Crisis looms for NSW Labor
Until Thursday, Labor had at least a 50-50 chance of returning to power in the state election next March. Then a simmering sexual harassment scandal erupted, with ABC journalist Ashleigh Raper releasing detailed allegations of inappropriate touching by now-former Labor leader Luke Foley during a parliamentary Christmas party in 2016.
Despite stepping down as leader, Foley maintains his innocence and claims he is preparing to take legal action for defamation.
Just five months out from an election in which Labor believed the Coalition government led by Premier Gladys Berejiklian would be vulnerable, it is now Labor that must seek to recover.
Yet obviously there are personal priorities involved in this case, and Labor deputy-leader Michael Daley yesterday elevated those concerns.
“It will be damaging for everyone, particularly for Ashleigh Raper,” Daley said of the ongoing controversy. “I think Luke should carefully reconsider whether he wants to take those legal proceedings or not.”
Labor’s highest-ranking female MP, Jodi McKay, shared Daley’s view of Foley’s announced legal strategy.
“Do I think that is the right decision? No,” she told reporters. “This just prolongs what Ashleigh has gone through … I think there needs to be a lot of serious consideration by Luke.”
But beyond obvious issues that must have priority at this stage, there will eventually have to be many political reckonings undertaken by Labor ahead of the 2019 election. The most urgent is the need to appoint a new leader. Given the factions within NSW Labor, this process has the potential to cause further party destabilisation.
Michael Daley has already indicated that he will contest a Saturday ballot for the leadership. Kogarah MP Chris Minns, too, has put his hand up.
“The only shot the Labor Party has, in my opinion, is to present a bold, positive and optimistic plan for NSW and get people excited about change,” Minns said yesterday.
“It’s very difficult to get people excited about change if they have no idea what it looks like.”
And that is Labor’s other problem: how to establish leader recognition among voters with so little time available. It’s a party potentially on the edge of crisis.