New South Wales Labor Party members have been told to zero in on federal election issues as the party prepares for a wipe-out in the lead-up to the March 26 poll.

In a presumably erroneous email sent to activists over the weekend, Labor’s NSW general secretary Sam Dastyari tells the party’s dwindling membership base to quarantine general debate as the ALP enters a “campaign footing”.

“Party units must now give priority to state campaign matters and state campaign fundraising at all meetings,” the young star of the NSW Right writes, adding that “all party units are to give priority to federal campaigning issues at meetings, but can still discuss other issues later in their meetings.”

One party activist told Crikey: “the error could be gross incompetence. Either that, or someone feels we’re in so much trouble we must start early in NSW trying to avoid [a federal] disaster in 2013.”

Yesterday, beleaguered NSW premier Kristina Keneally formally launched the party’s campaign at a community centre in Labor’s Casula heartland, a sign that strategists have abandoned the prospect of victory and are focusing instead on sandbagging losses. The usually reliable Bob Hawke let the cat out of the bag at a local launch, declaring that Labor couldn’t win.

Further on in the email missive, Dastyari reveals the date of this year’s NSW State Labor Conference — on Saturday July 9 and Sunday July 10 at Sydney Town Hall — unusually early for an election year.

In 2008 at the same venue, NSW Labor’s state conference famously descended into acrimony when Morris Iemma tried to force through a sale of the state’s electricity assets, paving the way for his, and Labor’s, fall from political grace.

The state conference will also allow newly elected state delegates to be sent to the ALP’s federal conference, which has been brought forward to December, ostensibly to debate gay marriage and insulate the stage-managed but occasionally poisonous event from the electoral cycle.

A senior NSW party identity explained: “They’ve decided to let local branch members get it out of their system now, then start scheming again with a (relatively) bloodless slate.  Then again, perhaps they suddenly want to ram a particular motion through before National Conference, as opposed to ‘normal’ years when they want us to meet in October after National Conference and it’s all over.”

Phone calls to the NSW ALP’s state office switchboard were greeted with a voicemail message this morning.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey