The leadership of the “hard left” in the NSW Parliamentary Party has shifted from Primary Industries, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ian Macdonald to Peter Primrose, president of the NSW Legislative Council.

Since the mid-1990s, Macdonald has been the undisputed spokesman, convenor and organiser of the “hard left”, a group of about a dozen MPs. Their helmsman in federal parliament is Anthony Albanese, the Transport and Infrastructure Minister.

But now the NSW “hard left” caucus has dumped Macdonald because of his vehement support for the privatisation of the state’s power industry which is being undertaken in flagrant opposition to the decision of the NSW ALP conference in May.

Ironically, Macdonald led the anti-privatisation campaign at the 1997 state conference which resulted in the abject humiliation of premier Bob Carr and treasurer Michael Egan.

But once in the Cabinet and in the soft bosom of the right-wing faction known as “The Terrigals”, “Macca” underwent a dramatic conversion and is now the Iemma government’s chief standard bearer for the sell-off.

This coincides with his recent friendship with a mystery Chinese entrepreneur, Mr Alan Fang, CEO and managing director of the Tianda Group and Tianda Resources.

During his 11-day trip to China, Hong Kong and Korea in May, Macdonald met up with Mr Fang and he accompanied the minister to meetings with leading Communist Party and state corporation officials. Macdonald’s trip cost taxpayers $27,449.83 which included $15,917.26 on business class air fares and $11,532.57 on accommodation.

The return air trip by Macdonald’s party to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, did not fall on the public purse. Mr Fang generously paid for a private charter flight. The Premier’s Department appears to have accepted this unusual travel arrangement and it now forms part of acceptable protocol for the Iemma Cabinet.

Macdonald today announced that China’s biggest coal miner, state-owned Shehua Group Corp, had successfully bid $600 million for exploration rights in the coal-rich Gunnedah basin in north-west NSW. The agreement, predicted in Crikey last week, will delight Mr Fang who has been busily promoting Chinese involvement in the Australian coal industry.

Macdonald’s demise in the “hard left” wasn’t reached by a formal vote by MPs. It was a fait accompli. He called three meetings in his ministerial office to discuss the power privatisation project and no one bothered to show up.

“He has been berating members of the left telling them to support the Iemma-Costa plan,” one left MP told Crikey.

“We got sick of it. Peter Primrose is the only person who can now speak on behalf of the hard left and he is our principal negotiator.

“As far as we are concerned, Macdonald has identified himself politically with Eddie Obeid and The Terrigals and we hope he’ll join up with them.”

The ousting of Macdonald now puts pressure on the so-called “soft left” to deal with their recalcitrant leader, Transport Minister John Watkins, who is another apologist for the deeply unpopular power sell-off.

The “soft left” comprises 10 MPs with at least three who intend voting against the privatisation plan when it reaches the floor of parliament late next month.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey