NSW voters are being asked to believe that the Labor Party has reformed itself and is now fit to return to office after one term in opposition.
Its campaign slogan, “A New Approach for NSW”, captures the image that new ALP leader Luke Foley has been trying to sell since his elevation to the top job in January. With voters going to the polls on March 28, it’s time to ask: is it working?
Elections are won or lost by the mood in the electorate, and there are two basic moods: either a majority of voters are content to stick with the government for another term or they feel it’s time for a change to “the other lot”.
Unfortunately for Labor and Luke Foley, the anecdotal and polling evidence is that NSW voters don’t believe in a change of government — not yet.
Premier Mike Baird, who succeeded Barry O’Farrell less than a year ago, is liked and trusted by the electorate. To a large extent he is living off the achievements of his predecessor, who unleashed a practical infrastructure program that has transformed public transport and re-energised the capital.
And under new Nationals Leader Troy Grant, MP for Dubbo and Deputy Premier, the neglected regions of NSW have been given access to more equitable funding, and the Nationals’ seem set to retain their 19 seats.
It was probably too much to ask Foley to sanitise, deodorise and disinfect NSW Labor in a three-month renovation before the election. But he is entitled to a 60% mark for effort.
Liberal campaign convener Anthony Roberts, the Resources and Energy Minister and a former John Howard staffer, believes Labor’s “New Approach” slogan has failed because of Foley’s own background with and attachment to the ALP’s Sussex Street machine.
“There is nothing ‘new’ about Labor,” he told Crikey.
You only have to read the list of candidates to see the glaring presence of “old” Labor. Sitting Wollongong MP Noreen Hay won preselection with the furious backing of head office.
Five former MPs who lost their seats in 2011 are attempting a comeback: Verity Firth (Balmain), Paul Pearce (Coogee), Steve Whan (Monaro), David Harris (Wyong) and Jodi McKay (lost Newcastle, now standing for Strathfield).
If they lose a second time, there is always the opportunity to slot into the NSW Legislative Council, or upper house. Who said the “age of entitlement” is over?
Labor’s candidates are a long list of political staffers, union employees or the relatives of former MPs. It recalls a statement by the late Gough Whitlam: “I wouldn’t get preselection in today’s Labor Party. I’m not a relative of a politician, I’m not a staffer, and I’m not a trade unionist.”
However, there are some bright lights among the candidates, thanks to the persuasive powers of Foley and party general secretary Jamie Clements.
Cameron Murphy, son of former federal attorney-general Lionel Murphy, is standing in East Hills. James Shaw, son of former NSW attorney-general Jeff Shaw, is standing in Parramatta, and Chris Minns, a former NSW ALP assistant general secretary, is standing in Kogarah. Celebrated schoolteacher Jihad Dib is standing in Lakemba, and Jo Haylen, a Marrickville councillor, is standing in Summer Hill. All would be welcome additions to public life, Parliament and Labor’s much-diminished gene pool.
Their fate depends on the size of the swing Labor can generate against the Coalition. So far their targets have been electricity privatisation (which Labor repeatedly tried in its 16 years in office), coal seam gas exploration and extraction (Labor sold licences like takeaway pizzas), and “scare” stories on health and education taken from Sussex Street’s story book of election campaigning.
The Foleyite “luvvies” are giving Labor an additional 20 seats but I suspect they are experimenting with Mike Baird’s medical use of cannabis before it passes through Parliament.