Actions And Consequences: NSW Liberals Could Destroy The Party

THE APPARENT PUSH by so-called Liberal moderates in NSW to engage in a wholesale purge of conservative MPs before this year’s election could destroy the Liberal Party; it stinks of a desperate, opportunistic attempt to shore up a leader whose support lacks depth across the national rank-and-file. A parade of conservative casualties in a party whose membership leans more Right than Centre could set off a reaction that shatters it as a viable force.

If there’s one line I have heard more than any other during membership of the Liberal Party spanning more than 25 years, it’s that “the Liberal Party is not a conservative party:” it’s a line that is only ever offered up by members of its so-called “moderate,” small-l liberal (or “wet”) faction, and whilst there is an argument the party was more centrist in its early decades than it is today (despite its founder, Sir Robert Menzies, being a conservative in everything but name), that argument ignores the fact that Australian society as a whole has shifted to the right in the past 30 years — and so, quite decisively, has the Liberal Party itself.

Plenty of extra material for readers’ perusal today, which curiously enough comes from the Murdoch press — see here, here, here, and The Australian‘s editorialisation early in the week of the problem at hand here — about the endgame in an aggregation of events, both historical and most recent, that have conspired to see an apparently orchestrated move by moderates in the NSW division of the party to seize upon an electoral redistribution of lower house electorates in that state as a pretext to get rid of sitting MPs from the conservative wing of the party that tellingly extends to both Senators and members of the House of Representatives.

Without being melodramatic about it, I think that if the moderates succeed in administering the boot to at least half a dozen incumbent MPs, the reverberations could well prove the catalyst for a split that taken to its logical conclusion could see the existing Liberal Party rendered irrelevant in the shadow of a broad-based and truly conservative party, and whilst I identify as a conservative Liberal and have no enthusiasm whatsoever for Malcolm Turnbull as the leader of the party, the last thing I want to see is the party ripped to pieces by the deluded, cynical and it must be said outrageous ambitions of a few finger-in-the-wind glory seekers north of the Murray River.

Yet this is a situation born of truly labyrinthine origins, and as much as the finger needs to be pointed at the moderates for creating the potential for disunity and ructions ahead of an election that just a few months appeared certain to bring defeat, the Right must shoulder some of the blame for allowing it to eventuate at all.

20 years ago, Australia stood on the cusp of electing a shiny new Coalition government after 13 years of ALP rule; back in 1996, the standard bearers of the Liberal Right formed a formidable list from an impressively diverse range of backgrounds. John Howard. Peter Costello. Peter Reith. Alexander Downer. David Kemp. Nick Minchin. The list went on: forming the heart and soul of the Howard government, real intellectual and political finesse devolved from this nucleus, underwriting in large part the success of what I believe has been the best government in Australia’s history over 12 years.

Today, after almost three years in government, the list of the Right’s leaders looks rather different. Tony Abbott. Andrew Robb. Eric Abetz. Kevin Andrews. Peter Dutton. Bronwyn Bishop. Some would add the fair-weather friends George Brandis and Christopher Pyne, who have shown more loyalty in recent years to likely winners of leadership votes than to any consistent philosophical underpinnings. With the clear exception of Robb (and perhaps Abbott, before he allowed the idiots he surrounded himself with to permanently infect his government with incompetence on every level), none of them has covered themselves in any glory. Most have brought embarrassment to the Liberal Party. And once again, with the exception of Robb, none of them are worthy of an additional term in safe parliamentary seats based on either merit or on the (dubious) calibre of their performances, jointly and severally, in office.

Not all of those names, of course, are from NSW, and not all of those NSW MPs facing preselection challenges from moderate forces could be said to include “leading lights” of the conservative faction (the list includes Senator Bill Heffernan, for goodness’ sake). But the allusion goes to a point I have repeatedly argued in this column, namely that the conservative group in the party has failed to identify, groom, and preselect a generation of “tomorrow’s leaders” to comprehensively replace those who engineered the successes of the Howard era.

And whilst the finger is being pointed in the direction of the Liberal Right, it bears remembering what those torch bearers of the Liberal conservative wing did with the election victory they secured in September 2013: I have copped a lot of flak for the article published in this column a fortnight ago, in which I argued that the Abbott government dishonoured the conservative cause in Australia.

Coupled with the diminished calibre of Right-leaning Liberal MPs that has evolved over the past ten years or so, the failures of the Abbott government invited some kind of boilover from the moderate wing that transcended merely tipping Abbott off the cart and getting rid of some of his trustiest cronies. I stand by that article, and I point out to those fellow conservatives still in the party that however painful it might be, some honesty and a grounding in fact are critical if any evaluation of why Abbott failed is to be worth a pinch of the proverbial. I didn’t support Malcolm Turnbull, and had a decent candidate emerged from the Right as a replacement for Abbott I would have backed whoever it was against Turnbull. The point is that Malcolm is now Prime Minister: and in the context of today’s discussion, that reality only feeds into the febrile climate just waiting on a spark to ignite an explosion.

Really, on the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, there are three groups of people: one, those who have noisily stomped out of the party in disgust or who remain in the fold purely to cause trouble, and who are sniping at Turnbull from the sidelines and/or taking up with imbeciles who believe Abbott’s departure opened up opportunities for personal glorification they could disguise as expressing fidelity with the conservative cause.

These people are no loss to the Liberal Party and most — not all, most — would be of little value to any other mass-based political party, conservative or otherwise. These are the people for whom nothing less than the destruction of the Coalition will suffice (Bill Shorten, unbelievably, being preferable to them as Prime Minister than Malcolm) and who spend time on Twitter claiming to be planning “something big” to “get their elected Prime Minister back” in a popular uprising they cannot be told has insufficient public support to make it worth bothering.

Spare us all, and let’s move on.

Two, those who take the pragmatic view that Malcolm won’t be around forever; that his historic flaws and shortcomings will quickly resurface, and that he will prove over time to be a poor Prime Minister; and who accept a longer-term view that his presence merely allows the opportunity for conservatives to quickly identify succession planning and reinvigorate their parliamentary representation by moving on longstanding and/or ineffectual MPs from the Right.

And three, those who take the apposite pragmatic view that Malcolm offers electoral victory where Abbott had, by dint of his own stupidity and that of those hand-picked fools around him, condemned himself to certain defeat, and who believe that a Coalition government led by an undesirable figurehead is preferable under any and all circumstances to a return to Labor — and to a Labor Party “led” by an insidious specimen like Shorten to boot.

