Mark Lennon NSW Labor President 2019 NSW election
NSW Labor President Mark Lennon (Image: AAP/Jeremy Ng)

Yesterday, Crikey looked at the influential Liberal party players you won’t see on a ballot at the upcoming New South Wales election. Today, it’s Labor’s turn to be put under the microscope, as we examine the factional heavies and union officials who are leading the party’s attempts to topple the Berejiklian government on March 23. 

General secretary: Kaila Murnain

Murnain is the first woman to hold the most important position in NSW Labor, a role once held by grizzled hacks like Sam Dastyari, Mark Arbib and Graham Richardson. Murnain, who is also the all-powerful national convenor of the party’s Right faction, took over in 2016 when her predecessor Jamie Clements resigned over sexual harassment allegations. She’s been a party member since her teens, and was a one-time electorate officer for leader Michael Daley.

By all accounts, Murnain has been a formidable force — a factional warrior who “just hates her enemies” and a skilled campaigner, under whose watch Labor won 24 seats at the 2016 federal election — the backbone of a performance by Bill Shorten that exceeded all expectations. She’s also stamped her authority on the culture of Sussex St, introducing new affirmative action rules, and cracking down on the infamous long, boozy lunches.

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Assistant general secretary: Rose Jackson

The daughter of the late ABC journalist Liz Jackson, Rose Jackson is a key figure from the party’s Left, and the first woman from that factional grouping to hold the assistant general secretary position. After cutting her teeth in the student politics scene, Jackson ran lawyer George Newhouse’s unsuccessful attempt to unseat Malcolm Turnbull in 2007, before working for left-wing union United Voice.

Jackson has been a vocal critic of the party, reflecting the deep and bitter ructions between the Left and the historically dominant Right factions. In 2017, she lashed out at NSW Labor for being “homophobic, sexist, too white and highly factionalised”. When the sexual harassment scandal around former leader Luke Foley blew up late last year, Jackson was allegedly moving to replace him as the member for Auburn even before he’d resigned.

Her hopes were scuttled when head office rejected calls to parachute her in, insisting on a rank and file preselection comfortably won by upper house MP Lynda Voltz, who unlike Jackson grew up in the area and had support among local branch members.

Assistant general-secretary: Pat Garcia

Garcia, a member of the Right faction, is a lawyer who previously served as Luke Foley’s chief of staff. In 2016, Crikey reported that Garcia stepped up after a two month struggle to get anyone from the Right interested in the gig, seemingly under an arrangement which would see him preselected as Labor’s candidate for Coogee at the 2019 election. Three years later, that candidacy has failed to materialise.

President: Mark Lennon

Lennon, a Labor lifer from the Right, holds the largely honorary role of president, which generally symbolises which faction currently has a majority. He ran unsuccessfully for state parliament in 1988, and spent seven years as secretary of Unions NSW. In 2014, he had a prominent role as an opponent of the deep cuts in the first Abbott-Hockey budget, although he faced a “minor revolt” from union members when he blocked a proposed vote over whether to go on strike.

After the sexual harassment scandal involving Jamie Clements in 2016, Lennon helped introduce reforms intended to clean up NSW Labor’s head office, including introducing a code of conduct on bullying and harassment.

Senior vice-president: Tara Moriarty

Moriarty is a long-term unionist, most recently heading the Liquor and Hospitality Division of United Voice. She is also chair of Club Plus Superannuation board. After years of being in the mix for preselection without success, Moriarty has finally been rewarded with top spot on Labor’s Legislative Council Ticket.

Junior vice-resident: Deborah O’Neill

O’Neill held the marginal seat of Robertson in federal parliament for one term, before moving to the Senate in 2013, and currently holds some shadow outer ministry portfolios. Like so many MPs, there have been rumblings about her dual citizenship status and subsequent constitutional eligibility.

Junior vice-president: Tim Gartrell

Formerly an ALP national secretary, Gartrell has a strong campaigning pedigree. He was behind the Kevin 07 campaign that launched Kevin Rudd into the lodge and end Labor’s decade in the political wilderness. He would also go on to lead the successful Yes campaign at the 2017 marriage equality postal survey.

Ed’s note: an earlier version of the this story said Rose Jackson was the first member of NSW Labor Left to hold the position of assistant general secretary. This is not the case. Jackson is the first woman from the Left faction to hold that position.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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