Australian Labor Party in New South Wales

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The Australian Labor Party in New South Wales is the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party. The parliamentary leader is elected from and by the members of the party caucus, comprising all party members in the Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council. The party factions have a strong influence on the election of the leader. The leader's position is dependent on the continuing support of the caucus (and party factions) and the leader may be deposed by failing to win a vote of confidence of parliamentary members. By convention, the premier sits in the Legislative Assembly, and is the leader of the party controlling a majority in that house. The party leader also typically is a member of the Assembly, though this is not a strict constitutional requirement. Barrie Unsworth, for example, was elected party leader while a member of the Legislative Council. He then transferred to the Assembly by winning a seat at a by-election.

When the Labor party wins sufficient seats to be able to control a majority in the Legislative Assembly, the party leader becomes the State Premier and Labor will form the government. When the party is not in government, the party leader becomes the Leader of the Opposition. To become a Premier or Opposition Leader, the party leader must be or within a short period of time become a member of the Legislative Assembly.


The Australian Labor Party, then known as the Labor Electoral League of New South Wales, first won 35 of the 141 seats in the New South Wales parliament at the 1891 election. The initial caucus voted against appointing a leader and the party was directed by a steering committee of 5 members until, following a request from the party's extra-parliamentary executive, Joseph Cook was elected as the first leader in 1893. Cook left the party in the following year when he was obliged to sign a pledge that he would support all caucus decisions in parliament. James McGowen, who signed the pledge, succeeded Cook as party leader in 1894. At the 1894 state election Labor representation was reduced to 18. After the 1898 election, Labor held the balance of power with George Reid's Protectionist Government being dependent on Labor to push through New South Wales' adoption of Federation. McGowen's support for Federation was critical to Labor maintaining its support for the adoption of measures to implement Federation, even though the party remained opposed to the adopted Constitution, which it saw as biased in favour of business interests.

At the 1910 election the Labor Party first won government in New South Wales with a slim majority of 46 of 90 seats, and McGowen was premier from 1910-13. He was deposed by his deputy William Holman after McGowen attempted to break a gas workers' strike by threatening to replace strikers with non-union labour.

The conscription issue divided the Labor Party and wider Australian community in 1916. While much of the Australian labour movement and general community was opposed to conscription, Australian Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes and Premier Holman strongly supported conscription, and both crossed the floor to vote with the conservative parties, and both were expelled from the Labor Party. Ernest Durack became state party leader, while Holman formed a coalition on 15 November 1916 with the leader of the opposition Liberal Reform Party, Charles Wade, with himself as Premier. Early in 1917, Holman and his supporters merged with Liberal Reform to form the state branch of the Nationalist Party of Australia, with Holman as leader. At the 1917 election, the Nationalists won a huge victory. During his leadership of the Nationalist Government, Holman vigorously defended the government-owned enterprises from his fellow conservatives in power. Durack's leadership lasted only for about three months, and he was succeeded by John Storey in February 1917. At the 1920 election, Holman and his Nationalists were thrown from office in a massive swing, being succeeded by a Labor Government led by Storey. Labor won the 1920 election with a majority of one.

On Storey's death in October 1921, James Dooley became leader of the party and premier. His government was defeated on the floor of the House on 13 December 1921, but new Premier George Fuller lost a vote within seven hours of his appointment, and Dooley regained power. He lost the 1922 election to Fuller in a highly sectarian election campaign.[1] As the result of a dispute with a party executive, dominated by the Australian Workers' Union, Dooley was expelled from the party in February 1923 and replaced by Greg McGirr as leader, but the Federal Executive intervened and appointed Bill Dunn as an interim leader until Jack Lang was elected by the caucus. He led the ALP to victory in the 1925 election and became Premier. Lang's support in the caucus was challenged in 1926 and in that year the party's annual State Conference, which strongly supported Lang, assumed the right to select the leader instead of caucus. The ALP was defeated at the 1927 election but won in a landslide at the 1930 election.

Lang opposed the Premiers' Plan to combat the Great Depression agreed to by the federal Labor government of James Scullin and the other state Premiers, who called for even more stringent cuts to government spending to balance the budget. In October 1931 Lang's followers in the federal House of Representatives crossed the floor to vote with the conservative United Australia Party and bring down the Scullin government. This action split the NSW Labor Party in two - Lang's followers became known as Lang Labor, while Scullin's supporters, led by Chifley, became known in NSW as Federal Labor. Most of the party's branches and affiliated trade unions supported Lang. Furthermore, Lang's persistence with his plan led to the Lang Dismissal Crisis in 1931-32 which led to his dismissal as premier by the State Governor on 13 May 1932. The Governor appointed the UAP leader, Bertram Stevens, as premier and Stevens immediately called the 1932 election, at which Labor was heavily defeated. Lang continued as party leader until 1939, when he was deposed when caucus regained the power to elect its leader in 1939.

