South Coast union leader takes on ALP

February 20, 2015
Arthur Rorris

Secretary of the South Coast Labour Council Arthur Rorris has stepped down from his union position to stand as an independent for the seat of Wollongong in the NSW State election on March 28. The seat is held by ALP right-wing factional leader Noreen Hay.

Rorris lives in the electorate and has been a member of a local ALP branch for many years. Yet when he and other long-time local ALP members attended the Wollongong preselection ballot in December, they were not only denied a vote but physically escorted from the premises where the ballot was taking place.

Before the preselection there were widespread allegations of rorting and branch stacking. Fairfax Media reports said the ALP head office was said to be doing everything it could to protect Hay from challengers.

Hay has held the seat of Wollongong since 2003. It was then considered a rock solid Labor seat. In the 2007 election, Hay won by a margin of 18,087 votes.

But in the 2011 election, the now Wollongong Lord Mayor, Gordon Bradbury, stood against Hay as an independent. Bradbury reduced Hay’s margin to just 682 and has now declared his support for Rorris.

The NSW ALP believes it can stage a spectacular comeback to government because the voting margins that ousted Labor in NSW and Queensland are very similar. The Liberal-National Party in Queensland won the March 2012 election with a two-party preferred vote of 63% to Labor’s 37%. In NSW, the Coalition won office in March 2011 with a two-party preferred vote of 64% to Labor’s 36%.

The other similarity is that in both elections the incumbent government put privatisation at the centre of its re-election bid. In NSW the ALP is opposed to the government’s sell-off of electricity assets.

However, six weeks out from the NSW election, the polling shows that Labor is behind by 55% to 45% on a two-party preferred basis, which is an improvement on the figures of 58-42 recorded by the polls a year ago.

At least some of this loss of support for the Coalition can be attributed to the ICAC investigations last year that have led to10 members of the Coalition government (including former Premier Barry O’Farrell) resigning or skulking away to the crossbenches.

But it does appear that the ICAC investigations into ex-ALP ministers Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Ian MacDonald and other Labor politicians have taken a much greater toll on the ALP’s support base.

Hay was a long-time ally of Obeid and Tripodi. Without their support, it is unlikely she would have become the convener of the right faction in the ALP caucus.

She was stood down from the position of Parliamentary Secretary for Health by Premier Morris Iemma in 2008 after being named in the ICAC inquiry into corruption at Wollongong City Council. Although she was reinstated when cleared by ICAC, she was again sacked by Premier Nathan Rees in September 2008.

In November last year, Rees warned the ALP that “any rebuilding of the Tripodi-style model of caucus should be resisted by branch members at all costs”. In the Wollongong preselection the following month, some of those branch members who agreed with him were denied the chance of resisting the Tripodi model.

After SYRIZA won the recent Greek elections, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis borrowed from poet Dylan Thomas when he said, “Greece has chosen to stop going gently into the night, but resolved to rage against the dying of the light.”

Morris has resolved to rage against the death of Ben Chifley’s light on the hill. For the considerable courage he has shown in doing so, he deserves the support of the electors of Wollongong.

[John Rainford is a member of Socialist Alliance in Wollongong and is standing as a candidate for the Socialist Alliance in the NSW Legislative Council in the NSW election.]

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