Local Labor Party members have gathered to rekindle the fire on their ambitions in the wake of two crushing election defeats. Stoking the embers are the two people who wish to lead the party in New South Wales.
Jodi McKay and Chris Minns are contesting the leadership of the NSW Labor Party, the winner will take the party to the 2023 State Election and be Gladys Berejiklian’s rival as Premier.
A postal vote of Labor members is underway to decide the winner with both candidates in Bega on Saturday night to make their pitch to party faithful.
“Even though we have had a humbling experience with two loses I think it’s important to say that our values of compassion, of helping working people, of social justice, of celebrating diversity and inclusion have not changed,” Ms McKay says.
“We need to turn to a new generation of Labor Party leaders, we need to admit what we are doing isn’t working, we need to come up with reasons to vote for Labor and not just against the government,” Mr Minns says.
Six thousand member ballots have already been submitted out of a total of 18,000, the last papers received must be post stamped June 21. Labor MP’s will cast their vote on June 29.
Both candidates present a fresh face for the party that was tossed from power in 2011 amid corruption and scandal following 16 years in office.
“I fought people like Joe Tripodi who tried to tear our party down,” Ms McKay says.
“If we are going to bring back trust in the Labor Party we have to convince people we are not the same party of 2011 and I believe I am the best person to do that.”
Minns was elected to parliament just four years ago as the Member for Kogarah and speaks with frustration of the campaign just lost.
“We released our policies extremely late [in the campaign] and the reason that was given was that it will either be attacked by the government or stolen by the government,” Minns says.
“To which my reply was – if it’s stolen, great, mission accomplished. We can’t be involved solely to win elections we are there to advance the causes of Labor and our social policy agenda.”
Climate change was a key issue addressed by both candidates at Saturday night’s meeting. Seen as a strength for Labor prior to election day at both the state and federal level the issue failed to deliver the votes needed.
With hindsight, McKay and Minns see greater value in talking to voters about the economic opportunities rather than environmental concerns.
“You will not hear me talking about climate change without also talking about jobs, because people in coal mining towns that have always supported us are now voting for One Nation because they fear what we are talking about,” Ms McKay says.
“No one knows what a ‘just transition’ means we have to give these workers hope.”
Pointing to divestment from coal generally, Minns spoke of his fears for NSW coal towns, “we need to work at ways of ensuring we have a diverse economy and I think we should start with a renewable energy target.”
“Queensland has one, the ACT has one, South Australia has one, and Victoria has one.
“So if there is investment and capital around the world that wants to invest in that part of the economy, where is it going to go? Not New South Wales. We miss out on the jobs and the economic opportunity.”
Other issues canvased at the meeting included drugs, public education, housing, health, and homelessness – even allowing under 16s to vote.
One recurring theme from the night voiced by downhearted local members was how to inspire more people to engage in political discussion and ideas and how to cut through aggressive media campaigns.
“The Murdoch press is always going to be unfair to us and we are just going to have to work around that,” Ms McKay says.
“I think the way around that for us is having more conversations, we need to get our MPs and our MLCs out of Sydney and going to rural and regional areas – staying overnight.
“It is important that we are not just relying on the media to tell people what we are about.
“There is nothing better than having coffee with someone, holding public meetings, talking about what is important, meeting community groups – and doing it not just in the six months before an election.”
For his part, Mr Minns says, “Social progress is difficult, we have the harder argument because we want change, but that doesn’t mean we give up.”
“The best way of countering the Murdoch press and right-wing commentators are millions of conversations and getting people excited about what we’ll do.”
Both candidates spoke of their respect for each other and of working together no matter who wins the leadership. The result is expected to be known on June 30.