New South Wales

Mar 22, 2011

NSW election: Eddie’s everywhere until Robertson lands softly

Before he retires, NSW Labor "puppetmaster" Eddie Obeid has one more string to pull -- he needs to ensure a soft landing for leader-in-waiting John Robertson, writes freelance journalist Candace Sutton.

It would have been symbolic. To drive Eddie Obeid over the cliff with fellow puppet master Joe Tripdoi -- a public act of hand washing by a premier desperate for every vote she can get. But Kristina Keneally must obey her masters and Obeid, 66, has resigned but is staying on until mid-term in NSW’s upper house, supposedly to allow long-time Labor media adviser Walt Secord to slide into the seat. Obeid, who played a leading role in the downfall of premiers Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees, still has four years of his eight-year term to run. But speculation in the run-up to Saturday’s Sussex Street massacre is that Obeid is hanging on to ensure Labor leader hopeful John Robertson is not out on his ear. Since showing disastrous polling in his prospective seat of Blacktown, in the past few weeks "Robbo" has had his union troops garnering support on the streets and pledged  himself to doorknock until the death. Having resigned his own upper house seat, Robbo is currently in a void. But if it all goes pear-shaped in the west on Saturday, Robbo knows his parliamentary career isn’t over -- Eddie’s seat is waiting. It will be Obeid’s last shot at wheeler-dealering for the cab driver turned property developer, who despite his reviled king-making will be given a respectful retirement party by the faithful. Should Robertson lose Blacktown on Saturday and take Obeid’s place in the upper house he would then have to wait for a lower house seat to take on the role of opposition leader. It would be a blow for party strategists, who are relying on Robertson’s quick wit and killer instincts to give Barry O’Farrell and the new Coalition cabinet the shortest possible honeymoon in political history. If the Liberal Party has any doubts about Robertson’s ability or Labor’s deference to his right to lead, they should remember that as the boss of Unions NSW he was the chief architect in the downfall of John Howard’s WorkChoices, which lost him the 2007 federal election -- and the rest is history. On a historic note, if Robbo ever makes it to premier he won’t be the first John Robertson to do so. Down the road from the politicians’ tower of power in Sydney, Governor Macquarie Tower, is the statue of Sir John Robertson, premier of NSW no less than five times between 1860 and 1885. The Liberal Party's (Sir) John Robertson is best remembered for land reform, enshrined in the Robertson Land Acts, which sought to open up the selection of Crown land and break the monopoly of the squatters. Oh, and parliament was prorogued at least once during his time. *Candace Sutton worked for six years as a NSW government media adviser, and later for the three months in the office of lord mayor Clover Moore

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7 thoughts on “NSW election: Eddie’s everywhere until Robertson lands softly

  1. Bob the builder

    It should be noted that the Liberal Party of John Robertson was not the same as the current one. His actions, re-distributing the resources of a powerful section of society, were far to the left of the current Greens, let alone the asinine Lib/Labs.
    For language buffs these ‘free selectors’ were the first people to be called ‘cockies’ (reputedly from cockatoo farmers), the widespread term for small-medium farmers in south-eastern Australian today.

  2. freecountry

    Bob the Builder – You’re not correct about the 19th century Liberal John Robertson. Ownership of land was locked up among a privileged class of government cronies. Robertson correctly saw this as an anti-liberal situation, and he sought open opportunity for all (not to be confused with equal wealth for all). Just as land reform had been the key to overthrowing the feudal order in the liberal revolution in the old country, enabling all classes the ability to own land was seen as a key economic reform in Australia after so many years of cronyism, and a very successful reform.

    For a contemporary late 19th century discussion of the meaning of liberalism in Australia, please see Bruce Smith, Liberty and Liberalism, 1887 (( ))

  3. Bob the builder

    Agreed. But what exactly was I incorrect about?

  4. freecountry

    You said this was far to the left of the Greens and Labor. If he had forced successful farmers to pay their profits to unsuccessful farmers, that would have been far to the left. What he did was enable all classes to have a fair shot at owning land and making their own profits. That’s as classical-liberal as you get. Nothing to do with communism or socialism.

  5. Bob the builder

    I can’t muster too much enthusiasm for this minor theological point, but…
    I’m not debating whether Robertson’s actions were ‘as classical-liberal as you get” – they were still way to the left of the Greens and Lib/Lab. Although I think some people’s interpretation of communism or socialism would include forced appropriation and re-distribution of land.
    The general point I was making was that a radical re-distribution of resources (in this case land) isn’t even mooted by any of our established parties. An equivalent today would be breaking up Coles/Woollies and letting multiple small businesses replace each supermarket. Unthinkable? Yes! Classical-liberal? Yes? Socialist? Maybe.

  6. freecountry

    Not even remotely comparable. Coles and Woolies, and BHP and Rio for that matter, are assets fairly earned and paid for and secured by strong property rights. Land in NSW before Robertson was distributed by a byzantine system of being in the right class or knowing the right people in government. You’re way off the mark, there is no comparison, and it’s a very unfortunate misrepresentation of one of the key reformers who helped make Australia the wealthiest and freest (for most people) country in the world in the decades that followed, paving the way in turn for the revolution in free trade, education, and federation. Please see (( ))

    Next thing you’ll be claiming that Magna Carta was drawn up by socialists.

  7. Bob the builder

    No, I won’t be claiming that the Magna Carta was drawn up by socialists.

    “Coles and Woolies, and BHP and Rio for that matter, are assets fairly earned and paid for and secured by strong property rights. Land in NSW before Robertson was distributed by a byzantine system of being in the right class or knowing the right people in government.”

    There are enough contradictory assertions above to obviate any further response on my part.

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