REVELATIONS NSW opposition leader John Robertson signed a letter on behalf of Sydney siege perpetrator Man Haron Monis signals the end of his tenure as ALP leader; the latest instalment in a political career punctuated by gaffes and serious judgement errors, it dictates that it is no longer tenable for Robertson to even fulfil the function of a sacrificial lamb offered up for slaughter at an imminent state election Labor is certain to lose.
Whether it likes it or not, NSW Labor is going to be led into the coming state election by a fresh face, with current leader John Robertson now too thoroughly discredited to even serve as a sacrificial lamb to the (certain) slaughter at the hands of a resurgent Coalition government and its popular new Premier, Mike Baird.
The revelation he signed a letter back in 2011 on behalf of a constituent — who, it just happens, was the same man who holed up in the Lindt Cafe in Martin Place last week with 17 hostages, killing two of them before being shot dead by Police — at best confirms perennial questions that have swirled around the soundness of his judgement, and at worst, show him unfit to be elected as Premier of New South Wales, to serve in a community leadership role in any capacity or, indeed, to be entrusted with any public responsibility at all.
I caution, at the outset, that any temptation to jingoism in this case should be avoided at all costs; after all, the wounds — physical and emotional — of what happened in Sydney last week remain brutally raw. There is no way when he signed the letter three years ago that Robertson could have known he was signing off on a reference for an eventual terrorist.
Yet even so, it should have been entirely possible for Robertson — or his staff — to establish that “Man Haron Monis” was the same Man Haron Monis who had been charged over the sending of offensive letters to the relatives of dead soldiers’ relatives two years earlier; that case had been the focus of intense public scrutiny.
And it is also reasonable to expect that Mr Robertson — or his staff — would or should have also known of the charges Man Haron Monis faced over the brutal sexual assault of a young woman shortly after his arrival in Australia; it needs to be remembered that whilst the general public may remain unaware of such matters before the Courts, the offices of elected representatives are uniquely placed to obtain such information discreetly, to use it expeditiously, and as leader of the NSW ALP it is inexcusable that Robertson failed to do so.
The pretext for the letter Robertson signed might seem to some reasonable enough: a letter on behalf of a constituent to the Department of Family and Community Services seeking permission for him to see his children, who lived with his estranged wife (over whose murder, incidentally, Monis was facing charges as an accessory when he began his siege last week), on Fathers’ Day.
But even then — as Robertson acknowledged to the media today, when this story broke — his office was aware that Monis was the subject of an AVO at that time, and this alone should have been enough for astute personnel in the competent discharge of their responsibilities to at least check into the background of their constituent before simply signing reference letters on his behalf.
As we now know, this did not happen.
This event compounds a long line of gaffes by Robertson — only ever elected to lead NSW Labor on account of its heavily depleted ranks following the 2011 state election massacre — and it signals the point at which he is simply too much of a liability for the party to be able to afford to carry him with it into another election campaign.
Even if the result of that election is that Labor is certain to lose.
Readers will remember, of course, that Robertson was already a dead man walking over revelations last year that he had self-adjudicated over a $3 million bribe he was offered that it “wasn’t serious” enough to officially report it — and in the present environment of zero tolerance of official corruption, this snafu was impossible to justify.
He won a reprieve firstly after Labor harnessed apathy toward do-nothing Premier Barry O’Farrell and anger over a first-term MP quitting to win the by-election in Miranda with a swing approaching 30%; he was subsequently earmarked for replacement again, until former Premier Nathan Rees was forced to announce his retirement after it was revealed he had engaged in an affair with a constituent, and that the constituent matter he was dealing with at the time of the illicit affair also intersected with his responsibilities as a shadow minister.
It seemed the accident-prone Robertson might make it to the March state election, especially prior to O’Farrell’s involuntary departure over an undeclared gift of a bottle of wine: in some polls, Robbo had Labor within shouting distance of the government, even leading in one shock (rogue) Newspoll late last year.
Ever since O’Farrell was replaced by a better candidate, of course, the Coalition’s re-election prospects have been assured; Baird will not win the 65% of the two-party vote O’Farrell did, riding the wave of public disgust over Labor corruption and incompetence into the Premier’s office as he did four years ago.
But it now appears certain that Baird will not only win handsomely, but handsomely enough to set the government up for a third term after 2019 if it simply does what it was elected to do in the first place, and provides sound governance for its next four-year term.
Robertson’s problem is that there have been too many instances of highly questionable judgement emanating from his office since he became leader, and in the allusion to the corruption and incompetence and sleaze that characterised 16 years of tepid Labor government in New South Wales, this latest furore is the one that will hurt him.
Anger over what transpired last week aside, there is simply too much evidence that Robertson is unfit to be entrusted with the responsibility of public servitude in the wake of the emergence of his letter in support of Monis.
Labor, to its credit, is said to be canvassing a leadership change that — incredibly, given the date — could occur, quite literally, tomorrow.
It clearly is fed up with the foibles of its leader, and acutely aware that whilst their party is not going to win the election next year, it is increasingly unlikely to win any additional seats either if it goes to that election with Robertson at the helm.
Ordinarily, of course, a leadership change five minutes before an election is a recipe for disaster. So poor has Robertson’s standing grown after the past week’s events, however, any change of leader can only improve his party’s prospects.
Whichever way you cut it and however the Labor leadership moves play out — in short, whether Robertson quits in favour of former minister Michael Daley or whether Daley has to throw down the gauntlet in a leadership challenge to blast him out — the NSW Labor leader is finished, and if he doesn’t realise as much then he is probably the only person in NSW who doesn’t.
John Robertson is now a dead man walking. The sooner his colleagues put him out of his misery, the better.