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NSW Labor
NSW Labor leader Michael Daley (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Michael Daley became leader of the NSW Labor Party on Saturday, to little fanfare. The former deputy easily held off a challenge from first-term Kogarah MP Chris Minns, and now finds himself leading a party in disarray, reeling from the scandalous end to former leader Luke Foley’s tenure.

Foley resigned last Thursday after ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper released a statement alleging he touched her inappropriately at a Christmas party in 2016.

With an election looming next March, Daley, a previously anonymous figure thrust into the limelight, now has four months to wash away the stench of the toxic affair that brought down Foley, and drag the party back into a winning position.

A suburban everyman

“Competent”, “likeable”, and “a good retail politician” are some of the terms tossed around by Daley’s supporters. By all accounts, Daley’s rise through the ranks of NSW Labor has been steady but unremarkable.

During his 13 years spent working as a customs officer, he studied law at night, ultimately becoming an in-house corporate lawyer for NRMA. After over a decade on Randwick City Council in Sydney’s east, Daley won former premier Bob Carr’s old seat of Maroubra in 2005.

A spell on the backbench was followed by ministerial portfolios in police and finance in the Rees and Keneally governments, before Labor’s electoral wipeout in 2011. In 2016, Daley became deputy opposition leader, while also serving as shadow planning minister.

Described by Labor insiders as “a working class boy from Maroubra”, Daley appears, much like Prime Minister Scott Morrison, keen to characterise himself as the suburban everyman.

“I come from a typical suburban middle class Australian family,” Daley said in his maiden speech to parliament in 2005.

“Recycled state Labor”

A member of the historically dominant NSW Right faction — his predecessor Foley was from the Left — Daley’s political opponents have already been quick to highlight his perceived links to several corrupt former factional warlords.

In his maiden speech to parliament in 2005, Daley offered thanks to Labor MPs Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid — both major power-brokers in the NSW Right — for their assistance with his campaign. Since then, ICAC has made three findings of corruption against Tripodi. Obeid, meanwhile, is in prison, after being found guilty of misconduct in public office.

Sam Dastyari, another disgraced figure from the NSW Right also gets an honourable mention, as a Young Labor up-and-comer blessed with “the energy of youth”.

This connection will no doubt provide ample ammunition for Liberal attack ads between now and March, with Liberal Health Minister Brad Hazzard already describing Daley’s appointment as “recycled state Labor”.

Still, Daley, to his credit, managed to come out of NSW Labor’s darkest periods unscathed.

“That was a bad government, and I came out of that government untainted,” Daley said.

But, Daley has not been totally immune to the boozy culture of Macquarie Street that allegedly played a part in Foley’s political demise. In 2012, Daley was ejected from the chamber by Speaker Shelley Hancock after slurring his way through a 2.30am debate. After refusing to leave, Daley had to be physically removed by the Sergeant of Arms.

Daley admits to drinking that night, but denies being drunk.

Distance from Foley

Since Raper’s statement last Thursday, Daley has been quick to wipe the slate clean and distance himself from his predecessor Luke Foley.

In a press conference that afternoon, Foley denied the allegations, and announced he was initiating defamation proceedings.

Daley has repeatedly reiterated that he believes Raper’s statement and on Sunday, Daley told ABC’s Insiders he was “deeply unhappy” about Foley’s press conference.

“I felt like that was just a continuation of the attack on Ashleigh [Raper],” Daley said.

This morning, Daley called on the Berejiklian government to end the “mudslinging” that has characterised NSW politics recently. But even if the government plays nice, Foley has left NSW Labor with plenty of dirt of their own to wash away before March.

Peter Fray

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