Luke Foley was elevated unopposed yesterday as NSW Labor’s next leader, becoming the fifth since Bob Carr resigned as premier in 2005.
Carr was succeeded by premiers Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees and Kristina Keneally followed by John Robertson who became opposition leader after Labor’s catastrophic election defeat in March 2011.
Robertson was shafted three months out from the state election to be held on March 28.
Considered unelectable by pollsters, his party comrades and the media, ‘Robbo’ was denied the chance to lead the ALP to an election (and certain defeat) when it was revealed he signed an electorate office letter in August 2011, seemingly supporting Man Haron Monis, the Iranian-born gunman responsible for last month’s Lindt cafe siege in Martin Place, Sydney, in his request for visitation rights for his two children.
The party’s Sussex Street headquarters and faction bosses eliminated the other leadership contenders Michael Daley, Steve Whan and Linda Burney and handed the poisoned chalice to Foley, 44, an upper house MP and unofficial leader of the ‘hard Left’.
Foley’s name is frequently mentioned as the state opposition’s ‘best performer’ which says more about his colleagues than it does about him.
For the moment, Sydney’s media is engaged in a traditional love-in with Labor’s new leader. ‘Luke Foley wants NSW to be nation’s “social conscience”’ gushed The Sydney Morning Herald on December 31, 2014.
On Sunday, The Sunday Telegraph framed Foley as the classic Aussie battler with the headline, ‘How my single mum taught me Labor values’. The bucketing will start later on when the ‘exclusives’ begin to dry up.
Naturally, Foley presents himself as a ‘party reformer’. But he’s the kind of reformer who wants the ALP to be democratic, with a few minor exceptions.
The reality is that Foley is a card-carrying member of the party’s self-perpetuating oligarchy where careers depend on preservation of the status quo (i.e. bureaucratic control from the top down).
He has never faced election to gain office because he has always enjoyed factional preferment. Here’s his track record:
- Appointed NSW Labor’s assistant general secretary in 2003;
- Appointed to the Legislative Council on 10 June 2010 to replace Ian Macdonald (who was found corrupt by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and is now facing charges of misconduct brought by the Director of Public Prosecutions);
- Appointed deputy leader of the opposition in the upper house on April 8, 2011;
- Appointed leader of the opposition in the upper house, two months and seven days later, on June 14, 2011;
- Appointed the next state Opposition Leader in January 2015;
- Appointed sole ALP candidate for the safe Labor seat of Auburn (to be announced shortly).
Meanwhile, the sitting Auburn MP, Barbara Perry, is to be unceremoniously dumped, while her local rival, Auburn councillor Hicham Zraika, currently in the spotlight after allegations of branch stacking, will miss out on Auburn preselection, but will instead get a $150,000-a-year seat in the upper house for the next eight years.
Foley has accepted all these undemocratic arrangements without murmur. In the process, another female MP will be tipped out of caucus.
The only serious political question is whether Foley can turn the electoral tide in just 11 weeks and avoid another bloodbath.
With the March 28 election well beyond his grasp, Foley is taking the long view with a victory in 2019 in his sights. Daniel Andrews from the Socialist Left did it in Victoria last November. Foley must be asking: why not me?
His greatest challenge is that most electors don’t know him from Adam, a legacy of his career as a backroom Mr Fixit. In the longer term, as voters get to know him, will they like him? And will Foleyism (if it ever becomes a brand) be electorally popular?
The keys to Foley’s politics are enshrined in his inaugural speech to Parliament on September 1, 2010, when he singled out the ‘global Islamist movement’ as the greatest threat to ‘pluralist democracies and the lives and freedoms of people in many societies, including our own’ and declared that the ‘global Islamist movement’ was ‘misogynist, racist and homophobic’.
A couple of minutes into his speech he revealed that the Holy Trinity of his own life were the Labor Party, the Catholic Church and the eastern suburbs rugby league team, the Roosters. He seemed oblivious to the fact that those very institutions are guilty of organised misogyny, sexism, homophobia, racism as well as a fair amount of paedophilia.
(Incidentally, Foley’s factional soulmate and another ‘Left intellectual’, Anthony Albanese, worships a similar trinity, the ALP, the Catholic Church and the South Sydney Rabbitohs).
Celebrations by Sydney’s inner-city Left over Foley’s elevation to Opposition Leader are a trifle premature. After enjoying Left-wing political patronage all his adult life, Foley will now move to the centre (ie the Right).
Since entering parliament, he has angered his ‘hard Left’ comrades on three occasions: in May 2012, he voted against a motion on marriage equality; in June 2013, he voted against euthanasia legislation; and in November 2013, he voted with hardline Liberals, Fred Nile, and Robert ‘The Elephant Man’ Borsak and his Shooters to defeat same sex marriage legislation by 21 votes to 19.
An irate Jenna Price, columnist and academic, wrote in The Canberra Times: ‘If ever someone put me off joining the Labor Party, it’s Luke Foley’.
Each time Foley broke ‘hard Left’ solidarity and voted in accordance with his devout Roman Catholic beliefs he received the blessing of Cardinal George Pell, then Sydney’s Archbishop.
On November 20, 2014, the final sitting day of Parliament, Borsak paid tribute to Foley, shadow minister for the environment and climate change: ‘As far as the Opposition is concerned, I thank Luke Foley for his counsel and help. It has been an interesting and productive year for all concerned’.
Yes, indeed, and so will 2015.
* Alex Mitchell is a veteran NSW political journalist (see more of his articles at www.cometherevolution.com.au)