NSW premier Nathan Rees’ death has been much reported, yet oddly slow … the still-twitching body staked out on an ant-bed of vicious media rumour and factional in-fighting.

Reports since January this year from Simon Benson in The Daily Telegraph, Imre Salusinszky and Peter Van Onselen in The Australian and The Punch’s David Penberthy, have been covering the plight of the benighted premier. Still, repeated predictions of Rees’s demise appear to have been exaggerated.

Benson had this to say in January:

“The blocking of Mr Robertson’s promotion would be disastrous for Mr Rees’ already tenuous hold on his leadership.”

And then in June, Benson drew on information from sources to suggest:

“Senior Labor sources have confirmed that Mr Rees is threatening to bring on a vote at a full Caucus meeting either next week or the following week before MPs break for winter recess.”

It’s like the NSW Labor caucus was the ant-bed, bristling with agitated fury and preparing to clap thousands of choppers on his helpless flesh. In his blog, Benson identified a host of likely pretenders to Rees’s throne:

“And they will come for him. The only mystery is who will lead the revolt – Frank Sartor, Carmel Tebbutt, Michael Daley, Kristina Keneally, John Della Bosca or even John Robertson?”

Somehow, Rees survived.

Imre Salusinszky, writing for The Australian weighed into debate in late August, suggesting that Rees’s leadership was under siege from all sides, and that he was near to stepping aside:

“The besieged Mr Rees last night issued a statement while on leave, stating: “I have no such intention.”

Salusinszky hinted that Health Minister Della Bosca was the key figure plumping for his job, despite his dismissal of the suggestion:

“Mr Della Bosca told The Australian last night it would be “absolute rubbish” to connect him with the latest rumours and that he was fully occupied dealing with issues in his portfolio, including swine flu.”

The subsequent, and quite lively exit of Della Bosca seemed to throw the whole affair into disarray, prompting the Tele to issue a clarifying account of a who’s who in the leadership wrangle by white boarding a list of the main players.

In late August, Telegraph reports centred on Rees managing to brush off the gathering swarm, saying that:

“Returning to Sydney from his holiday to deny he was about to be turfed out of office, Mr Rees outsmarted caucus plotters by forcing Planning Minister Kristina Keneally to publicly pledge support for him.”

But the respite was short lived for Rees, and he was soon back on the ant mound, cheeks down. David Penberthy reported that the real threat to Rees was coming from a couple of right faction king-makers, saying:

“Rees is being urged to declare a total and final war on right faction kingmakers Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid and their nuggety grouping of MPs who are beholden to the pair for their continuing preselection.”

And this morning they put a date on it: Benson at the Tele dug a big stick into the centre of the hive and gave it a big stir, saying:

“It is believed Mr Rees’ caucus allies Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid are softening their support for him and a plan has been hatched to oust the Premier after the state conference on November 14.”

Another report in the paper this morning seemed set to up the ante on Rees grip, by highlighting his salary package as being second only to Kevin Rudd’s.

November 14 is apparently the day of reckoning for Rees. If the caucus doesn’t get him, maybe the Daily Telegraph will.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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