Exit John Robertson

Three months out from an election, the position of New South Wales Labor leader makes an entry on the situations vacant list.

John Robertson, who had done well by historical standards to survive for almost a full term as Opposition Leader – assisted, perhaps, by the undesirability of the job – has announced his resignation as New South Wales Labor leader. Robertson had been fatally weakened by the revelation yesterday that he performed a routine bit of electorate work in 2011 on behalf of constituent Man Haron Monis, who was already somewhat notorious for sending offensive letters to the families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and more recently became immensely more so after perpetrating the Lindt cafe siege in Martin Place. Deputy leader Linda Burney is now filling his shoes in an acting capacity, but is not rated a contender when caucus meets to choose a new leader.

The two serious prospects are Michael Daley and Luke Foley, respectively members of the Right and the Left. Daley is by all accounts keen to take on the job, and has been for some time. Foley is generally rated more seriously as a long-term prospect, but whereas Daley holds a seat in the lower house in Bob Carr’s old electorate of Maroubra, Foley is stuck for the time being in the Legislative Council. The Campbell Newman precedent shows that need not be an insurmountable obstacle, provided a lower house seat can be arranged for him at the election, but Sean Nicholls of the Sydney Morning Herald offers the further qualification that Foley has “constantly rejected entreaties for family reasons”. The party room will meet to consider the matter on January 5.

UPDATE: Further background on the presumed leadership contest from James Robertson of the Sydney Morning Herald.

UPDATE 2: The Australian makes the best of the situation by bringing forward publication of the bi-monthly state Newspoll, by way of illustrating why Robertson’s position might have been so weak. The poll records a solid drop in his personal ratings since September-October, with approval down four points to 31% and disapproval up eight to 38%, and Mike Baird’s lead as preferred premier increasing from 52-17 to 56-17. Baird’s already excellent personal ratings improved still further, with approval up four to 60% and disapproval steady on 20%. On voting intention, the Coalition was up two points to 44% with Labor steady on 33% and the Greens down two to 11%, while the Coalition’s two-party lead was out from 55-45 to 56-44.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

86 comments on “Exit John Robertson”

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  1. Whan would be a great alternative, but Monaro is a tough call for an opposition in the state that NSW Labor is in, and it’d be terribly embarrassing if he lost his seat.

  2. Shellbell @ 50

    Jack Renshaw in the mid 60s was the last NSW ALP leader to be from outside Sydney. Before that you have would have to go back to Storey or Durack or so – one of whom at least came from Bathurst.

  3. Oakeshott

    I may be wrong on this but didn’t Jack Lang father a child on the ‘wrong side of the blanket’? If so and he did force Durack out, was this not another example of Langite hypocrisy?

  4. Didn’t Whan only narrowly lose Monaro at the rout of the ALP at the last election? You’d have to think the big swings against the ALP at the last election (although Whan didn’t have one of the huge swings against him) will be pulled back basically regardless of the state of the party, so winning Monaro back is probably not that tall of an order. And, of course, if he’s the theoretical alternative premier that will boost his vote as well.

    But the question is, how much factional support does he have? I assume he has reason to believe he has some chance, and he was fast tracked to the LC when he lost Monaro, so there must be a reasonable number of people who think highly of him in the NSW ALP.

  5. [One gets the impression that Lang did not like him but then again Lang did not like many people.]

    Or once they got to know him, many people like Lang – PJK excepted.

  6. Whan came surprisingly close to holding Monaro last time, and I’d expect him to have a good chance of picking it up as Opposition Leader (presumably still in some sort of honeymoon period at that point). Of course the chances of actually winning the election would be pretty slim even with Whan as leader, so even if he lost he could gracefully retire having hopefully helped add another 10 or so seats to Labor’s numbers. Then the ALP, now presumably with the numbers for a competitive run in 2019, could choose a new leader from the enlarged parliamentary party (although hopefully not Daley/Foley).

  7. So the names being thrown around on PB are:

    Aunion leader not in parliament – LENNON
    a. 2 MLCs, neither with an assured entry to the Assembly -FOLEY and WHAN
    b.a failed former leader who is retiring in disgrace – REES
    c. a paediatrician who is not all that committed to politics – MCDONALD
    d. the deputy leader who no one is really considering – BURNEY
    e. 2 victims ofJoe and Eric who are not assured of a seat – MCKAY and FIRTH
    f. who is BARR?
    g. Is CRANKANTHORPE the guy who got 35% of the vote in Newcastle with no Liberal opponent?
    h. an underperforming non-entity who at least has a safeseat in the appropriate house- DALEY

    I am now beginning to understand how Robbo lasted so long.

  8. I would think any of the serious leadership contenders who put their hand up now would be looking toward the 2019 election. Of course the NSW ALP are not going to win in March (or I bloody well hope not anyway – lots of reform and trust building needed from them before they deserve government again), and being opposition leader and campaigning in an election are not very rewarding things to do – you don’t put your hand up for the hell of it.

    But any leader who does well in March would be looking to be in with a chance at the next election.

