Bob Carr was Premier of NSW from 1995 to 2005, winning three consecutive elections. He writes on Labor’s loss:
IT has taken political talent bordering on genius. The creativity of a master such as Disraeli or F. D. Roosevelt to deliver NSW Labor a defeat of this scale.
And I don’t mean Barry O’Farrell, although his political tactics are wholly vindicated and his occasional Liberal critics silenced. The genius was that of the Labor Party, in turning what could have been a swing-of-the-pendulum defeat into something far worse.
At last count Labor dropped from 50 seats to 21.
In 2007 Iemma held seats thanks to a capital works budget bigger than all the other states combined, bigger than New York’s or California’s.
Then he made the silly mistake of wanting to make that huge infrastructure spend even bigger by selling the state’s electricity assets.
In 2007 this was surely not too big a request of a Labor Party which had seen the benefits to living standards of the reforms of the Hawke-Keating years.
A reasonable response of a union-based party might have been, “Yeah, mate, well, can’t really hold out against this one. Let’s allow a Labor government a great chunk of capital so it can push even harder with public sector expansion. Nurses and teachers will be the winners. And we’ll get guarantees for our members in the electricity sector.”
There were precedents – and, happily, they also point to policy success during Labor’s rule – the privatisation of Freightcorp in 2002 and of state-owned coal mines in 2001. Both benefited the budget and taxpayer. Both were supported by the unions because the private capital modernised the enterprises and shored up jobs.
Yet in a display of wilfulness and obstinacy, the opponents of electricity privatisation staged a public brawl at the 2008 ALP conference. It presented a hideous visage to the electorate. It was a symbolic repudiation of the McKell model, the style of NSW Labor since William McKell (premier 1941-47). McKell’s moderate ethos was based on middle course policies which gave the party support in the bush as well as the city. It was possible because the machine supported the parliamentary leadership, the premier of the day. This pattern prevailed under Joe Cahill, Neville Wran and me.
On this occasion, the party tore up the script that had given Labor these years of ascendancy and ritually humiliated Iemma and then replaced him, the first time in NSW Labor history a premier had been executed. Contemplating this turbulence, the electorate started deserting the party.
This moderate leadership meant Labor were in power from 1941 to 1965, 1976 to 1988 and 1995 to 2011. That was 52 out of 70 years.
What is interesting is one of the contenders for the NSW leadership is John Robertson – the former trade union leader who played a prominent role in causing the civil war in the party. I’m pretty sure new Premier Barry O’Farrell will be hoping they select him.Tags: Australian Labor