My personal position is probably an amalgam of options #2 and #3.

But with all that said, on the moderate wing of the party in NSW — emboldened by the ascension of one of their brethren to the Liberal leadership for the first time since Andrew Peacock in 1989 — the big push seems to be on to get rid of a swathe of long-serving conservatives, plus one of their own in Philip Ruddock, whose 43-year career in the House of Representatives should, on any measure, come to an end: Ruddock isn’t a face of the future, and isn’t going to return to the ministry now, and safe seats with 20% margins should be used to find and draft the ministers and leaders of tomorrow — however much a hero the incumbent might be.

Yet looking around what is happening in NSW, there isn’t so much common sense being shown as that.

I have opined that Tony Abbott should quit Parliament (and he should) but strangely enough, he’s being left unchallenged in Warringah: based on the way his government played out and the prohibitive opportunity costs of making any attempt to further harness his skills, there is as little justification for him to remain as there is for Ruddock.

And this is where it gets complicated, for as difficult as it is insuperable, the propensity for Abbott’s ongoing presence to galvanise the aggrieved and more shortsightedly reckless elements in the Liberal Right does in fact need to be excised: just as aged 30-year veteran and undisputed political liability Bronwyn Bishop must be removed, and just as the laudable but 70-something Ruddock must also go.

These are three very, very safe seats there that can all be used to bring fresh talent to the NSW Liberals’ federal ranks; it is an indictment on the NSW Right (and a perfect illustration of part of the central point) that in all three cases it has failed to have clear replacements ready and the numbers to assure their preselections guaranteed.

But the moderate faction isn’t content with just clearing out deadwood and people past their prime, and the redistribution of federal boundaries in NSW appears to have been seized upon merely as a pretext to wreak as much havoc as politically possible — with scant regard for the consequences.

Make no mistake, if it all goes pear-shaped, these goings-on have the potential to slice the Liberal Party down the middle.

On one level, the push by moderates to dispense with as many Right-aligned MPs as it can is understandable; the Liberal Party leadership has been controlled by the Right for decades. Malcolm Turnbull’s ascension must seem better than Christmas for these people, and not just because of the poll boost he has, for now, delivered.

But a simple fact that is barely disputed, and indeed tacitly acknowledged on all sides of the party, is that the Liberals’ grass roots membership is far more philosophically conservative than Turnbull, and its residual inclinations more in the Howard/Abbott mould — even if Abbott made a botch of it.

During the week, Turnbull intervened to provide support for all six MPs in the gun and facing challenges from moderate-aligned forces — Ruddock, Bishop, Angus Taylor in Hume, Heffernan, his Senate colleague Connie Fierravanti-Wells, and Hughes MP Craig Kelly — and it is telling that in spite of this move, the machinations against the six continue apace.

This early indication of the true limits of Turnbull’s authority over his own party — and an inability to control what, nominally at least, are his stablemates in the moderate faction — will be ignored to the enduring detriment of the party, and should send a shiver down the spine of any Liberal around the country who remains inclined to see the Coalition stay in power in the medium to long term, irrespective of their position on the moderate/conservative spectrum or their disposition toward Turnbull as leader.

As recently as Thursday, a deal was said to be on the table to save Taylor — facing preselection challenge from moderate-backed MP Russell Matheson, whose electorate of Macarthur has been made highly marginal as the redistribution moved half his voters (and many of his branches) into Taylor’s seat — and Fierravanti-Wells, and reported as likely to hold.

The National Party has already said it would offer Taylor preselection in Hume if Matheson were to obtain endorsement for the seat; Taylor is keeping his powder dry publicly, of course, and the Nationals are salivating at getting their hands on a candidate that good: with more experience, and discounting the present stoush over who contests which seat, Taylor will be a senior Coalition leader one day, and perhaps even a Liberal leader.

But Matheson seems more interested in simply having a safe seat than in retaining his existing (redrawn) electorate, and just as Taylor seems a lock on a senior role in the not-so-distant future, Matheson has proven an excellent marginal seat campaigner. For Taylor to be deselected (and especially if he were to jump ship to the Nationals) would potentially cost the Liberals both. It is incredibly shortsighted, to say nothing of downright dumb.

But Kelly, in Hughes, seems to be the true potential trigger point for a split.

Unlike Taylor, Kelly faces a challenge not from an MP who has a case (of sorts) that part of his electorate has been redistributed away, but from a moderate, an ALP turncoat at that, who isn’t even in Parliament; the move against Kelly in Hughes appears to be one of those things the moderates in NSW are hellbent on doing just because they can — often the worst reason for doing anything — and despite Turnbull’s intervention and the swirling attempts to otherwise do deals to protect sitting MPs, the challenge from party vice-president Kent Johns appears to be very much a certainty.

Like Taylor in Hughes, it also seems certain to succeed if it goes ahead.

Like Taylor, Kelly is keeping mum about whether he would stand as either an Independent or as a National if disendorsed as a Liberal, but as The Australian reports today, dumping him has the potential to split the Liberal Party statewide in NSW: and as is the way of these things, such a rupture would be impossible to contain between the Tweed and Murray Rivers.

It’s an imperfect parallel, of course, but the lunatic putsch in 1987 by Queensland Nationals to somehow install Joh Bjelke-Petersen as Prime Minister that year — despite never getting very far outside Queensland — managed to derail the federal Coalition’s bid to win an election that was arguably there for the taking; the contagion from that event cruelled the ability of Liberals to win enough votes in enough marginal seats in Sydney and Melbourne to provide the impetus for victory, and cost them seats in Queensland, even though the Nationals’ vote held up across the country and the Coalition outpolled the ALP on primary votes.

In some respects, the tinder box in NSW represents a far graver threat to the Liberal Party than Bjelke-Petersen did 30 years ago; unlike the former Queensland Premier, none of the protagonists from the moderate faction are perceptibly mired in a delusional geriatric haze. They know what they are doing.

All of this could come to nothing, of course, and aside from dispatching Ruddock and/or Bishop — Abbott, it seems, is likely to stay where he is — the sitting MPs in the gun could emerge chastened, but with their endorsements intact.

But for a man who rightly elicited ridicule when he asserted that “factions do not control the Liberal Party” three months ago, Malcolm Turnbull has mates who could inflict far more grievous harm on the party than just knocking off a few factional adversaries at the preselection table.

And the problem with playing Russian roulette, as the NSW moderates appear determined to do with the wider interests of the Liberal Party by their behaviour, is the fact it’s impossible to know which squeeze of the trigger will inflict a fatal shot.

