Jodi McKay’s leading rival for the job as leader of the New South Wales Labor party, Chris Minns, has resigned from shadow cabinet, signalling he is exploring a possible leadership challenge and ensuring more turmoil in Labor in the wake of last weekend’s byelection loss.
Speaking in his electorate of Kogarah in Sydney’s south, Minns said his position had become “untenable” after reports of a “dirt dossier” about him, which he said emanated from the deputy leader’s office.
Minns said he would begin speaking to colleagues about his ideas on what needs to change in the Labor party. “I need to now speak to colleagues about the future of the NSW Labor,” he said. “Negative politics don’t work,” he told the media. “I think we need to be more authentic.”
“When I am out and about in my electorate, they want to hear what we stand for. They want us to stand up and say, ‘This is our alternative plan.’ They want a competition of ideas between the Coalition and the opposition.”
Minns’ closest supporter, the shadow treasurer Walt Secord, has also resigned from the shadow cabinet.
The dossier is said to have come from the office of Yasmin Catlin, the deputy leader, who is a staunch McKay supporter. On Wednesday morning McKay said neither she nor Catlin was aware that the file was being circulated to the media and that a staffer had since been “let go”.
“I would never condone that, it is completely inappropriate,” McKay said.
Such tactics would undermine McKay’s main claim to the leadership: that she is a cleanskin capable of changing the culture of NSW Labor, which in the past has been embroiled in corruption scandals and infighting.
On the ABC’s 702 breakfast program, McKay again laid out her credentials to lead the NSW party. .
“The one thing I have tried to do is have a party of integrity,” she said. “Chris is a decent person and I am disappointed he has left the shadow cabinet.”
She also defended her performance as leader. Labor was never going to win in the Upper Hunter, she said, which has been a solid conservative seat for nearly 100 years. While she acknowledged the eight-point drop in Labor’s primary vote there, she said it had mainly gone to independents and minor parties, not the Nationals.
But she was more lukewarm about Secord’s future, saying she would talk to him as she prepared to reshuffle her shadow cabinet and that he had indicated he no longer wanted to serve as shadow treasurer.
Secord said he and McKay had differed over how the NSW opposition should operate. While Secord and Minns stopped short of an open challenge, it is clear that the counting of support has now begun.
A challenge is more difficult under new Labor rules, which were introduced and are similar to those that former prime minister Kevin Rudd introduced federally.
Under the Labor rules designed to prevent a revolving door in leadership, there must be a 60% vote in caucus to spill the leadership. State parliament is not due to sit until 8 June but a special caucus meeting could be convened.
Alternatively, McKay could step down. At this stage, there is no sign of that.
If there are multiple contenders, then rules require a ballot of rank-and-file members, followed by a vote of caucus. Each carries 50% of the vote.
There are four possible contenders for the top job: Minns, who has run twice before; Michael Daley, who led the party to defeat at the 2019 election; Ryan Park, the health spokesperson; and Paul Scully, the spokesperson on natural resources.
A contest will be messy and expensive and the ALP head office will be keen to find a path through the leadership crisis.