Nearly a decade ago in the savage sandpit of New South Wales student politics, fresh-faced right-winger and future Australian Council of Trade Unions campaign tsar Daniel Mookhey was already marking himself out as an election decider.

The 21-year-old young Labor operative from the western Sydney suburb of Merrylands had just been elected secretary of the National Union of Students. His fellow wannabe suits of the NSW Right had, up until to that point, been beset by an inherent conservatism, an irrational deification of former senator Graham Richardson and a desire, first and foremost, to crush what remained of the Left. But this wasn't Mookhey's way.