The tumbrils are beginning to roll down Macquarie Street to carry Nathan Rees to a premature execution as Premier of NSW.
At the other end of the street, a chariot is being polished to transport Health Minister John Della Bosca to the top job.
Rees became the accidental premier in September last year when Morris Iemma lost control of his Cabinet, caucus and the NSW branch of the Labor Party over his misconceived plan to privatise the State’s electricity industry.
Then a 40-year-old greenhorn with 18 months’ experience in parliament, Rees was plucked from the left-wing faction as a stopgap leader and given the brief to stem the anti-Labor tsunami in NSW. After initially promising to have a “red hot go”, the MP for Toongabbie has not been able to convince his colleagues, the media or the public that he is leadership material at a time of a devastating economic downturn.
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Enter “Della”, the most senior and seasoned political operator in NSW. To comply with the constitution, he needs to vacate his place in the NSW upper house and move to the lower house, the Legislative Assembly, to become Labor’s fourth premier in four years.
Della Bosca is also Minister for the Central Coast, his home and his political fiefdom for the past 25 years. His local Labor MP is the member for Gosford, Marie Andrews, a right-wing loyalist who served as private secretary to three branch secretaries of the Australian Railway Unions (ARU) before entering parliament in 1995.
Last week Ms Andrews issued a peculiar press release saying that she had been “given approval by the Parliament to complete her study tour relating to research for the Committee on Children and Young People”.
She gave no details of the countries she would visit or how long she would be away, merely saying: “I am pleased to be able to complete this fact-finding tour that involves visits to Commonwealth Parliaments as well as child and youth advocacy and protection organisations.”
As there are no less than 53 Commonwealth states with parliaments, this could be an extensive overseas mission.
Among Labor backbenchers there is a widespread belief that the hard-working Ms Andrews may be taking this exhaustive trip to make one final contribution to the social landscape of NSW before stepping down. In other words, a back-breaking Last Hurrah.
After 14 years in parliament, she has secured the maximum parliamentary pension entitlement for a backbencher – about $80,000-a-year, index-linked for life.
If she resigned, Della Bosca could shift seamlessly into the neighbourhood seat of Gosford and be ready to challenge Rees for the premiership.
In a head-to-head clash in caucus, how many votes would each candidate receive? If Rees voted for himself, he would receive one vote and all the rest would go to Della Bosca, the party’s NSW general secretary from 1990 to 1999.
Since last year’s speeding conviction and the Iguana’s Cafe affair at Gosford, Della Bosca has remade his image and retaken control of his life. He has lost a reported 15 kilos, he wears tailored suits, his hair is groomed and he has started to speak with greater confidence.
Gone is the “old” Della, the rumpled, crumpled, waddling figure in tracky daks who appeared as if he had fallen out of a sleeping bag during a Senior Scouts camp. But what about Mrs Della Bosca, aka “Typhoon” Belinda Neal, federal MP for Robertson? Is she his biggest hurdle in reaching for the premiership?
Apparently not. Della’s supporters say that she is a reformed person and the counselling recommended by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has worked wonders.
Surely NSW cannot possibly end up with a Premier (Della Bosca) whose wife is in the federal parliament (Belinda Neal) and a Deputy Premier (Carmel Tebbutt) whose husband is in the federal Cabinet (Anthony Albanese)?
In the State of Despair, anything is possible.