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Dead in the water?

By Adam Henry - posted Monday, 21 March 2011

If polling is to taken as being accurate in New South Wales, the result of the upcoming State election will be a monumental defeat for the incumbent Labor Party. The potential size of this defeat is simply staggering and it might become a watershed moment in the history of Australian politics. We are about to see one of the two major political machines (in the most populated State in the Commonwealth) become potentially little more than a decimated parliamentary rump after this election.

Such will be the predicted electoral carnage, one seriously questions whether Labor in NSW will be in any position to provide any credible opposition to the Barry O'Farrell Liberal-National Government. Paul Keating once stated 'Where goes NSW, so goes federal Labor.' If this is true, then the final destination is all stops towards electoral oblivion.

Yet neither Barry O'Farrell (or Tony Abbott) are riding anything remotely like the crested wave of popularity. A recent Nielson poll even suggested that Kevin Rudd is preferred as PM to Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnball was preferred to Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader. The non-Labor parties (apart from The Greens it appears) are not really benefiting (poluarity wise) from Labor's polling woes.


The main reason the last election was not a total disaster for Federal Labor (in my opinion) was that they faced a political adversary almost as unpopular as themselves. If O' Farrell wins (and it is difficult to see how this will not occur), it is not because he is particularly popular, or even that all that much is expected from the Liberals.

The simple truth in my view is that the people of NSW are sick and tired of the Labor Government. They are also sick and tired of the NSW Labor Party machine. The countless broken promises, the ineptitude, the bitter fighting, the crony-ism, factional manipulations, bad urban planning and poor transport services; the list is long and it goes right back to Bob Carr and further to Neville Wran. New South Wales Labor have reached this point almost entirely due to their own internal politics and political in fighting.

They are the first major political organisation to fall victim to self induced spontaneous combustion and they will not be greatly missed.

This is because no one (not even the supposed ALP voting heartland of Western Sydney) can guess what the NSW Labor Party is about, or whether they actually still believe in anything. This is a question that I feel will increasingly plague Federal Labor. Having examined the Chifley Government in terms of its policies (both foreign and domestic), it is my opinion that modern Labor is a different beast.

The modern Labor Party has almost nothing in common with the ethics and integrity of the Chifley era or 'The Light on the Hill', although the rhetoric of the 'worker' remains useful. Gillard is disappointing (in my opinion) at almost every turn. Despite all of these problems no one seems particularly enthused by the prospect of O'Farrell or in particular Mr. Abbott.

No one really knows exactly what the Liberal-National coalition stand for in NSW, but its greatest electoral asset is that they are not the Labor Party. At the Federal level, what we do know about the beliefs of the Federal Liberal-National coalition is that they do not seemingly agree on anything other than hating the ALP.


It is quite possible that an O'Farrell government might prove as disappointing and as ineffectual as their Labor counterparts, in other words, a typical NSW State Government. In combination with urgent reform of its internal structures and practices, this can be one of the only ways that NSW Labor could be resurrected if they are wiped out in this election.

Unlike the slow declining reign of NSW Labor (16 years), an O'Farrell Government will not have long to get it right and NSW voters are now showing they are ready to punish (and destroy) the major parties at the ballot box.

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About the Author

Adam is a Visiting Fellow of the School of Culture, History and Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. He is also the author of Independent Nation: The Evolution of Australian Foreign Policy 1901-1946 - Australia, the British Empire and the Origins of Australian-Indonesian Relations, published by Charles Darwin University Press

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All articles by Adam Henry

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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