We have already seen an ominous portent of this behaviour in North Sydney — Joe Hockey’s old seat — at Turnbull’s first electoral test: after a preselection brawl that saw a candidate on the party’s far moderate left emerge, heavy by-election swings against the Liberals were recorded on primary votes and after preferences notwithstanding the candidate, Trent Zimmerman, being elected: this without an ALP candidate, in one of the party’s safest Sydney seats, and in the supposed blush of Turnbull’s “honeymoon” and the burst of support it was said to have generated.

If the mischief the moderate NSW Liberals are engaging in does in fact fire the bullet at the wrong target, the consequences could be dire: and by dire, I mean the effects of the fatal shot could ricochet across Australia, crippling the Liberal Party nationally, and conceivably terminating its relevance as an electoral force.

Such a self-inflicted blow could make anything Bjelke-Petersen managed to inflict look like child’s play.

Long-term readers will have heard me say many times that I believe the Australian electorate, distilled to a basic level, wants a choice between a genuine conservative party and a genuinely social democratic party: it’s a potential realignment that hasn’t gone away in recent years. Events like the embarrassing revelations of the Trade Union Royal Commission for the ALP,  the emergence of a socially left-leaning Prime Minister on the Liberal side of politics, and a consequent enraged core of conservative grassroots Liberal Party members — combined with a National Party ally that is ambivalent at best about Turnbull — all contrive to bring it nearer.

I’m not definitively saying it will happen, but an amalgamation of the Liberal Right, the National Party, less extreme conservative outposts like Family First, and even a reaching out to the likes of Katter forces — with conservative policies that at least cater to regional interests, if not capitulating to their outdated dreams of a return to a protectionist past — could, if an emphasis on developing a truly national, mainstream conservative agenda was pursued with the explicit aim of bringing mass popular support in behind it — leave the rump moderate Liberals with nowhere else to turn except the unpalatable choices of the ALP or the crossbenches.

Yes, such suggestions are hypothetical, and hypotheticals are just that.

But the ambit clearing out of factional rivals in NSW — just because they can — in the face of the fact that whatever internal power the moderates may temporarily wield, the broader party and a majority of the electorate remains a step further to the Right, is an exercise that could quite conceivably unleash consequences none of the key players on the moderate side appear to have thought through sufficiently, if they even care about them at all.

Any war can start with a single, isolated event. In 1914 it was a political assassination in Serbia. In 1939 it was the issue of an Allied ultimatum that was ignored by Germany. As I said at the outset, there is no desire to be unduly melodramatic, but in terms of the medium-term future of the Liberal Party, the NSW moderates are playing with fire.

It may be that the NSW moderates collect all of the scalps they seek; that the House of Representative MPs and Senators they are stalking are jettisoned; and that within their own NSW dunghill at least, the trendy wet Liberals emerge all-powerful — for now at least.

Yet just as the wets in NSW might win a series of battles during the current round of preselections, the wider war for the heart and soul of the non-Labor side of Australian politics remains very much unresolved.

Their antics, and their list of targets on the Right, stink of a push to shore up a leader in Turnbull whose support within the ranks of the Liberals’ membership is very thin indeed; Turnbull might be travelling well in the polls for now, and this may well embolden his followers. But once the political tide turns — or once Turnbull reverts to form, and begins making the sort of mistakes that cost him his leadership of the Liberal Party in 2009 in the first place — the justification for what they are up to will evaporate.

Now is a time for sober, reasonable, and prudent action in the NSW Liberal Party, not the reckless pursuit of factional adversaries and the settling of long-dead scores.

Regrettably, it seems the latter it the higher imperative. It remains to be seen where the pieces fall as a result of the mad free-for-all the moderates are determined to pursue, and at exactly what cost.

As the poet John Dryden observed, even victors, are by victories, undone: and today’s expedient, self-gratifying hatchet job by the NSW moderates could tomorrow sound their death knell.

 

NSW: 11% Poll Swing Puts Baird In The “Newman Zone”

THE PERFECT POLITICAL STORM swirling around the Liberal Party risks engulfing a third state government, with a new Galaxy poll in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph showing an 11% swing against Mike Baird’s administration; the figures put the state Coalition at grave risk of falling into minority status — or worse — and will raise fresh questions around the adverse impact of the Abbott government on the fortunes of the Liberals across the country.

It’s a relatively brief post from me for now, as the renewed demands of a Monday demand my attention elsewhere; I will be posting again later this evening about — you guessed it — the Abbott government and the Prime Minister’s controversial Chief of Staff Peta Credlin, who has attracted an insidious comparison with Margaret Thatcher this morning in another newspaper to the effect she is not for “turning:” the obscenity of likening a politically destructive and jumped-up staffer to the greatest conservative leader of the late 20th century is too offensive to allow to pass without remark, and I simply don’t have time to do justice to the case this morning.

But a story in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning conveys the findings of the latest Galaxy Poll on voting intention for the NSW state election — now just a month away — and its findings of an 11% swing against Mike Baird’s Coalition government would, if replicated, go most of the way toward costing the NSW Liberals the fat parliamentary majority they scored in the landmark 2011 rout of the ALP.

The reason these figures have attracted my attention lies in NSW’s relatively recent political past; it becomes salient to recall that the Greiner government — elected in a landslide in 1988 — was forced into minority in 1991 despite winning 52.5% of the statewide two-party result, and the Coalition lost office altogether four years later under John Fahey in spite of retaining 51.2% of the vote after preferences.

Galaxy’s findings, therefore, of a 53-47 Coalition lead — an 11.2% swing since 2011 — should sound an attack warning siren at NSW Liberal HQ; just like the Newman government in Queensland, they portend a resumption of the gradual leaching away of Coalition support that was certainly interrupted by Baird’s replacement of Barry O’Farrell as Premier, but which perhaps has not been reversed to the extent earlier findings may have suggested or to the extent Liberal Party strategists might have hoped.

An obvious difference between the NSW Liberals and the Queensland LNP is that unlike their northern cousins, NSW’s Liberals boast the most popular leader of any conservative government in the country, and despite Galaxy finding some movement on the measure toward new ALP leader Luke Foley (himself in the traditional “honeymoon phase” of his leadership) Baird remains “preferred Premier” by a thumping 44-26 margin.

But the Galaxy findings — which, if applied and replicated uniformly at an election — suggest that the Coalition is on track to hold 51 seats to Labor’s 39, with three Greens and Independents; given 47 seats are required to win office outright in the 93-seat NSW lower house, it becomes painfully clear that despite his popularity, Premier Mike Baird actually has some very tight parameters to negotiate if he is to secure another term.

