Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

NSW Labor

Boxing Glove


Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (15:26:38): On the weekend a rank outsider Mexican boxer, Andy Ruiz Jr, defeated the favourite Anthony Joshua for the heavyweight boxing championship of the world. My motion should be accorded priority because this House needs to be updated on the state of our own lightweight political bout for the New South Wales Labor leadership between the member for Strathfield and the member for Kogarah. I can report to the House that there is great concern about this contest among the New South Wales unions and the broader Labor Party membership. They could be excused for thinking that they are not witnessing a Muhammad Ali rope-a-dope. Instead they are seeing a contest between a dope and a dope.

In the red corner we have the member for Strathfield and in the more red corner we have the member for Kogarah—well known for his connections with the Communist Party of China. The trade union concerns are well justified. Seventy-two days ago, when the Labor leadership became vacant and still has not been filled, the New South Wales electors who know both the contestants—their own constituents—gave a verdict on the battle between Strathfield and Kogarah. The verdict sent shivers through even the greatest true believer.

After four years of getting to know the member for Kogarah—in the more red corner—the voting of people in his electorate swung against him by 5.1 per cent. In 2011, after having lost the electorate of Newcastle, the Labor Party head office was so concerned about the member for Strathfield's performance—the fighter in the red corner—that it campaigned against her. In the 2019 election the member for Strathfield did not do much better than the member for Kogarah, recording a 1.9 per cent swing to her on primary votes. It is little wonder that the trade unions are not prepared to back either candidate.

It is time that the bell is rung on this lightweight contest so the Australian Labor Party rank and file can be put out of their misery as to the mediocrity of the contest. In a two-horse contest they have been told bizarrely that they must number both of the boxes "1" and "2". Instead, they need to be given a third option—"none of the above". The only person who seems to enjoy this contest is the member for Rockdale. The contest is shaping up to be a points decision with neither contestant in the bout landing a decisive blow.


Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (15:39:02): I move:

That this House:

(1)Notes that 72 days after the New South Wales election, the Opposition does not have a leader, because they put Bill Shorten first.

(2)Notes that major New South Wales unions have rejected both candidates for the leadership of the Opposition.

(3)Notes that the Opposition is now more divided than ever before.

(4)Calls on the Opposition to start putting the people of New South Wales first.

It is truly unprecedented for the leadership of the New South Wales Opposition to be vacant for 72 days, as those opposite have allowed. The meandering performance of the Opposition in this House since the State election is clearly a consequence of that. A vibrant democracy requires a vibrant opposition, but that is not what New South Wales has. As I have already pointed out, many major unions have decided to back neither candidate. Unlike its Federal colleagues, NSW Labor is deeply divided about who should be its leader. There have been a number of public declarations for each candidate from the parliamentary caucus.

As John Howard said, "Politics is all about numbers; mathematics does not lie." In the early rounds of this contest there are 17 declared supporters for the member for Strathfield on my count. They include the Hon. Adam Searle, the members representing the electorates of Londonderry, Campbelltown, Blacktown, Swansea, Wyong, Maitland, Port Stephens, Auburn, Liverpool, Granville, Blue Mountains, Coogee, Prospect and Charlestown, the Hon. Peter Primrose and the Hon. Anthony D'Adam. On the other hand, there are 13 declared positions for the member for Kogarah. They include the members representing the electorates of Fairfield, Summer Hill, Rockdale, Lakemba, Bankstown, Cabramatta, Mount Druitt, Heffron and Shellharbour, the Hon. Walt Secord, the Hon. Courtney Houssos, the Hon. Greg Donnelly and the Hon. Rose Jackson. That means 18 members of the caucus—the majority—have not declared support for anyone; they want none of the above.

It is a very interesting state of affairs when the majority of the Labor parliamentary caucus does not want either of them. Those numbers show the divisive nature and the horrible, divided Opposition in this State. Why would that not be the case, I ask rhetorically. What does the member for Kogarah really bring to the table? He was part of Labor's headquarters in 2011 as the Assistant General Secretary, when the Australian Labor Party recorded the greatest electoral loss in its history. He has had no life experience. His minimal parliamentary experience includes working for two Labor Ministers and a Premier during the previous failed Labor Government that comprised Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Ian Macdonald and the like. In his first major speech when he became a member of Parliament, the member for Kogarah trashed the trade union movement. He said that they were a thing of the past and that they should not dominate the Labor Party. He just turned his back on the union movement.

Therefore, it is not surprising that no major unions support either candidate. And so important is the member for Kogarah that he has been allocated the office of shadow Minister for Water, despite representing the Sydney electorate of Kogarah. On the other hand, we have the member for Strathfield. She did not really want to be Labor leader. She is standing for the position reluctantly. It has been forced on her by Kaila Murnain, the head of the Labor Party. Labor headquarters has lost two elections in New South Wales under her leadership, and yet she has said, "In my judgement", which is so outstanding, "the leadership should go to the member for Strathfield." That is the choice.