Senior NSW Labor figures have warned of a return to “business as usual” for the party after months of scandal.
An ICAC investigation into illegal donations and influence-peddling saw stunning revelations emerge about what the “faceless men” were up to at the party’s Sussex Street headquarters.
NSW Labor general secretary Kaila Murnain resigned after being suspended when she revealed the party received a prohibited donation of $100,000 in an Aldi bag.
Her predecessor, Jamie Clements, denied the story, but confirmed he met the donor in question two days before that amount was banked in party accounts. A third witness from NSW Labor HQ confirmed Ms Murnain’s version of events.
In the wake of the corruption inquiry, an investigation by The Australian found the ‘independent’ Country Labor party was fully controlled by NSW Labor, with the same staff, same office and same MYOB file for both parties.
“NSW Labor has been hiving off large sums from $1m collected in annual union affiliation fees to help prop up Country Labor — even though its financially-troubled regional brand is registered as a separate party and legally independent,” The Australian reported.
Now, a review into the governance and culture of the party has drawn brutal honesty about what’s going on behind the scenes. Senior Labor frontbencher Penny Sharpe – who served as acting leader after Michael Daley’s resignation – was brutal in her assessment of the party in a submission to the review.
“I have witnessed former MP’s and influential party members go to gaol or be forced to resign in disgrace as ICAC referrals, electoral commission investigations, illegal activity and sordid personal behaviour have revealed that there is something fundamentally wrong with the party I love,” Ms Sharpe wrote on her website.
“My greatest concern is that NSW Labor is already getting ready to return to business as usual. With millions of dollars in legal fees to be paid, the possibility of gaol time for party members and ex MP’s, the dominant faction has already chosen the next general secretary who is acting in the role and will no doubt be installed as soon as the review is over.”
Mr Clements was also quite critical of the party machine, saying the general secretary was more powerful that the state Parliamentary leader.
“I understand the sources and extent of a general secretary’s power. I have used it, and had it used against me and my friends,” he wrote.
“I understand, better than anyone, how the system works, why it needs to change and how it can be reformed.”
However, there’s a fundamental power struggle at play that may be unable to be resolved. The general secretary is appointed by the NSW Right faction, which controls the party. But on the other side is the NSW Left faction, which counts Ms Sharpe as a member, with their deep concerns about the amount of power wielded by the unelected general secretary.
So while the public have been horrified about the revelations and nasty culture inside the NSW Labor machine, the battlelines are already being drawn. But it remains to be seen whether anything will change, and given that party will one day win government again, the question on everyone’s lips should be: Who’s really running the show?