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  • Rikki Lambert

Jodi McKay steps down as NSW Opposition Leader

OPINION Labor leader Jodi McKay has resigned as leader of the NSW parliamentary Labor party in the wake of poor polling and a disappointing showing in the Upper Hunter by-election

It's a terrible time to be an Opposition Leader.

Pandemic politics dictates that Australia's collective handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically the low death rate compared to global per capita averages, spells glory for prime ministers and premiers, and misery for opposition leaders.

For so long as the pandemic dominates the headlines, it is impossible for oppositions to make headway, as former WA Liberal leader Zac Kirkup discovered.

In the second ambiguously declared press conference in a week, Jodi McKay announced she would resign as Labor leader:

Since the pandemic began in late 2019, Australian elections have claimed opposition leaders Kirkup (who conceded defeat weeks before the election, an Australian first) and Rebecca White (ALP, Tasmania, who resigned post-election), and now McKay departs ostensibly on her own terms but more likely in a party decision.

The knives were out for McKay for months from what, in a not too distant past, Julia Gillard would have called 'faceless men' undermining her leadership. The dual leadership team of McKay and her deputy Yasmin Catley were undermined for months by a disaffected sector of male union leaders and then male leadership aspirants within their own party. In most instances they pointed to recurring polls showing Labor's state polling was very poor.

The loss in Upper Hunter will be touted as the tipping point. Labor was up against a fresh-faced Nationals candidate after the former member resigned in ignominious circumstances. However, the Nationals retained the seat with a small swing towards them.

McKay, however, is a victim of the scapegoat syndrome. Voters can not differentiate between federal and state issues, due in no small part to the blurring of that line by the major parties when it suits their agenda. Outside the political bubble, the average Australian voter would struggle to name the Prime Minister and Premier and their opposite numbers with 100 per cent accuracy. It is hard for a state opposition leader to get oxygen in the increasingly presidential style of federal politics, but the policy decisions of her federal party are more to blame for Labor's poor showing.

By trying to deal with the Green vote on their left flank, Labor has abandoned the working class, blue collar voter on their right flank. The opening is gaping so wide that not only the Nationals in the Upper Hunter, but the Shooters Fishers and Farmers, and One Nation, were able to surge through at 12 per cent primary vote apiece. Then there is the horror prospect for the likes of federal member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, that those same voters might prefer the Morrison Liberals to Labor.

Put bluntly, Labor has thrown coal under the bus. With it goes coal miners and supporting industries, and local industry such as the aluminium smelter and its workers. In its desperate rush for the right look in inner cities on climate, Labor has abandoned the coal miners and workers in the Hunter Valley.

McKay tried to stave off the dogs by calling a press conference early in the week for no pre-declared reason. She told the media she wasn't going anywhere. Two shadow cabinet ministers resigned, the second reportedly not amused by a 'dirt file' being circulated about him. He may claim it was circulated by McKay's office with her knowledge but sadly in modern politics, such occurrences are commonplace, no matter how pure as the driven snow a leader or aspirant might say they are.

If there is a silver lining for Labor, it would be one the faceless men identified when they did the numbers on Jodi McKay. The Berejikilian-Barilaro government does not face the voters until March 2023. Just as there was ample time for Jodi McKay to develop a profile, there is ample time for whoever replaces her to do likewise.

The best-case scenario for Labor is that NSW and the nation overcome the pandemic and voters turn up to the polling booths in March 2023 with broader policy concerns in mind.

Gladys Berejikilan has been a rock star for some in her handling of the pandemic with a proportionate, common sense approach to clusters (aka 'outbreaks' to the alarmists in the media). Compared to the rest of the nation, New South Welshpeople have been able to get on with their lives with relative ease. Were a state election to be held today, the Coalition state government would romp it in, as Labor did in Western Australia.

Whether Labor could have won under McKay, given more time, is now moot. One thing Labor knows and does well is that the cause overrides the individual, and McKay is likely to fall into rank, be a team player and hope that a ministry might await in a future Labor government.

Full statement from Jodi McKay provided to FlowNews24:

Today I’m standing down as the leader of the Labor Party in NSW.
I do this with a very heavy heart.
I do this even though I have the support of my caucus and our wonderful Party members.
No one has asked me to stand aside – in fact, colleagues have asked me to stay.
If a ballot were held today I can tell you I would win it.
I have always tried to build consensus within our Party, but it is clear that although I was elected Leader in a democratic ballot, there are those within our Party who have never accepted the outcome of that process.
For me, leadership must always be about the institution and how you respond to its successes and its difficulties.
Leadership is about knowing when you step up and when you step down.
Over the last 2 years I believe I have worked to reshape Labor’s message in preparation for 2023.
We have had bumps and bruises along the way – but I want my successor to continue this reform - to ensure we continue to speak and have relevance to the broader population.
This is the true Labor way - a Party of the mainstream that speaks up for and defends the interests of everyday citizens.
But success requires patience, forgiveness, and constant dialogue with the community, as well as ourselves.
I apologise to those who wished I had stayed, but this is the only way I know I can unite our Party.
I have spent the last six days reflecting on how to achieve unity and I have decided this offers the Party the best opportunity to heal and move forward.
There has to be a future where there is no destabilising of the Party’s leader from within.
While the leadership of the Labor Party may move to a ballot, there must an acknowledgment that at the end of the process, when the new leader is determined, we unite as a Party.
This time, we must all accept the outcome, support the new Leader and work to win Government in 2023 because NSW deserves no less.
I thank my incredible staff who have supported and encouraged me – who I am indebted to.
I am also very much looking forward to spending more time with my husband.
He told me this morning that he only believes in four things - Labor, the Church, Beethoven and me.
And I am very much looking forward to spending some more time in my electorate of Strathfield and continuing to proudly serve my community.


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