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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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