Nathan Rees will continue to flounder as NSW Premier until he sacks his Finance Minister Joe Tripodi and empties ALP faction boss Eddie Obeid out of the upper house.
While they remain in his government — Tripodi in the Cabinet and Obeid lurking in the corridors of power — Rees will be denied political credibility. Their continuing presence damages his premiership and makes him look weak because if he was really in charge, he’d purge both of them from the ranks.
In state politics, a successful Labor premier needs a convincing approval rating from the public at large, the opinion-makers in the professions, the unions, the business community and the media.
Rees hasn’t convinced any of them. At best, they are giving him only half-hearted support while the Sydney media has declared a jihad against him demanding regime change.
What positive and negative effects would fall on Rees if he boned Tripodi and Obeid? The upside would be a marked improvement in the government’s battered image. Labor would gain a two to three per cent bounce in the opinion polls, according to keepers of polling wisdom.
Their enforced departure would show that Rees is master of his own house and that he is serious about cleaning up the Augean stables he inherited from Bob Carr and Morris Iemma. (Carr put Obeid into the Cabinet from 1999 to 2003 and Tripodi in 2005.)
Because Tripodi and Obeid still regard themselves as factional players in the right-wing their departure would bring some stability to the dominant faction and therefore to the Cabinet and government.
It would heal some of the wounds in the right-wing caucus which followed Carr’s departure in 2005: the savage destruction of the premiership hopes of Carl Scully, the party-dividing row over the privatization of the power industry, the betrayal of Iemma when, in the final hours of his premiership, he tried and failed to reshuffle his Cabinet, the disruptive departure of Michael Costa and Reba Meagher, the sacking of former Planning Minister Frank Sartor and the recruitment of former Unions NSW boss John Robertson to the upper house and then to Cabinet.
By comparison, the downside seems almost trivial. Tripodi and Obeid might try to resist being forced out. There would almost certainly be a damaging media interlude in which The Australian’s Imre Saluszinsky would rush to support Tripodi whom he generously profiled recently. (Saluszinsky, a rusted-on Howardite, has an unusual fascination with right-wing Labor, having embraced Iemma as premier and Costa as treasurer, both now out of parliament and virtually out of work.)
But the media howls — with predictable headlines like “Rees in ALP bloodbath” and “Rees has blood on his hands” etc — would be lost on the general public who would applaud his decisive action.
Tripodi and Obeid no longer wield the factional influence they once did. They are politically isolated in the caucus and in the party at large. Rees knows that he cannot go to the March 2011 election with either of them in his ranks: it would be an obvious focus of the Opposition’s election advertising: “Joe & Eddie — The Real Face of Labor”.
So, when can we expect the knife work to begin?