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. From SMH

    [Now he lives in Concord, which, as many have noted, lies next to Auburn, the only seat where preselection for the next election has yet to be settled. ]

    I would have thought that Vaucluse is closer to La Perouse than Concord is to Auburn

  2. @4 One thing I disliked about Keating was he beat about the bush and never spoke his mind… NOT. God bless him. We need some Keating’s right about now but I wont hold my breath.

  3. So the only political casualty of the Martin Place seige is a local member who did some routine work for a constituent a few years ago.
    My local member here’s safe from that. Firstly he’s a liberal & secondly he’s done fuck all for this constituent.

  4. On one hand I think Roberston is right to resign but this is one of the hazards of being an MP as you have a voter come to you for assistance and in many cases you don’t know them from a bar of soap.

  5. The distance from Concord (inner West) to Auburn (outermost inner West or innermost outer West) is about 10km. Maroubra to Vaucluse is about 12 km.

  6. Living in Melbourne, I know not a lot about the NSW Labor party. But, if they want to show a clear break from the past they could do a lot worse than appoint someone from outside the Parliament like Jody Mackay as Leader similar to what Campbell Newman did in NSW.

    I’m not saying it has to be McKay but a bold initiative might get the voters interested in Labor again.

  7. As a fellow Concord resident, I say Foley is more than welcome to contest Drummoyne. Labor held the seat for 49 years prior to the last election, but for this election the endorsed candidate has been non-existent on the ground.

  8. yeah. add three points on polls in nsw to start with. noone liked someone who looked … welll, and spoke even moreso. the green can deduct two. now, can someone please trowel the past correspondence of shorten?

  9. […the green can deduct two. now, can someone please trowel the past correspondence of shorten?]
    What about Abbort who gave a character reference to a sex offender?

  10. ah yes keating puts it better than any of us can or dares – how come he can be published like this but we can’t (apart form fact we are lesser know – i mean the defamation bit)
    now foley – that name crops up, but in contenders and in PK letters – will nsw labor ever recover from its right wing virus? based on preselection in illawarra recently apparently not. and this is the part who asks for our vote, and whom we trust in opposition to the extreme libs?

  11. showson

    abbot is immune to outside criticism it seems – well until now – now what do we know about him and cretilin?? is there something untold?

  12. [So the only political casualty of the Martin Place seige is a local member who did some routine work for a constituent a few years ago.]

    If that was the only issue here, it would be forgotten in a couple of weeks. Robertson has been a complete non-starter as OL. This was the catalyst to remove him but it’s been on people’s minds for a while.

    The idea behind Robertson’s appeal is he’d be a non-controversial, stable leader who’d narrow the Coalition’s majority at the next election to something beatable, as well as nurse the opposition in its rebuilding phase. Problem is he has made very little impact with the public, with Baird looking like he’d win another landslide. Robertson had to go (I can attest that SA Laborites all basically thought he was a non-entity – although, admittedly, we see NSW Labor as the sick relative right now.)

    To those on the thread hoping the same fate awaits Shorten need a reality check. Robertson was experiencing ridiculously low personal ratings in the polls and the NSW ALP was trailing the Coalition dramatically. Shorten is experiencing mild personal ratings (especially for an Opposition Leader) and the federal ALP leads strongly. Sure, some dirt like this would embarrass him but, while there is anger at Abbott, Shorten has been lent a bit of Teflon…

  13. seriously this is very very good news for nsw and forthcoming election – just in time – robertson was a big drag – he lacked public appeal quite apart from the background raised by Keating. but really one can get seriously tired of the non democratic aspects of this ‘progressive’ party

  14. carey

    can i seriously ask what do you think the drag factor is with shorten – 1,2,5% there is some surely. surely it is not enough to be neutral. what would polls be facing a dynamic, ARTICULATE OL now? would abbott even be there? would there be a DD??

  15. [can i seriously ask what do you think the drag factor is with shorten]

    You can but my guess would be as good as yours.

    However, I can tell you what would be a drag: An opposition comfortably leading in the polls suddenly diverting the critical debate away from the government and onto itself with a leadership challenge that, frankly, many in the public would be bewildered over the necessity of.

    [what would polls be facing a dynamic, ARTICULATE OL now? would abbott even be there? would there be a DD??]

    Again, your guess would be as good as mine. However, if there was a “dynamic” OL (which I presume means one who absolute destroys Abbott in all contest), there definitely would not be a DD (the calling of which is purely the PM’s prerogative)

  16. If that was the only issue here, it would be forgotten in a couple of weeks.

    Today it is the only issue here. Premiers, Prime Ministers & Police commissioners are all out looking good & being favourably photographed & quoted at funerals for people killed on their watches & the only person losing is a local member who did some routine work for a constituent a few years ago.

  17. i agree bsa it didn’t look like a funeral from what could be seen outside church – more a campaign catchup … goodness me the police charged firing – lucky only one or two died. we all should offers prayers for those spared – i mean if there was serious attack from several … but i will not even mention that likelihood. remember, this freak with terror + criminality + middle east grievance got through security – he wasn’t on list –

  18. Has the NSW ALP adopted a mixed leadership ballot like Queensland and the Commonwealth?

    I seem to recall somebody saying they had, the last time the NSW leadership came before the siege.

