We’ve just marked 10 years since the NSW Coalition was elected to government. If NSW Labor does not embrace far-reaching renewal, the Liberals and Nationals could well be on the government benches for another decade.
Recent public criticisms of the NSW Labor leader missed the mark and the point. Jodi McKay is a respected cleanskin, with a record of speaking out against impropriety. Her sheer integrity was the reason party members elected her overwhelmingly as leader. The problems we must overcome are endemic and cannot be sheeted home to any one leader or faction. The truth is it will be extraordinarily difficult for anyone to lead NSW Labor to victory until the public can see that our whole party has changed.
The problem is certainly not that the Berejiklian government is unbeatable or beyond reproach. It has been mired in corruption scandals throughout its time in office. More than a dozen government MPs have been dragged before ICAC, including the Premier’s ex-partner, Daryl Maguire, and a former premier, Barry O’Farrell. Recent revelations about the blatant rorting of grants and the conversion of the state’s workers’ compensation scheme into a Liberal Party plaything should, on their own, be enough to bring down the government.
Federal Labor is in a highly competitive position and is widely perceived to have a leadership team that is ready to form a cabinet and govern. By contrast, the NSW opposition has been unable to break free of the shackles of past failures and re-emerge with a new program for the community to look at anew. Sadly, Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald are still getting more public attention than Labor’s alternative plan for government in this state.
The harsh fact is, in the decade that has passed since the devastating 2011 election rout, far too little has been done. Labor has not been able to re-establish trust with the community, reimagine our policy agenda and reincarnate our sense of purpose.
The findings of the ICAC’s Operation Aero investigation into NSW Labor’s past fundraising fiascos are still pending, but the appalling revelations at the public hearings alone demand a complete overhaul of the organisation. While important governance improvements have been made to the party’s administration, the power structures that allowed Obeid and Macdonald to poison Labor’s reputation have not been overturned.
There are a number of impressive performers within the ranks of the opposition. However, after the 2011 wipeout, there has been no program for recruiting new and compelling candidates. Worse still, NSW Labor still has no professional development program, or even a system of mentoring for MPs.
But our challenges go far beyond old scandals and underdeveloped personnel. Despite multiple reviews that have been led by former prime ministers and premiers, recommending investment in grassroots organising, there is still next to no effort made by head office to recruit new activists and volunteers. The NSW branch is desperately short of funds and has no effective system for raising small donations online, the single most effective political fundraising medium of the modern age.