There will be a joint sitting of the NSW Parliament Wednesday to accept the nomination of union leader John Robertson to replace Michael Costa in the upper house on a salary of $126,560 plus an electoral allowance of $43,805.

Not that Robertson will be staying on the backbenches for very long. Soon after his swearing in next Tuesday, “Robbo” is on a promise from Premier Nathan Rees to step straight into the ministry on a salary of $231,605.

It’s a revolving door really. Before entering the upper house in 2001, Costa was secretary of Unions NSW, aka the NSW Labor Council, and Robertson was his successor in that job. Now he succeeds Costa in the LC.

The decision by the right-wing Centre Unity faction to choose Robertson will be a severe blow to Shaoquett Moselmane, former mayor of Rockdale City Council in southern Sydney.

His plans for a parliamentary career have been gazumped not once, not twice, but three times.

On the first occasion, he was persuaded to forego pre-selection for the seat of Rockdale so that “star” candidate, former Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor, could enter parliament at the March 2003 state election and march straight into Cabinet.

He sacrificed his opportunity to become Rockdale’s MP in return for a promise from former Premier Bob Carr and former ALP general secretary Eric Roozendaal that he would be awarded the next vacancy in the upper house.

But when upper house MP Tony Burke become the federal member for Watson in 2004 and switched to Canberra, the vacant spot was nabbed by Roozendaal.

With last month’s dramatic resignation of Treasurer Costa, another vacancy has fallen in the Legislative Council but, once again, Moselmane’s hope of becoming the first Moslem in State Parliament has been dashed.

Not that there is any religious bigotry involved … perish the thought!

Robertson starts his political career with highly impressive credentials.

At the 2002 NSW Labor Party conference he led the successful charge by Labor for Refugees to overturn the party’s disgraceful policy on asylum seekers which basically involved groveling to John Howard and Phillip Ruddock.

He was the principal architect of the Your Rights At Work campaign which campaigned against Howard’s anti-union Work Choices laws in communities across NSW and played a crucial role in Kevin Rudd’s victory last November.

And at the ALP conference in May, Robertson led the historic defeat of Premier Morris Iemma’s plans to privatise the State’s electricity industry and subsequently helped to empty Iemma and Costa out of office and out of parliament.

For the 45-year-old former electrician it has been a heady few years. Along the way he took part in the ritual execution of Kim Beazley and his replacement by Rudd but he blotted his copybook by becoming a champion of the proposed sale of the union movement’s Currawong beachside retreat to a pair of ambitious multi-millionaire developers, Allen Linz and Eduard Litver.

For the first time in recent memory, the ALP’s Sussex Street machine seems to have chosen a parliamentarian of substance and ability. If it conducts a clean out of the Macquarie Street stables and pre-selects candidates of Robertson’s calibre, then Rees’s “red hot go” may start to have some legs.

Peter Fray

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