With a gaggle of its MPs embroiled in ICAC proceedings — some of whom have already left the Liberal Party and/or Parliament altogether — it is obvious that the Coalition’s edge on the corruption issue over the ALP has been comprehensively squandered: a point of difference that paints the parties in no better light than the party of Eddie Obeid and Ian McDonald that it dislodged from office four years ago.

But there are other disturbing similarities to the result recorded in Queensland last month; like the LNP, the Baird government is running on a controversial platform of privatising the so-called “poles and wires” that comprise NSW’s electricity assets — and this policy, whilst making good sense as a divestiture of assets that will be worth little more than the land they sit on in a couple of decades’ time — has shown its potency as a vote loser in Queensland in February, and in NSW repeatedly since it cost the Coalition dearly at an election decimation in 1999.

Ominous, too, is the fact Labor and the Communist Party Greens appear close to striking a tight statewide preference agreement — a crucial ingredient in working toward any election upset by maximising the number of votes that can be harvested, without exhaustion, under the state’s optional preferential voting system.

And all of this, in turn, casts the spotlight back toward Canberra, and the effect the Abbott government seems likely to continue to exert on the fortunes of yet another Liberal state government.

Preference deals and privatisation programmes should not, in and of themselves, be enough to consign a government with a robust parliamentary majority to either minority or defeat; the corruption issue, whilst an obvious negative, was arguably staunched with the replacement of O’Farrell last year.

And Baird’s popularity should not be underestimated.

But this state election is to be held in a continuing climate of leadership ructions within the federal Liberal Party, and against the backdrop of a deeply and increasingly unpopular federal Liberal government, whose impact on state elections in Queensland and Victoria cannot be described as decisive, but which almost certainly contributed to the Liberal Party’s defeat at both.

With the leadership issue continuing to simmer away — and ample suggestion that anger toward Tony Abbott among his MPs has built rather than subsided since the abortive spill attempt a fortnight ago, accused as he is of reneging on commitments made to remain in office — it seems clear that what is already a likely negative influence on state Liberal support could become an avalanche if any renewed outbreak of hostilities occurs between now and polling day in the Premier State.

This is one poll, and the usual disclaimers on that basis apply.

But we will watch voting trends in NSW with interest; and with the movement remaining so clearly toward Labor, one must wonder whether Baird and his colleagues have already slipped into the “Newman Zone.”

The 1991 and 1995 debacles in NSW take on fresh importance with these numbers, and are a reminder that however badly the Liberals crushed Labor last time, when it comes to a new election four years later, all bets are off.

The Coalition can’t afford to surrender yet another state to Labor in such an embarrassingly short period of time. But from the findings of Galaxy today, even a small additional movement away from the Liberals would risk precisely that.

And for this reason, what we will discuss about Credlin tonight — and the odious spotlight cast upon her in The Australian today — assumes a new and urgent currency.

 

We Called It First: Nathan Rees To Leave NSW Politics

THE MAN WHO might have led NSW Labor out of the wilderness in 2019 is instead to leave politics, his two-term political career in tatters, in the wake of a highly inappropriate affair with a constituent and on the run from an extremely unfavourable electoral redistribution that made his western Sydney electorate unwinnable. Rees deserves a fresh start, but should ponder the smoking ruins of a career hastened in its demise by his own actions.

It’s hard to believe almost six months have passed since the highly inappropriate affair between Nathan Rees — then NSW’s shadow minister for Police and Emergency Services — and a constituent he advised on matters pertaining to his shadow portfolio first became public; I said at the time that the affair had cruelled Rees’ career permanently, and that he should resign from Parliament (or be expelled from it if he refused to so so) as his political career was, in effect, finished.

Now, it seems, he is going.

Those who didn’t see my article at the time can access it here; I stand by what I said at the time and in some respects, those words have proven prescient.

The great irony — as I said at the time — is that present Labor leader John Robertson should be a dead man walking, given his acknowledgement of the fact he was offered a $3 million bribe (he declined it) but failed to report the matter to Police; by a combination of factors he stands every chance of leading the ALP to the next state election in NSW and possibly beyond, when Rees was viewed as his logical replacement, and perhaps even Labor’s next Premier.

There isn’t much to be done about a redistribution that turns your seat into one held safely, on paper, by your opponent, and even less to be done about it when your party holds so few seats in Parliament that a replacement can’t be found for you.

Yet for whatever successes and failures Rees takes away from Macquarie Street, he must also accept that the terminal blow to his career was inflicted by the affair he willingly engaged in that overlapped with what, in effect, was ministerial business: a total no-no for any politician in the kinds of governments we have in Australia.

Rees, in announcing his resignation, stoically claimed that it was time for “new challenges” and cited an involvement in politics — both in and outside Parliament — spanning some 20 years; we do wish him well in his private life.

He can rightly claim (as he has done) to have made some attempt to confront the corrupt culture that is endemic within the NSW ALP; he could have done more, and many would have done less.

But any legacy will forever be tainted by improper conduct of another kind altogether, and whilst Rees leaves the NSW Parliament on his own terms and in his own time, even the suggestion of sexual favours in return for rendering assistance to a constituent will be a blemish that will never entirely be erased from any objective consideration of his time in politics.

 

 

Shock Nielsen Poll: Labor Leading In NSW

FOR THE FIRST TIME in years, a reputable opinion poll has found the ALP ahead of the Coalition in NSW, with Nielsen finding Labor leading 51% to 49% after preferences; the results come with heavy caveats and must be interpreted with caution, but they reflect a horror start to the year for NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, and appear to mirror the growing disenchantment with O’Farrell and his government that we have discussed several times now.

I have to say that whilst I’m not surprised to find opinion polls registering significant and increasing movement away from the NSW government and from Barry O’Farrell in particular, I didn’t think it would show up as an ALP lead anytime soon — and especially not this side of a state election that is now due in twelve months’ time.

And before we really get into the Nielsen numbers, I should make the observation that these are the first findings on state voting intention in NSW that Nielsen has posted since March last year: the (hefty) movements in its numbers have to be read with that consideration in mind, as more surveys in the intervening period may have produced a more gradual trend rather than the huge jump this one appears to record.

Even so, the Nielsen poll is a shocker for the NSW Coalition, whichever way you spin it, and one that will do little to shore up O’Farrell’s tenure as Liberal leader and Premier.

