Two heavyweights of the union movement were walking the corridors of Macquarie Street on Tuesday – the outspoken Gerard Hayes, head of the Health Services Union, and Daniel Walton, the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union. While it is not uncommon for union bosses to pay a visit, this time they had one pressing concern: the leadership of NSW Labor.
The party’s NSW general secretary, Bob Nanva, was also in the building, as he often is when the NSW Parliament is sitting. The pressing concern for him was to calm the troops. It may have been a coincidence that the powerful trio turned up on the same day that their leader, Jodi McKay, was defending herself against accusations that she had provided a “letter of support” (as it was described in a tribunal) for a Tamil man who was seeking a visa to stay in Australia, though it also happened he was child sex offender. If their attendance was a coincidence, their timing was opportune.
Labor MPs were in a heightened state of anxiety. That anxiety has been slowly building. MPs in marginal seats are worried about their jobs while others despair that without a significant turnaround, the 2023 poll will deliver them another four years in the electoral wilderness.
McKay, like opposition leaders across the country, has struggled for prominence during the past year when premiers and the Prime Minister have, necessarily, been leading the nation’s pandemic response with little need for opposition buy-in. An Ipsos/Herald opinion poll late last year showed just how dire 2020 was for opposition leaders. McKay’s approval rating was 22 per cent. But then, it was even worse for her Liberal counterpart in Victoria, who was on just 15 per cent.