Centenary of the first NSW Labor Government


One hundred years ago today, on the 21st of October 1910, the very first New South Wales Labor Government took office.

Nineteen years after the first parliamentary labour party in the world was born at the 1891 election, that party, the representatives of the working men and women of this state, formed a government.

Jim McGowen, a boilermaker who had received little schooling, became the Premier of the largest state of the Australian Commonwealth.

Labor has governed this state for 63 of the 100 years since.

Jim McGowen and his colleagues ushered in a century of political achievement by the Labor Party in the interests of all of the people, not just a privileged few.

McGowen was one of the original 35 endorsed Labor men elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1891.

The working class people of the colony were not represented in this Parliament prior to the 1891 election, because members of parliament were not paid, due to the notion that Parliament was the preserve of independent gentlemen.

Laborites agitated outside the parliament between 1887 and 1889 for payment of members.

In September 1889 a bill was passed that provided payment to members of three hundred pounds per year.

This was the means by which working men could enter the Parliament.

Once this bill became law, the Labor Council of New South Wales resolved to bring forward Labor candidates at the next election, and to draw up a Labor platform.

The first plank of the 1891 platform was electoral reform:

"Electoral reform to provide for the abolition of plural voting; the abolition of money deposits in Parliamentary elections: extension of the franchise to seamen, shearers and general labourers by means of a provision for the registration of votes; extension of the franchise to policemen and soldiers; abolition of the six months' residential clause as a qualification for the exercise of the franchise; single member electorates and equal Electoral Districts on adult population basis; all Parliamentary elections to be held on one day, that day to be a public holiday, and all public houses to be closed during the hours of polling."

Jim McGowen and his colleagues fought for the abolition of the six pence fee during the debate on the Representation of the People Bill in 1891.

The Electorates and Elections Act of 1893 established the principle of one man, one vote.

It abolished plural voting for men of property.

It reduced the residential qualification to three months.

Female suffrage was a plank of Labor's fighting platform from 1896

It passed into law in 1902, fought for all the way by the Labor Party.

As a result, women voted for the first time at the 1904 state election.

The early Labor Party fought for the right of seamen, shearers, commercial travellers and others to vote by post.

When Labor came to office, the McGowen Government delivered substantial electoral reform: making polling day a half-holiday, further reducing the length of residential requirements, and extending voting hours to 7pm.

Neville Wran's Labor Government introduced public funding of elections in 1981, to level the fundraising playing field and safeguard against corruption.

What Jim McGowen and the founders of my party knew was that the labour movement's values demand the participation of the many, not just the few, in our political system.

That our democracy is only democratic when it operates fairly for all of our citizens, not just the rich and powerful.

The day is overdue for the next great electoral reform in the interests of democracy -

electoral funding reform to safeguard our democracy against big money politics, and predatory outside interests.

Premier Nathan Rees acted boldly last year to remove developer donations from New South Wales politics.

I trust that the government I am a member of will move boldly in the few remaining sitting weeks of this Parliament to comprehensively overhaul campaign funding in this state; by legislating to place caps on electoral expenditure and political donations.

Next week I will hold a dinner to mark and celebrate the centenary of the first New South Wales Labor Government.

All six living Labor Premiers – Neville Wran, Barrie Unsworth, Bob Carr, Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees and Kristina Keneally – will attend, as we honour our party's pioneers.

Jim McGowen and his colleagues showed that a Labor government committed to reform can overcome the vested interests of the conservative establishment.

That Labor can be both a radical force for change and a responsible government.

A century after our first government came to power, I maintain faith in the traditional Labor belief that our society will do better if it is fairer.

That belief should guide New South Wales Labor over the next one hundred years.