  19. Few will mourn Robeertson going, though the tenuous Monis link is a trivial reason compared to other far more serious issues highlighted by the Keating letter. Given that the NSW left faction sent McDonald to parliament and the right faction sent Obeid, I have little faith in either side to offer up a credible leadership candidate. Is there any cleanskin candidate in NSW Labor ranks?

    What is Nathan Rees doing these days? In hindsight, he was one of the few to oppose the Obeid regime before the dirt became public.

  20. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/rudderless-nsw-labor-faces-wipeout-after-john-robertson-resignation/story-e6frgczx-1227165692225
    [Rudderless NSW Labor faces wipeout after John Robertson resignation
    Mark Coultan State Political Correspondent Sydney
    Dan Box Crime Reporter Sydney

    A TERMINAL loss of support from Labor’s leadership group yesterday forced John Robertson to resign as NSW opposition leader, a day after revelations he backed Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis in a custody battle.

    Mr Robertson’s resignation has left Labor rudderless three months before an election, with the latest Newspoll showing it faces a heavy defeat.


    The latest Newspoll, conducted exclusively for The Australian over the past two months but before this week’s revelations, shows Mr Robertson’s disapproval rating had surged eight percentage points to 38 per cent.

    Only 31 per cent were satisfied with the way he was doing his job as Opposition Leader, down four percentage points, while 38 per cent were dissatisfied, up eight points.

    Head to head, Mr Baird dominates his opponent 56-17 as preferred premier, the most one-sided result since April 2012.

    The Coalition held a 56-44 per cent lead on two-party-­preferred terms.

    In his resignation speech, Mr Robertson said he had dragged Labor out of the “pit of electoral oblivion … I have rid the party of those who betrayed the Labor cause”.

    He said he had built a new culture of “integrity and corruption resistance — a far, far cry from the culture I inherited as leader”.]


  21. (Breaking a vow of silence)
    Rees announced his intention to resign from parliament after his affair with a constituent was revealed. In any case his seat had been abolished in the redistribution and he was facing the prospect of contesting Seven Hills a safe Liberal seat.

    Robertson retiring 3 months before an election is uncommon but one NSW Labor leader resigned on the day he was due to give the policy speech. Special prize to the PBer who knows the story and the salacious reason for the resignation. If you quote Wikipedia, you are quoting my work.

  22. You are referring to Ernest Durack, who was chosen as leader of the party after the split over conscription, and who resigned the leadership a few months later, as an election approached. It had been revealed that he had fathered an illegitimate child.

    Most of this came back to me on reading your comment, and I checked the details not with Wikipedia but with the Australian Dictionary of Biography, which notes Durack was the father of a child of ‘a woman not his wife’; in other words he had, in modern terms, been having an extra-marital affair (back then, the term ‘adultery’ was in more common use).

  23. [http://australianpolitics.com/2008/10/27/keating-letter-to-john-robertson.html

    Paul Keating’s Letter To John Robertson]

    keating fails to applaud robertsons only real achievements – getting rid of Costa and keeping labor to its promise (and principles) not to privatise electricity. The electorate supported opposition to this fire sale. Privatisation of a public asset that generates public revenue is an absurdity. keating and costa’s economics belong to the other side of the house.

  24. Yes Jack Lang wrote about Durack’s resignation. One gets the impression that Lang did not like him but then again Lang did not like many people.

    Roberston joins Joe Cook, Durack and Pat Hills as the only undisputed NSW Labor leaders who have not become premiers and with Hills is the only long term Labor leader of the opposition not to get the premiership.

  25. geoffrey @19

    You question why other people can’t say the sort of things that Keating says in his letter about Robertson.

    But what makes you think they can’t? This is what lawyers call ‘assuming facts not in evidence’.

  26. On return to government, the electorate of black town will be renamed after “Robbo”. Like Moses felted to take the party through the wilderness but not to cross into the promised land.

  27. John Robertson made a good union leader but was a terrible politician, and that Labor stood by him for this long never made sense to me: it felt like they were intentionally throwing away winnable seats in 2015.

    But with Daley and Foley as the only options, and the more that comes out about them, it just feels like NSW Labor are hellbent on shooting themselves in the foot.

    They’d have been way better off with Rees or McDonald, but even someone like Burney or Barr or hell, even some new blood like Crakanthorp would surely outperform any of Robertson/Daley/Foley.

  28. I guess it wouldn’t occur to any decent thoughtful journalist to ponder that perhaps Robertson’s unknowing kind support for Manis may have given him some hope and delayed what may well have been a more violent terrorist act?

    This government’s actions in making peoples lives hopeless will lead to many more events where marginally balanced struggling human beings are tipped over the edge – whether it is their racist divisiveness and military aggression or their attacks on the ability of underprivileged to survive.

  29. Whan is already the endorsed candidate for Monaro.

    It’s good to see a crowded field for the leadership. What a shame there isn’t enough time for a rank-and-file ballot.

  30. There has not been a non-Sydney leader of the ALP for 40 or more years, correct?

    I wonder if much effort has been made to get Mark Lennon to throw his hat in the ring for Parliament given his leadership skills at unions NSW.

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