The NSW Labor Party, long-described as the “natural party of government” in the premier state, has self-destructed under a tsunami of broken promises, scandals, incompetence and factional warfare.

The weekend’s council elections were the biggest indicator so far that the voters are not just cranky, they are angry as well and ready to inflict retribution.

Labor’s local government power base in Sydney was monstered and its candidates were savaged right across the state. It finished with a primary vote of around 30 per cent which, if repeated at the state election in March 2011, would see Labor reduced to a rump in the Legislative Assembly.

Two immediate points to be drawn from Saturday’s poll: the so-called “rusted on, traditional Labor voter” can no longer be relied upon to vote for the drover’s dog and there is no such thing as a safe Labor seat.

In upcoming by-elections in Lakemba, Ryde and Cabramatta, the former Sydney seats of Premier Morris Iemma, Deputy Premier John Watkins and Health Minister Reba Meagher respectively, Labor will take a pounding. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Labor could lose all three.

It all depends of Barry O’Farrell’s Liberal Party and the candidates it chooses. If the Libs follow their usual form and inflict candidates who are dodgy and/or sleazy or from the lunar pastures of Christian fundamentalism, then Labor — with Green and “bogus” independent preferences — may still hold onto Lakemba.

The Liberals have a basement full of these weird types who have the money and networks to grab pre-selection ahead of mainstream candidates. The four that beat the system and got into parliament at the last state election were Mike Baird (Manly), Pru Goward (Goulburn), Greg Smith, (Epping) and Rob Stokes (Pittwater).

Former police minister Matt Brown said today he would not be quitting parliament and would by staying in his Kiama seat south of Wollongong.

That isn’t a long-term commitment. After causing so much damage to the ALP and so much grief to Premier Nathan Rees, Brown has agreed not to leave in the short-term and cause another damaging by-election.

But nor is he going to hang around until March 2011. With no chance of returning to the Cabinet and a new life beckoning after his divorce, Brown is keen to return to corporate law and managing his portfolio of 14 properties.

The biggest beneficiary from the local government elections were the Greens. This is largely due to the party’s emphasis on grass roots politicking and the community’s growing opposition to big developers and the white shoe brigade.

It is a very long stretch of the bow to suggest that in two and a half years time’ the Greens can replicate these results in the state election. By that time, voters will be focused on state issues and not local ones. Kevin Rudd’s team must be watching the NSW ALP debacle with diabolical apprehension. Rudd won office last November on the back of a strong performance in NSW, but that is unlikely to be reproduced when the federal election falls in 2010.

If Rudd wants to help himself and Premier Rees, he should be opening the Treasury coffers and paying NSW its full GST entitlement as well as providing equity in federal spending on health, education and infrastructure.

Peter Fray

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