  9. BBP 53 – an interesting question. Bede Nairn’s biography of the big fellow claims that Lang’s personality underwent a fundamental charge after his mistress died in childbirth in 1911. After that he had great difficulty forming trusting relationships – I knew some of his grandchildren and they certainly agreed with that.

    I don’t think Lang forced out Durack. He claimed that the resignation was a complete shock to the caucus but was caused by The Truth getting hold of the story and threatening to publish – iof course this is only Lang’s version.

  10. OC – yes, the talent pool is very shallow in the NSW ALP, no question of that. And I know there were some twitter jokes about it, but I think the strategy really was to have Robbo go to the March election and lose, but hopefully pick up a few seats as the Lib high tide from the last election receded naturally, and put a bit more talent on the table for the 2019 election.

    Unfortunately for that plan Robbo had one bit of bad luck/farq up too many at the wrong time.

  11. Merry Xmas to all PBers and lurkers, have a safe and enjoyable Christmas. Thank you Bilbo for this great site. All us political tragics need somewhere to debate, argue, insult each other, pour scorn on our rivals, engage in intellectual duels and tell each other how wonderful we are (because we are!).

    This is the best political/psephy site in the world.

  12. Suggest you look at what he admitted doing and how this was interpreted by the lady in question.
    And by the press when he was found out

    If he is such a good mate of your masters why didn’t they find him a safe seat.

    Personally I do not know how anyone with integrity could work for Sussex St – the people who handed the state over to a crime family.

  13. If you are interested in Fiona Field’s judgment of Nathan Rees’s behaviour, you may also be interested in the court’s judgment of her behaviour.

  14. She certainly doesn’t come out of this well. But a key factor is the relationship between an MP and aconstituent who seeks their assistance – is this not a professional relationship and subject to the usual ethical considerations.? By breaking the professional boundaries Rees created the potential for the inappropriate use of power and bribery as well as exposing himself to the potential for blackmail. I have no doubt That Rees did not abuse the situation but apparently Field did try to blackmail him. In any case, creating the potential situation is ethically unwise and helped to end Rees career. Such ethical dilemmas are likely to be beyond the comprehension of Sussex St.

    It is all regretable. Rees seemed a great guy and a good MP although not many people saw him as Premier material. Obviously at the time Eddie and Joe saw him as someone they could control after the tratorous Iemma had bitten the hand that fed him. Of course once Rees turned on them he was gone within the week.

  15. I’m not really seeing a constituent-MP interaction as a “professional relationship”. MPs aren’t professionals in any real sense – they don’t have formal qualifications, there isn’t a professional body, they don’t have any real code of conduct.

    And the concept of ruling out fraternizing between an MP and their constituents is just not practical. A NSW Senator or member of the NSW LC shouldn’t have a romantic/sexual relationship outside marriage with anyone in NSW? Really?

    Clearly there are potential political impacts of such behaviour, and a politician needs to tread carefully and have clear boundaries, but fundamentally if MPs are potentially corruptible we need proper independent scrutiny to prevent/uncover such behaviour regardless of who they might be sleeping with.

    Fundamentally I’m firmly in the “what MPs do in their private lives is up to them and none of my business as long as it doesn’t cross certain lines” camp. Any relationship can turn messy.

  16. There is a fundamental difference between a constituent per se and a constituent who asks their MP for representation.
    In Rees’ case this exposed him to allegations (not least from the woman) that he had traded his support for her sexual services. The woman had also apparently hawked the story around to various news services before the Telegraph decided to publish suggesting that Rees was the victim of some sort of blackmail. A very compromising situation for an MP to find themselves.

  17. I hope Linda Burney puts her hand I like what she has too offer.
    Sensible, moderate, articulate without the nastiness that so many other politicians seem to thrive on.
    That she is a woman and of aboriginal descent are bonuses.

  18. Maybe NSW ALP needs to get a cleanskin who is adequate to lead the party, from outside or another party. Oakshott, Turnbull or Rhiannon,come to mind. 😉

  19. Adios Mr Robertson. To be fair, he tried his best having inherited a dire situation. But to be honest, that was not good enough. He was always compromised, by much more than a letter to Mr Monis. The NSW branch and office structure needs deep reform, and Robertson was too tied to the Anciene Regime to do it. So is Foley, but at least he is clearer of the Obeid links, and will hopefully be a better media performer.

    The comparative improvement of Labor in Qld under previous unknown Anna Palusczy(?) over the same time period demonstrates how little progress Robertson made.

  20. 84

    The Qld ALP has done a whole lot better than the NSW ALP, which needs significant reform, but that is not all the NSW ALP`s fault and the Qld ALP`s brilliance. The NSW Liberals are more moderate and have far less abrasive leadership than the Qld LNP. The NSW economy is also apparently doing better than the rest of Australia.

  21. Replacing leaders with 13 weeks to go. It will still be sold as a success regardless – it’s hard to see labor not getting to at least 30 seats when you take into natural seats like Granville, rockdale etc etc.

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