A catastrophe like the one that befell the NSW Labor Party at the weekend can scarcely be attributed to a single individual, and indeed there were many contributors. But one person stands out above all others as deserving of credit or criticism – former Treasurer Michael Costa. Having risen through the trade union movement, he made his bones in Parliament as a union-busting Transport Minister. Appointed by the utterly hopeless Morris Iemma as Treasurer, he persuaded Iemma to privatise the electricity industry, in direct contradiction of the platform on which Labor had campaigned, and the previous repudiation of privatisation by NSW voters.
As the massive unpopularity of similar moves in Queensland had shown, Labor was doomed unless it repudiated Costa, Iemma and privatisation. The party managed the first two, but, not unfortunately the third.
In keeping with his entire career, Costa quit the day he became eligible for a Parliamentary pension, and immediately emerged in his true colours as an open enemy of the labour movement and the Labor Party.
As I said at the outset, it wouldn’t be possible for one person to do this alone. While I find it hard to attribute any real agency to Iemma, he and/or the Sussex street machine that nominated him to the Premiership could have stopped Costa if they wanted to.