, please send Crikey the details).

For Labor MPs, the long winter recess is time to get on the mobile to discuss what to do about the two architects of the government’s self-destruction, Premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa.

Labor powerbrokers have decided that both have to go — either by resignation or caucus execution. The Newspoll for May-June showed Iemma with an approval rating of 26%, the Coalition leading Labor 52 to 48 after preferences and Coalition leader Barry O’Farrell preferred premier by 39% to Iemma’s 32. The July-August poll will be worse, and therefore fatal for Iemma.

Overnight, Costa deepened the split between the Cabinet and the NSW ALP by pulling out of a party fundraiser and releasing a letter to the party HQ accusing it of undermining Iemma and the government. It made front-page headlines in the SMH: “Costa accuses ALP of plot to destroy Iemma.”

It was irrational and provocative stuff. Did he release it with the Premier’s approval or is he out of control?

Two days earlier Costa publicly attacked the Garnaut report causing widespread alarm in the ALP — all the way to Canberra and the PM’s office. Once again, did Iemma sanction the anti-Garnaut tirade, or is his treasurer out of control?

For Labor loyalists seeking a change in the NSW leadership, July and August have become months devoted to momentum building. Each candidate for the top job is being sifted for suitability and electability.

The Australian’s Imre Salusinszky has claimed that NSW Labor is stuck in leadership paralysis because there is no alternative. As he wrote on June 25: “But if the Premier’s colleagues start thinking about a change at the top, they will confront Margaret Thatcher’s favorite acronym: TINA — there is no alternative.”

This is arrant nonsense. In the NSW ALP, just as in the British Conservative Party, there are always alternative leaders. For the record, when Thatcher used her TINA argument in 1980 it had nothing to do with leadership challenges, it was to insist on her free market monetarist policies and crush the Cabinet “wets”.

In the mobile phone conferences being held this week, Labor MPs have been tossing around a field of names:

  • Deputy Premier and Transport Minister John Watkins — internal polling shows the former “star” education minister is now deeply unpopular because of his mishandling of the transport portfolio and his support for power privatisation;
  • Another former education minister Carmel Tebbutt has the electorally damaging baggage of being married to federal Minister for Infrastructure Anthony Albanese — post-Iguanagate, another NSW ALP “power pair” is unsaleable;
  • Matt Brown, MP for Kiama, and American-born Kristina Keneally, MP for Heffron, whose whispered candidacy shows the utter desperation in the right-wing faction and the shallowness of its gene pool;
  • Planning Minister Frank Sartor — who has such soaring popularity in caucus he is likely to get one vote — his own;
  • Police Minister David “The Walrus” Campbell — a former mayor of Wollongong with all the political, intellectual, cultural and managerial skills of that worthy office;
  • Nathan Rees, Water and Emergency Services Minister, whose major disability is that he is from the left faction but who has three positives: he’s young (40), he’s a cleanskin and he’s a hard worker.

In short, there’s no Obama or Hillary in this race.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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