Wednesday, July 16, 2008


Iemma's mentor joins the mutiny

Andrew Clennell State Political Editor, smh

July 16, 2008

MORRIS IEMMA'S former political boss and mentor, the former senator Graham Richardson, has turned against the Premier and is advising the Labor Party's head office in the campaign to dump him, ALP sources have confirmed.

The move by Mr Richardson illustrates the depths of the split within the NSW Right.

Now the head office machine, the unions, the former general secretary Mark Arbib and Mr Richardson on one side are stacked against Mr Iemma, the Treasurer, Michael Costa, the powerbrokers Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi and the former premier Barrie Unsworth on the other.

Mr Richardson tried to downplay his role last night, saying people were ringing him, not the other way around, and he denied taking sides.

But he said: "I think if Morris sort of woke up tomorrow … and changed a few things everyone would breathe a huge sigh of relief and it would all be over. My strong view is there shouldn't be any imminent challenge.

"The problem is the poll results are too low and that makes everyone uneasy … You can't have good poll results unless you have unity. And you can't have unity where [the division over] electricity [privatisation] continues."

The war of words between both sides intensified yesterday, with a proposal by Mr Unsworth to form a new faction and split the NSW Right dubbed the establishment of the "People's Republic of Costa" by Labor head office organisers.

One Labor source said of Mr Unsworth's backing of Mr Iemma and a new faction: "Everyone knows Unsworth is Costa's best friend. The only reason Barrie Unsworth wants Morris Iemma to hang around is because he wants someone to get a worse result than he did in [the election in] 1988."

The NSW Right has divided in an unprecedented way over the party head office's attempts to force Mr Iemma out of office.

The Herald revealed yesterday that head office has managed to convince a candidate to stand for the premier's job should Mr Iemma be forced to stand down - the Water Minister Nathan Rees.

But at least one theory within the party is that Mr Rees could be being used as a stalking horse or dummy candidate to create a leadership spill to allow the union-backed Deputy Premier John Watkins a run at the top job.

Mr Unsworth launched into Labor's general secretary, Karl Bitar, and his followers on 2BL, saying the people plotting against Mr Iemma had "been in the party less than 10 years and … if they'd look back over history, they'd realise that disunity is death".

"The elder statesmen of the party should come together, have a look at what's happened to the party in its last 30 years, look at where it is at the moment - controlled by a group of younger and in my view inexperienced members - and have a look at the real issue," Mr Unsworth said.

"The real issue is keeping Labor in government."

Party sources are talking about possibly forcing Mr Iemma out in six or 12 months. They say the polling numbers are too bad to sustain his leadership.

Mr Iemma has said publicly he is "not going anywhere" and will not be forced out by a "psychological war" that he says is being conducted by head office after he pressed ahead with power privatisation despite a 702-107 vote against it by the state Labor conference in May.