A concerted attempt is being made to unseat New South Wales Labor Party leader John Robertson and replace him with upper house MP Luke Foley.

The plan is to install Foley before the NSW election on March 28 in order to boost Labor’s share of seats in the Legislative Assembly, making the party more viable for a return to office in 2019.

Labor currently holds a measly 21 seats in the 93-seat chamber following the 2011 election defeat, its worst in 100 years.

The putschists believe that “Robbo” can only succeed in increasing Labor’s numbers by 15, whereas a Foley-led campaign stands to deliver 20 extra seats or more (Crikey has also called for Robertson to go, but for different reasons).

This was the same reasoning behind the overthrow of prime minister Julia Gillard in June 2013 and her replacement by Kevin Rudd. His supporters continue to argue that his reincarnation turned the anti-Labor electoral tide in Queensland, Victoria and western Sydney.

Labor finished the Victorian election with 55 seats, which was 15 more than the party expected if Gillard had been in charge. According to polls, Labor was facing a worst-case scenario of a swing of up to 18% against it and a catastrophic primary vote of around 30%. (This analysis is expected to be challenged when Gillard’s long-anticipated memoir, My Story, is published by Random House on October 1).

Like the overthrow of Gillard, the move against Robertson is largely extra-parliamentary. It is supported by Labor’s “elder statesman” — former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, ex-premier Bob Carr, and other ALP luminaries like Graham “Richo” Richardson, Michael Egan and Bruce Hawker.

With hand on heart they will claim to be acting “in the interests of the great party we love”. The anti-Gillard brigade adopted the same moral tone when they knifed her.

And once again there is no talk of policy differentiation or ideological and philosophical differences between the incumbent and the challenger. Party members and voters aren’t taken into account at all; they are pawns to be manipulated in a Game of Thrones. And in both instances, the coup plotters have the unwavering editorial support of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp papers.

Last week a full-page article in The Daily Telegraph, describing Robertson as “unelectable”, rubbished the leader and called for a regime change. Creating mischief in Labor’s ranks with constant leadership speculation fills space, boosts circulation and turns politics into a cage-wrestling spectacle. It’s straight from the Murdoch playbook.

The major difference is that whereas Rudd was pathologically committed to destroying Gillard, Foley is a reluctant candidate to depose Robertson and shows no interest in moving to the lower house to mount a challenge.

Indeed, he told ABC host Quentin Dempster that the Tele report was “dead wrong”, adding: “John Robertson has the full and unqualified support of everyone in NSW Labor. He will go to the next election as our party’s candidate for premier with the support of everyone in NSW Labor.”

Monday’s Newspoll gave the NSW Coalition a commanding 54 to 46 lead over Labor in the two-party preferred rating. This is despite the political carnage inflicted on the Liberals by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which has claimed 10 scalps, including ex-premier Barry O’Farrell, two senior ministers, Chris Hartcher and Mike Gallacher, and seven backbenchers.

But while Premier Mike Baird is the preferred premier with a 45% rating, Robertson polls only 21%, 12% below the party’s primary vote.

Those figures are enough to keep the “Dump Robbo” camp in destabilisation mode for another few months.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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