Nielsen finds (remembering, again, that it’s a year since its last poll) primary vote support for the Coalition down 12 points to 40%, with Labor rising by the same amount, to 35%. It sees the Greens sitting at 12% (+2%) and “Others” at 13% (-2%). After preferences, this equates to a 51-49 lead for Labor: a swing of 15.7% since the state election held in March 2011 and one which, if applied uniformly to the NSW pendulum, would see the ALP win 25 seats from the Coalition to fall a single seat short of a majority, although in such a scenario Labor would fancy its chances of reclaiming Balmain — from the Communist Party Greens — and with it, government.

Satisfaction with O’Farrell’s performance as Premier, measured by Nielsen, sits at 46% (-8%), with 40% (+5%) disapproving; by contrast, Labor leader John Robertson — for so long regarded as a dead man walking until the ALP’s stunning result in the Miranda by-election resuscitated his fortunes — records personal approval of 34% (+2), with his disapproval number sitting at 36% (-7). The Robertson numbers certainly aren’t Earth-shattering, but tellingly enough they aren’t far short of the average of the numbers O’Farrell recorded as opposition leader either.

As preferred Premier, Nielsen finds O’Farrell (50%, -12%) remaining ahead of Robertson (30%, +5%) in a solid but by no means overwhelming result that is certainly nowhere near as robust as other leaders facing first-term opposition leaders have scored.

Whilst my usual cautions about reading polls in isolation, waiting for trends to develop and so forth remain absolutely in effect, I think the Nielsen result is exceptional for the fact alone that it shows Labor ahead in a state it wasn’t expected to be sighted alive again in until at least 2019, and probably later.

That said, the “trend” can already be picked out to some extent: in the Miranda by-election, a subsequent Newspoll showing Coalition support in NSW starting to slip, and now this result from Nielsen. It will be interesting to see what the other survey companies find when next polling state voting intention in the Premier State.

To me, this simply reinforces what I think is the negative effect of Barry O’Farrell’s leadership of the Liberal Party that I wrote about in January; if anything nothing has really changed, and if anything the pattern that saw O’Farrell start to drag his party’s vote downwards has continued apace since that time.

For example, his so-called “coward punch” laws — to deal with the spiralling problem of alcohol-fuelled violence in nightclub precincts in inner Sydney — have universally been decried as too little, too late; in any case, I saw during the week that a mass movement of drinkers toward suburban venues unaffected by the government’s early lockout laws appears to be taking place in response, and where the epicentre of the drinking population imbibes, the troublemakers will soon enough follow.

Across a raft of issues, I’ve noticed “unnamed sources” briefing the Sydney press to the effect that O’Farrell rarely — if ever — heeds expert advice or counsel, even when it is advice he commissioned himself: it’s a portrait suggestive of a leader who refuses to listen to anything other than his own views and prejudices, which is exactly as it is intended to be. The problem is that it’s a picture many who view it find to be reflective of their own opinions of O’Farrell.

Since my article in January, O’Farrell has maintained his vehement and at times almost childish refusal to contribute a cent from NSW revenues to either the soon-to-be-confirmed second Sydney airport at Badgerys Creek, or to any of the critical infrastructure it requires; it is difficult to think of a leader so obviously out of lockstep with a clear and growing majority of public sentiment in recent times, and not least in view of the direct contradiction such a stand makes of the federal government position — a government operated by the Liberal Party also.

Then again, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and O’Farrell aren’t exactly noted as factional bosom buddies within the party, so perhaps this is of no surprise. Even so — after decades of gutless politicians on all sides refusing to deal with the airport question — the opposition of the NSW government, directly spearheaded by O’Farrell personally, is petulant in the extreme.

But the suspension of three Liberal MPs a fortnight ago to face investigation by ICAC is likely a driver of this result as well; certainly, if the trio are cleared, one would expect any damage the NSW government might suffer in polling to be temporary, and thus reversed.

But for now at least, a distinct “pox on both your houses” attitude toward the NSW government is discernible, at least in Sydney; on balance, this is a far greater risk to the Coalition than to Labor, elected as it was to clean up the quagmire of corruption left behind by the last Labor government once and for all.

Should it turn out that both sides have their share of miscreant MPs who have been up to no good, the central pretext for electing the Coalition will have been shattered. In that eventuality, the Coalition will require tangible and substantial reasons to base its case for re-election upon, and as we’ve discussed — under O’Farrell’s leadership — it is growing increasingly difficult to ascertain how such a case might be made.

We will continue (as ever) to watch the goings-on in NSW, and discuss as need be. My feeling, however, is that this particular poll is no rogue, and merely builds on the warning signs that have been apparent — and growing in number — for quite some time.

Perhaps my previous comparison of O’Farrell’s government with Nick Greiner’s ahead of the 1991 election aren’t so far fetched. Perhaps O’Farrell’s leadership really will come under the harsh glare of his colleagues. I have called in the past for O’Farrell to be replaced as leader and Premier for the good of the Liberal Party. Nothing in these numbers suggests the call was made in error.

 

Start Counting: NSW Liberals Must Replace Barry O’Farrell As Premier

MUCH AS IT PAINS ME to say so, members of the NSW parliamentary Liberal Party return from their summer break to confront an invidious choice; resting on a colossal majority and faced by an incompetent and corrupt Labor Party, its future should be guaranteed. Yet without real leadership — with some spine and some principle — the show could be over faster than anyone ever imagined. It is time to replace the Premier of News South Wales.

It’s hard for me to write this; as a lifelong Liberal voter and member of the Liberal Party since I was 18 — and even given the criticisms I dole out here from time to time — I pride myself on my loyalty to the Liberal Party; that loyalty, however, isn’t blind, and rather than seek to defend O’Farrell I’ve decided to add my voice to a growing number, behind closed doors, that are said to favour his removal from the leadership of the NSW state Liberal Party, and thus as Premier of NSW.

It didn’t have to be like this; the thumping win O’Farrell scored at the 2011 NSW state election could, and should, have set the Coalition up for several terms in government. Now, it is becoming abundantly clear that the tide is turning, and unless its flow is staunched, it could well take O’Farrell — and the government — with it.

Even before that election, the views of O’Farrell’s critics routinely found their way into the pages of the Sydney press; their consistent message was that he was mediocre, unlikely to perform as Premier, and (in something of an irony that will not be lost on those who know anything of him) dismissed as a lightweight.

And prior to the by-election in the state seat of Miranda, a general perception had begun to emerge that O’Farrell — and his government — were pedestrian at best, and a “do nothing” outfit at worst, even if some measures they had taken — in transport and planning, for instance — had managed to outrage what was left of the opposition.

