I was talking to Luke Grant on 2HD this morning and he noted that he had banned discussion of Nathan Rees on his program today. I know the feeling. It’s like having to endure Big Brother all over again — a ubiquitous but brain-deadeningly boring production of apparently limitless interest to the media.

Like BB, too, they change the cast members regularly but it’s the same dud show. The lead, the hitherto-unknown Rees, apparently can’t get “traction” with voters. Five seconds looking at the bloke when he first came on the public radar would have told you Rees was going to get all the traction of a unicyclist on ice. Neville Wran, Nick Greiner, Bob Carr … Nathan Rees? Come on.

Rees has only done one thing effectively and that’s destroy the ambitions of John Robertson (remember him), whose transfer from the ALP party machine to Parliamentary politics with the goal of seizing the Premiership was the occasion for one of Paul Keating’s more brilliant sprays.

Rees isn’t really the problem, in the sense that the coat of paint on the Titanic wasn’t the problem. The problem is the dysfunctional state of NSW Labor’s factions, and the political radioactivity of Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid. Those two individuals are so toxic everything they touch — everything — is tarnished. NSW Labor will not begin its recovery until Tripodi and Obeid are removed from the party. And even then, they’ll probably linger Brian Burke-like in the shadows, trading on their influence and contacts. Although both have enough sartorial sense not to wear a Panama hat.

The point of factions is to enable ideological, administrative and personality issues to be channelled away from destructive internal disputation into a formalised process of spoils-sharing and compromise. For the most part they function this way in the ALP. You only have to look at the current state of the federal Liberal Party and the shenanigans inside the NSW Liberals to see what a rabble that a party without a formalised factional system can become. In NSW, however, the factions have become gridlocked and are part of the problem, especially given the fractious relationship between the party and its parliamentary representatives.

On current form, the NSW ALP will be reduced to little more than a cricket team after the March 2011 election — the road to which seems like an unendurable journey of ceaseless torment to the rest of us. Losing office is bad enough, but losing the public resources that come with even just holding seats is also profoundly damaging. While the next election seems relatively straightforward for Kevin Rudd, the following may be more problematic and the lack of resources in NSW will hurt. That’s why Rudd and the federal ALP have to intervene in the NSW party to at least establish a functional party and parliamentary structure, one that can prevent a wipeout in 2011.

Intervention comes with its own risks. As Colin Powell might say, if you break it, it’s yours. Rudd can maintain a safe distance from the NSW party for now, but buys a piece of it if he becomes involved. Nevertheless, something must be done about the party’s internal relationships. Who specifically is Premier doesn’t matter a great deal. Preferably someone with administrative and executive experience. That rules out Nathan Rees, Kristina Keneally, Carmel Tebbutt, John Della Bosca and, well, practically any other MPs except Frank Sartor. But that won’t make up for the lack of talent and experience available for ministerial positions.

And does anyone know what NSW Labor stands for beyond wanting to be in power? Does it have an agenda for reversing what appears to be a long-term decline in the nation’s biggest economy? Or for managing the dilemma of a stagnant economy and a relentlessly expanding capital, driven by high immigration? Or for the future of the precious Sydney financial industry will be in a more regulated and more cautious post-GFC environment? Serious policy challenges await a NSW Government that is interested in anything beyond its own internal bickering. That’s another reason why Kevin Rudd needs to fix things in NSW sooner rather than later.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

12 weeks for $12