On Monday, members of the New South Wales shadow cabinet were all smiles. The parliamentary party had elected a new deputy leader, Michael Daley, to succeed Linda Burney, who is leaving to have a shot at Canberra in the seat of Barton.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley and Daley shared a press conference to unveil the new dynamic duo leading the fight against Premier Mike Baird’s Coalition.

Then, yesterday, Labor’s shadow cabinet — under Foley’s direction — embarked on a major reshuffle, which has resulted in Daley’s demise.

While he remains deputy leader, he is no longer shadow treasurer. Foley has given him shadow responsibilities for planning and infrastructure.

Daley, the right-wing MP who succeeded Bob Carr in Maroubra in 2005, is a former in-house lawyer with the motoring organisation NRMA, so his knowledge of planning can only be described as limited.

Daley’s sudden removal from the No. 2 spot in the shadow cabinet is chiefly about saving Foley’s leadership. As far as natural talent is concerned, there’s little to choose between them, but Daley is widely regarded as more personable.

Premier Baird and his colleagues have used question time to attack Foley’s leadership credibility and call on Daley to mount a challenge. Much to Foley’s fury, this banter has dominated proceedings in the “Bearpit” for weeks. Finally, Foley has acted, removing Daley from his side … and his back.

As Julius Caesar remarked in Shakespeare’s classic: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much; such men are dangerous.”

The new shadow treasurer is Ryan Park, MP for Keira, a former deputy director of the NSW Transport Department. One of the cleverest recruits to come out of the ALP’s scandal-ridden Wollongong area, Ryan was chief of staff to the former MP David Campbell.

The 38-year-old former teacher and Wollongong University graduate will need all the confidence he can muster to take on Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, a former professional banker with a workaholic approach to her portfolio.

Park’s place as education spokesman will be taken by Jihad Dib, former principal of Punchbowl Boys High School, whose success was celebrated in the TV documentary series Once Upon a Time in Punchbowl.

The biggest winner is Chris Minns, 36-year-old MP for Kogarah, who entered Parliament less than 12 months ago. Minns, the party’s former assistant general secretary and a graduate of New England University and Princeton, becomes spokesman on water, a minor place on Labor’s frontbench.

But Minns’ elevation is a political shift where the substance is insignificant but the symbolism isn’t. His inaugural speech last year attracted comment and headlines for its forthright criticism of past NSW ALP practices, and his robust call for internal party reform.

Baird and his baying cronies can be expected to target Minns in the house because he appears to be Labor’s best hope for electoral recovery.

To his credit, Foley has promoted five MPs who arrived in Macquarie Street last year. Apart from Minns and Dibb, they are three female MPs: Prue Car, Yasmin Catley and Jenny Aitchison.

By shuffling his deck of cards, Foley is attempting to shore up his leadership and create a mood of regeneration, merit and hope. It will work … for now.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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