Regular readers will have long since realised that I follow the politics of all of our Australian states very closely, even if the bulk of what we discuss here primarily concerns federal affairs.

The point at which I began to follow political proceedings in NSW like a hawk, however, came in April last year, when O’Farrell — in open defiance of his federal colleagues — became the first of the Liberal state Premiers to sign on to the so-called Gonski education reforms, providing a huge political boost for the embattled then-PM Julia Gillard, and providing Tony Abbott with an embarrassing political headache that the federal Coalition could well have done without approaching a federal election.

It is well known that there is little love lost between Abbott and O’Farrell, a reality only partly attributable to their standing on the conservative and moderate wings of the Liberal Party respectively.

But Gonski was (and is) poor policy; as we have discussed here repeatedly, and simply stated, it amounts to little more than a bucket of billions of borrowed dollars for education funding with absolutely no accountability attached to it in terms of improvements in either educational outcomes or the standard of teaching, and will simply fund pay rises for teachers with few — if any — strings attached.

It is arguable that had O’Farrell not signed on, his Liberal counterpart in Victoria, Denis Napthine, would have declined to do so too; the result is that the country is stuck with what is a waste of tens of billions of dollars, and the addition to the commonwealth debt it represents: Abbott and his Education minister, Christopher Pyne, learned this to their detriment when they attempted to modify it.

We had a detailed look at the washout from the Miranda by-election in October, which the Liberals lost to Labor in a swing of almost 30% after preferences; as I said at the time, this was no protest against a first-term MP quitting 18 months early: it was a warning, and one that appears to have been ignored.

I contend the Miranda by-election represented a turning point, and not just because of the magnitude of the humiliation it wrought upon the NSW Liberals.

In the time since, we have witnessed the unbelievably crass spectacle of what can only be described as an attempt by O’Farrell’s government to torpedo the construction of a long-awaited and much-needed second airport in Sydney; the tantrum-like position that the federal government is free to build it, but that the state government will refuse to even contribute to road, rail and other infrastructure critical to the project’s success beggars belief, and smacks of another attempt to poke Abbott in the eye — just because it can.

It is perhaps indelicate to point out that for the past 30 years, a second Sydney airport has been a bullet state and federal governments of all colours have been too gutless to bite; now, finally, Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are set to do so, generating thousands of jobs in western Sydney in the process. O’Farrell, by contrast, has indicated he will try to play the wrecker.

And as is the way of these things, once the sputtering evidence of a leadership that has run its course starts to emerge, the trickle often becomes a torrent.

Sydney is by no means alone among major Australian cities in experiencing problems with violence that stems from the ready availability of alcohol, illicit drugs, and the proliferation of all-night venues in which those so inclined can ingest both; it is, however, perhaps the most heavily afflicted by those problems, and its government the most vocal in its talking up of intended tough action to deal with them.

O’Farrell has reportedly raised the eyebrows of several of his MPs by failing to break his holidays to issue a statement of support to the family of 18-year-old Daniel Cross, who was allegedly murdered on New Year’s Eve in a random attack in King’s Cross.

Yet as The Australian is reporting today, he found time 18 months ago to send a “condolence letter” to the supporters of a radical Islamic cleric — who had been under ASIO surveillance — killed whilst fighting alongside rebels in Syria which, if true, shows an appalling lack of sensitivity and political judgement at best, and a truly reprehensible sense of moral perspective at worst.

These are just some of the markers that bring me to the conclusion that O’Farrell must be dumped. There are plenty of others.

And from a purely political perspective — and despite the massive election win three years ago — neither O’Farrell, who once served as state director of the NSW division of the Liberal Party, nor the division itself, could be regarded as particularly effective or adept.

With another state election a little more than a year away, the opposition certainly has its problems.

Its leader, John Robertson, would seem fatally compromised by his failure to disclose a bribe he was corruptly offered some years ago (which he refused, nonetheless, to accept), and his logical replacement — former Premier Nathan Rees — is now unelectable on account of an improper relationship he had with a constituent that compromised his role as a shadow minister.

And the procession of Labor figures through ICAC and the NSW court system isn’t doing very much for the party’s battered image, either.

But the O’Farrell government gives every appearance of coasting toward what it obviously sees as an easy election win; this is in spite of the fact that in the wake of the Miranda poll, its statewide numbers — which had hovered around the 60-40 mark since its election — began to slide in reputable polling, last sitting at 56-44 late last year.

And on the back of the warning the Miranda results represented, nothing changed; indeed, O’Farrell’s government has become, if anything, even more complacent.

It is worth remembering that of all the Liberal Party’s mainland divisions, it is NSW that has been the standout, chronic underperformer since the party was formed, holding office at the state level for just 21 of the 70 years during that period.

(Queensland’s Liberals never governed that state prior to the election of Campbell Newman in 2012, but they did sit in government as the junior coalition partner for a total of 28 years).

Additionally, the 2013 and 2010 performances in federal elections by the NSW Liberals are widely acknowledged as underperformances against expected results; this, too, continues a long trend of similar outcomes, including the embarrassing 1993 election at which Liberals won just 8 of 50 seats in NSW.

It is not enough to simply coast toward polling day in March 2015, comforted by the assumption that Labor Party corruption, scandal and incompetence will guarantee a second term, and one manifested in a similarly thumping majority to the one presently enjoyed by the NSW Coalition.

Such an assumption is based on a false premise: that NSW voters, rightly angry with the ALP for misdeeds committed during its time in office, will tolerate sloppy, petty, unproductive government in its stead.

For every achievement O’Farrell can point to, there has been an opportunity missed, squandered, or trashed; for every win his government has scored, there is a mistake, or a miscalculation, or a misdeed of its own for its critics — within and without — to seize upon.

The buck has to stop somewhere — and as Premier, presiding over a Liberal government during what should be the party’s golden years in the Premier State — it must stop with O’Farrell.

Anyone seriously deluded into believing a government that so comprehensively destroyed its opponent at one election is immune to being virtually obliterated at the next should familiarise themselves with the 1993 and 1997 elections in South Australia, a parallel — and not just in electoral terms — that is now looking ominously similar to the situation in NSW.

That state has its own precedent, of course; the Greiner government — elected in a landslide of its own in 1988 — approached an early election in 1991 with a colossal lead in reputable polls, only to be reduced to minority status on the day, with the Liberals subsequently swept from office four years later.

