The resignation of New South Wales Labor MP Richard Amery ends an era of factional overlords dominating state Parliament.
Amery, head of the sub-faction known as the “Troglodytes”, became the last man standing after the departure of Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Eric Roozendaal (“Terrigals”), Ian Macdonald (“hard Left”) and John Watkins (“soft Left”).
Officially, the parliamentary Labor Party led by Opposition Leader John “Robbo” Robertson is factionless. However, beneath the superficial camaraderie, the dominant right-wing faction Centre Unity remains in control of caucus via a working relationship with the “hard Left” and the Labor Women’s group.
According to the contemporary versions of NSW Labor history, Amery’s “Trogs” were either irrelevant or insignificant, but this ignores the brake they put on “Terrigal” and cabinet excesses in the two decades of Labor rule between 1995 and 2011. Though small in number, they mobilised support in Parliament and the party, particularly in western Sydney, under the banner that they were the only true custodians of “Labor values”. Their obstinacy drew loathing from the “whatever-it-takes” Terrigals, who were busy turning the party into a donations-driven electoral machine to support developers, publicans and mining companies.
Amery, now Father of the House, was elected on October 22, 1983, in one of four byelections held on that day. The other successful candidates were Bob Carr in Maroubra, Andrew Refshauge in Marrickville and Brian Langton in Kogarah. It was a stellar crop — Carr became premier, Refshauge deputy premier, Langton transport minister and Amery water conservation, lands and corrective services minister. Known as the “Four Amigos” they lunched together on the anniversary of their byelection victories, which coincided with a corruption scandal involving Neville Wran’s corrective services minister, Rex Jackson, who was later jailed.
Although all four candidates won, the swing against Labor in Maroubra was 7.2%, 7.7% in Marrickville, 11.2% in Riverstone and 14.4% in Kogarah. Subsequently, the “Four Amigos” built comfortable majorities in each of their seats.
Amery, a former police officer, has been opposition whip since Labor’s humiliating defeat in March 2011, and has played an important policy and stabilising role in shadow cabinet. Somewhat eccentrically, he still uses an old Remington typewriter to type letters by hand and keeps a small collection of the ancient machines in his garage.
However, his most important possessions are his personal diaries. He has hundreds of specially bound, handwritten diaries in which he has recorded the events of his personal life and parliamentary career — as any conscientious policeman would. They record key political events in the past three-and-a-half decades, private conversations with Macquarie Street colleagues, crucial votes and caucus and cabinet discussions.
Unlike the revisionist scribblings of some Labor luminaries and political commentators, Amery’s diaries are the real deal. Upon his retirement in March next year, their proper home is the NSW State Library.