William McKell became party leader, reuniting and rejuvenating the party. Under his leadership the extreme left wing of the party had been expelled andhad contested the 1941 election as the far left wing State Labor Party. McKell led Labor to a convincing victory and became Premier. State Labor's poor showing had resulted in its dissolution shortly after the election. During World War II McKell became a close collaborator of Labor Prime Ministers John Curtin and Ben Chifley, being a particularly close friend of the latter. Labor unity was again threatened by Jack Lang who had been expelled from the Labor Party in 1943 and formed another version of the Lang Labor Party. On this occasion he received no support from the rest of the caucus and spent the rest of the term as the sole member. At the 1944 election McKell won another victory, the first time a New South Wales Labor government had been re-elected. On early 1947 he resigned and announced acceptance of appointment as Governor General.[2] James McGirr was elected leader and premier and led Labor to another victory at the 1947 election. McGirr nearly lost the 1950 election and was replaced in 1952 by Joseph Cahill.

Cahill decisively won the 1953 election. He was desperate to keep the New South Wales branch of the ALP united despite the sectarian and ideological split that resulted in the formation of the right-wing Democratic Labor Party in 1954. He achieved this by controlling the anti-DLP faction in his party. The DLP did not contest the 1956 election, which Labor won. Cahill was returned in the 1959 election, but died in office later that year. He was succeeded as leader and premier by Robert Heffron. Heffron continued the Labor reign in New South Wales winning the 1962 election. Heffron resigned the leadership and premiership in 1964, and was succeeded by Jack Renshaw, who lost the premiership at the 1965 election ending 24 years of Labor power in the state. He also lost the 1968 election, after which he resigned the leadership, to be succeeded by Patrick Hills. Hills lost the 1971 and 1973 election after which he was deposed by Neville Wran. Wran narrowly won the 1976 election and remained premier until 1986. He was succeeded by Barrie Unsworth who took over the premiership until Labor's loss at the 1988 election, after which he resigned. Bob Carr became leader in 1988 and led Labor to victory in the 1995 election.

Carr was premier for 10 years, before resigning in 2005. Carr was succeeded by Morris Iemma, who led Labor to victory in the 2007 election, before resigning in 2008 after his Centre Unity faction withdrew its backing. He was succeeded by Nathan Rees, who was leader and premier for only 15 months, before he was deposed by Kristina Keneally, who resigned after Labor lost at the 2011 election. She was succeeded by John Robertson, the present Labor leader.

List of leaders[edit]

# Party leader Assumed office Left office Premier Reason for departure
1 Steering Committee of 5 July 1891 October 1893 Caucus decision to elect a leader
2 Joseph Cook October 1893 25 June 1894 Left Labor Party
3 James McGowen July 1894 30 June 1913 1910–1913 Deposed
4 William Holman 30 June 1913 15 November 1916 1913–1920 (as a member of a
Nationalist government after 1916)
Expelled from Labor Party
5 Ernest Durack 15 November 1916 21 February 1917 Resigned
6 John Storey 21 February 1917 5 October 1921 1920–1921 Died in office
7 James Dooley 5 October 1921 31 July 1923 1921–1921; 1921–1922 Expelled from the party by State Executive
* Greg McGirr 9 March 1923 16 April 1923 Imposed by State Executive
* Bill Dunn 16 April 1923 31 July 1923 Imposed by Federal executive
8 Jack Lang 31 July 1923 1939 1925–1927; 1930–1932 Deposed
9 William McKell 1939 February 1947 1941–1947 Resigned to become Governor General
10 James McGirr 6 February 1947 3 April 1952 1947–1952 Resigned
11 Joseph Cahill 3 April 1952 22 October 1959 1952–1959 Died in Office
12 Robert Heffron 28 October 1959 30 April 1964 1959–1964 Resigned
13 Jack Renshaw 30 April 1964 1968 1964–1965 Resigned
14 Patrick Hills 1968 1973 Deposed following 1973 election
15 Neville Wran 1973 4 July 1986 1976–1986 Resigned
16 Barrie Unsworth 4 July 1986 1988 1986–1988 Resigned following 1988 election
17 Bob Carr 1988 27 July 2005 1995–2005 Resigned
18 Morris Iemma 27 July 2005 5 September 2008 2005–2008 Deposed
19 Nathan Rees 5 September 2008 3 December 2009 2008–2009 Deposed
20 Kristina Keneally 3 December 2009 31 March 2011 2009–2011 Resigned following 2011 election
21 John Robertson 31 March 2011 Incumbent

Deputy Leaders[edit]

Deputy Leader Start of Term End of Term Deputy Premier
???? 1893 1923
Jack Baddeley 1923 1949 1941–1949
Joseph Cahill 1949 1952 1949–1952
Robert Heffron 1953 1959 1953–1959
Jack Renshaw 1959 1964 1959–1964
Pat Hills 1964 1968 1964–1965
Syd Einfeld 1968 1973
Jack Ferguson 1973 1984 1976–1984
Ron Mulock 1984 1988 1984–1988
Andrew Refshauge 1988 2005 1995–2005
John Watkins 2005 2009 2005–2009
Carmel Tebbutt 2009 2011 2009–2011
Linda Burney 2011 present