In a further exquisite irony, it was O’Farrell — as state director — who presided over the Liberals’ near-death experience at the 1991 election, and the 1993 federal result in NSW that followed it.

And as O’Farrell’s poll numbers now drift lower, it is worth noting that at the 1995 state election, nearly 52% of the two-party vote was not enough to save Greiner’s replacement as Premier, John Fahey, with the ALP winning a one-seat majority and remaining in power for 16 years.

Clearly, the time for change has come.

I am not going to nominate a preference in terms of who should succeed O’Farrell; whilst I have such a view I intend to keep it to myself for now, although should a contest materialise I may reconsider that.

But after a great deal of thought, and consideration of the political realities of government in NSW — weighed against an evaluation of the longer-term prospects of the Liberal Party in NSW at not just the next state election, but beyond that point — I believe, with some reluctance but with certainty, that O’Farrell must either resign as Premier, or that his MPs must confront the prospect of a replacement.

It’s time to start counting; and for NSW’s Liberal MPs, the interests of the state they represent — as well as the fortunes of their party — are what is at stake.

 

Economic Insanity: O’Farrell Tries To Scupper Second Sydney Airport

IN WHAT CAN only be described as an attempt to put a wrecking ball through a crucial piece of infrastructure, the NSW government has announced its refusal to fund any of the required supporting infrastructure for an airport at Badgerys Creek; it shows a churlishness that runs counter to the common good of Sydney, NSW and the Commonwealth generally, and exposes the shambolic priorities of Barry O’Farrell’s government.

The issue of Sydney Airport and what to do about it has been a political football for decades; anyone who has had direct experience of it, irrespective of where they live (and I’ve seen the inside of it dozens of times in the past few years) knows that not only is it bursting at the seams, but that it routinely causes transport and logistics chaos on a nationwide basis as it labours under the constraints of its ridiculous curfew, cap on aircraft movements, and the perennially clogged airspace overhead.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph has reported that Premier Barry O’Farrell’s newly-minted “Minister Assisting the Premier on Western Sydney,” Stuart Ayres, has publicly told the federal government that NSW will not provide any funding for the road and rail links that are key to making a second airport in the Sydney basin feasible; it is unclear whether this decree also extends to the fuel pipeline the Tele notes would be required, but the atmospheric of Ayres’ remarks is not suggestive of a willingness on NSW’s part to cough up.

Indeed, the language of some of the minister’s remarks sounds ominously like a thinly veiled threat: “I’ll be very, very clear about this: an airport in western Sydney without any enabling infrastructure will be a catastrophic disaster,” Ayres said.

In other words, build it if you dare: we’ll do our best to ensure it’s a white elephant.

The reason I’m posting on this subject today is that just about everyone with any kind of stake in Sydney’s airport politics — the residents whose complaints of noise are treated as political missiles, the NSW and federal governments, the business community, international stakeholders and tourists, and the travelling Australian public — are fed up with Sydney and its barely functional airport wreaking havoc on air travel in this country and the knock-on effects that flow from it.

Ever since the Keating government introduced an 11pm to 6am curfew at the airport — a capitulation to political protest over aircraft noise designed primarily to shore up the marginal Sydney electorate of Barton, which the ALP went on to hold in 1996 — the perennial issue of what to do about airport capacity in Sydney has been a constant feature of the “too hard” basket, with politicians of all stripes fearful of alienating the voters who dwell in the electorates beneath the city’s flight paths.

Keating’s government, to its credit, made a serious attempt to put a Badgerys Creek airport on the agenda. But this — like every other attempt to resolve the situation with anything that allowed for increased flight movements through the Sydney corridor — came to naught, again as the result of fear-based politicking at the local level.

Now — 20 years later — there is ample anecdotal evidence that the tide has turned; not only are the residents of the western Sydney region supportive of the Badgerys Creek facility being constructed, but the employment growth and other (vast) economic benefits that would flow to the area represent gains that local community, business and government figures are keen to secure and exploit.

This makes the stance of the NSW government puzzling, to say the least.

Above the line, it is Tony Abbott’s Liberal government at the federal level that is driving the renewed push for a second Sydney airport, with Treasurer Joe Hockey being its primary champion in the media. Perhaps — in the pass-the-buck, not-in-my-back-yard cesspool that is airport politics in Sydney — the ability to deflect real or imagined political fallout with a “send a message to Canberra” campaign simply isn’t thought to exist if NSW is also seen to be contributing to the project.

On the other hand, however, it doesn’t make political sense, given the ubiquitous prominence with which western Sydney now apparently features in retail political thought, to stand in the way of the very real benefits of the Badgerys Creek airport flowing through to communities in that area. 30,000 additional jobs in a region historically marked by high unemployment is a very big carrot indeed.

It raises the question, at the very least, of exactly what advice Ayres — a Penrith boy and western Sydney local — is providing O’Farrell on the subject that outweighs those benefits.

And the arguments about existing infrastructure spending don’t withstand even the most cursory consideration: the road and rail links at the very least would be subsidised by the federal government even if it didn’t pay for them outright. Given the colossal economic benefits to be had, it is inconceivable that money from private sector partners would fail to materialise, too.

It is for these reasons I contend that the utterances from Macquarie Street — far from being a warning shot across the bows — can more accurately be viewed as an attempt to sabotage the entire project rather than a simple exercise in ensuring someone other than the NSW taxpayer foots the bill.

It is well known publicly that there is little love lost between Abbott and O’Farrell.

It is also well known publicly that O’Farrell triggered outrage behind closed doors in the Abbott camp earlier this year, and rightly so, when his became the first of the Liberal states to sign on to the Gillard government’s so-called Gonski reforms.

Presented as a willingness to grab a pot of money before it was taken off the table, the NSW government’s actions in fact derailed the federal Coalition’s strategy of opposing the Gonski package, and have directly placed Abbott in the position of being obliged to honour the unaffordable additional education spending that package requires — utterly devoid as it is of any accountability surrounding educational outcomes or standards.

(I’ve said it before and will say it again: “Gonski” money will ultimately fund pay rises for teachers. Nothing else will change as a result of it. Certainly, no child will receive a better education or achieve better educational outcomes as a result of pissing billions of dollars up against a post).

But this is the second occasion in less than six months on which the NSW government has taken a stand diametrically opposed to that of its federal Liberal counterpart on a major issue of national political and economic significance, and it’s too much of a coincidence to be an accident.

Commentators in the mainstream press have increasingly characterised the O’Farrell government as a timid, risk-averse outfit: its stance on the Badgerys Creek airport will do nothing to ameliorate that perception.

O’Farrell and Ayres can rattle on about their infrastructure commitments until the cows come home, but the vexed airport issue in Sydney has been a running sore for too long; for the first time in decades there is both the political will (federally) and the community buy-in to finally and belatedly resolve it.

If O’Farrell’s government proves to be the obstacle that kyboshes that, it will ultimately pay a heavy price at the hands of NSW voters.

To be brutal about it, to sabotage a second airport in Sydney is an act of economic vandalism that will cost the Australian economy tens of billions dollars in coming years in lost trade, tourism and investment spending; the bulk of those dollars would of course flow into NSW, but the damage will be felt far more widely if the project fails to proceed.

It’s not a stain the NSW Liberals would aspire to see on their record in office.

And as for the money, the NSW government was happy to sign on to the Gonski package for extra money from the Gillard government, but in doing so also committed itself to matching one-third of that additional amount: money that would be better spent paying for the very roads and railways it now refuses to fund, rather than the bottomless well to finance the pay claims of its teacher unions it will instead create.

The Miranda by-election earlier this year was not a routine mid-term protest. It contained a clear warning to the O’Farrell government that it was on notice. Clearly, the NSW government has failed to live up to the expectations of voters in the key electorates that put it into office by a record margin in the first place. Revelations of ALP corruption at ICAC and trade union scandals do not necessarily guarantee the Liberal Party a second term in office in NSW.

The NSW government may well opt to stand firm, as is its right. Should it do so, it ought to contemplate the message behind the result in Miranda just a little more closely.

Even governments elected by such overwhelming margins as O’Farrell’s was in 2011 are fallible. South Australia, and its elections of 1993 and 1997, are ready recent proof of it.

 

 

NSW: After Affair Revelations, Nathan Rees Must Leave Parliament

NEWS former NSW Premier Nathan Rees had an affair with a constituent are just the half of it; as ALP Police spokesman at the time — and lobbied by his mistress on Police matters — Rees is irretrievably compromised. Even in the corrupt and amoral NSW Labor Party, he has no right to linger as an MP.

It is in some respects ironic that for the second time in two days, a politician somewhere in Australia has placed himself in a position in which any moral right to continue to serve as an elected representative has been forfeited: a conservative in Queensland yesterday, and an ALP man in NSW today.

By now I’m sure that everyone has heard the news that former NSW Premier Nathan Rees has “stepped down” from the NSW opposition frontbench over revelations he had an affair with a constituent, but the man touted as recently as last month as likely to be drafted back to the ALP leadership needs to go one step further.

Rees is no longer a fit and proper person to sit in Parliament, and should resign as an MP.

At the outset, I should point out that I make no public judgement on Rees on account of the fact he had an affair at all, although I have a private view as will every reader.

But allowing himself to be compromised in such an outright and straightforward manner — with the affair directly intersecting with his official responsibilities in his shadow portfolio — is reprehensible.

Whilst Rees has denied abusing his position to pursue the affair, his simultaneous denial that doing so compromised his job is unbelievable, and simply underscores the lack of judgement that ought to make it impossible for him to continue as an MP.

Labor in NSW, over the past 20 years, has been a beast so rotten and so corrupt as to make anything that might have occurred in Queensland in the 1970s and 1980s look decidedly mild by comparison.

Indeed, just how rotten has become clearer since Labor was thrown from office in its worst result at a NSW election in 2011; prior to that event, those who knew bits and pieces of the story would wink and nod, but in the time since many of us who knew even that much have been amazed by the nature of what ICAC investigations into ALP figures have revealed.

The NSW ALP is rotten to the core: no more, no less.

Rees apparently met the (unnamed) lady in question at a public forum last year and subsequently chased her down, obtaining her contact details from his staff and initiating the ongoing contact.

Where he has disqualified himself as a fit person to hold office, in my view, is that he continued the illicit affair — as shadow minister for Police — whilst his mistress lobbied him about a Police matter: “the alleged failure of officers to arrest someone who had assaulted her son,” as the Daily Telegraph rather quaintly puts it.

Anyone with half a brain, in Rees’ position, must surely have realised that to do so made him a security risk, susceptible to blackmail at best and God knows what at worst, and that in the charged anti-corruption environment that currently pervades Macquarie Street he was playing with political dynamite — to say the least.

The Australian, reporting on the matter, quotes NSW opposition leader John Robertson as saying

“Nathan accepts full responsibility for his actions and deeply regrets the pain he has caused. Nathan has assured me that at no stage was he compromised in the performance of his duties…Nathan and I have agreed that it is in his best interests to take leave and step aside…to work through these private and very personal matters.”

Coming from a man who admits that he was corruptly offered a $3 million bribe — and took it upon himself to decide it did not need to be reported to ICAC — such comments neither reassure nor carry any moral authority of their own.

In fact, they indicate Robertson has learnt little from that episode, describing the Rees affair as “private and very personal matters” but failing to even feign outrage at the conflict Rees brought upon himself and — by extension — his party.

It’s noble to seek to avoid crucifying a colleague, and especially in Robertson’s case when that colleague was (until a few days ago) universally tipped as his replacement as leader.

But post-2011, the clear air NSW Labor must generate for itself is the stiff breeze of unimpeachable integrity; the Rees episode hardly contributes to such an endeavour.

Former Sussex Street identity turned ALP Senator Sam Dastyari probably had it about right when his remark that Rees “should keep his dick in his pants” was inadvertently picked up by press microphones yesterday in Canberra.

Nonetheless, even that succinct observation misses the point.

It doesn’t matter that Robertson’s leadership of the NSW ALP is terminal, and that he will be replaced sooner or later; it doesn’t matter that — this episode aside — Rees was probably the only suitable leadership contender within Labor’s depleted ranks.

And it certainly doesn’t matter that a by-election in the western suburbs electorate of Toongabbie would almost certainly be won by the Liberal Party: political arithmetic is no excuse for the toleration of improper conduct.

We say it very simply: through his actions, Nathan Rees is no longer fit to sit in the NSW Legislative Assembly, and we call on him to resign, and to resign now.

He has brought the NSW Parliament into disrepute; for the little it’s worth, given the state of the Labor Party in NSW, he hasn’t done his party any favours either.

And just as the Queensland Parliament was ready to use its numbers to expel rogue MP Scott Driscoll, the NSW Parliament should contemplate following the lead of its northern cousins if, as we might expect, Rees chooses not to fall on his sword at this time.