New NSW ALP leader Luke Foley: 'I'm not a privatisation ideologue'

-->

Originally published: The Sydney Morning Herald, 6 January 2015.

By Sean Nicholls

Luke Foley has moved to reset NSW Labor before the March election, placing his personal stamp on the leadership by declaring he is "not an ideologue" on asset privatisation and that he will "relish the battle of ideas" with Premier Mike Baird.

The surprise position on privatisation is in contrast to that of Mr Foley's predecessor, John Robertson, who opposed the sale of state-owned assets such as ports by the Baird government.

Mr Foley said he could "endorse" the sale of Port Botany, Port Kembla and the Port of Newcastle, which have delivered billions of dollars to NSW government coffers.

"I support an enterprising private sector and an effective public sector working side by side in the interests of this state," he said. "What matters to me is what works".

Mr Foley said he would "approach every issue on its merits".

However, at his first news conference as opposition leader Mr Foley made it clear he and Labor remain opposed to Mr Baird's proposal to sell 49 per cent of the electricity "poles and wires", for which he is seeking an election mandate.

Mr Baird is promising to spend an anticipated $20 billion in proceeds on infrastructure projects, including new roads and rail lines.

Announcing he would assume the infrastructure portfolio in a forthcoming reshuffle of his frontbench, Mr Foley said he would present an alternative plan while keeping the electricity network – as well as water assets – in public hands.

"Labor will release our fully funded and responsible infrastructure policy early in the election campaign with key priorities for planning for new schools and hospitals, to cater for population growth and the demands of the future and relieving congestion by creating more jobs through our suburbs and regions," Mr Foley said.

Mr Foley was elected unopposed during a caucus meeting on Monday morning after Mr Robertson resigned on December 23 over revelations he signed a letter of request for Lindt cafe siege gunman Man Haron Monis in 2011 as his local MP.

Shortly afterwards the ALP national executive announced it had cancelled the preselection in the seat of Auburn – which has been beset by claims of branch stacking – and set a new contest for January 17.

Mr Foley is expected to be the only candidate. It paves the way for him to move from the upper house to the lower house by winning Auburn at the March 28 election.

Mr Foley said he would bring to the leadership "ideas, energy and above all my Labor values".

"Those values are timeless: a fair go for all, a decent life for everyone and a helping hand to those who need it most," he said.

He flagged his priorities as job creation throughout Sydney and regional NSW, investment in schools and hospitals and environmental protection.

"I don't want people in our suburbs and regions to have no choice but to travel the central business district of Sydney for a rewarding job," he said.

"I want the residents of the south and the west of Sydney to have the same opportunities in life that are available to the residents of the city's north and east."

Opinion polls predict Labor will resoundingly lose the March election, and Mr Foley faces a stiff challenge to raise his public profile less than three months out from polling day. But he insisted a Labor loss was not inevitable.

"Watch this space, come along for the ride. I'm in this to win it. I'm a big sports fan and I've seen some upsets in my time," he said.

Mr Foley also signalled a potential shift in his view on the issue of same-sex marriage, which he has previously voted against.

He said he now had "an open mind" on the issue and would "continue to reflect on the issue".

Treasurer Andrew Constance dismissed Mr Foley – a former secretary of the Australian Services Union – as "another union boss installed as head of the ALP by the faceless men".

"Today, Mr Foley has failed first and foremost his only test: that was to back in the $20 billion infrastructure plan to unleash the potential of this state," Mr Constance said.

Originally published as: New NSW ALP leader Luke Foley: 'I'm not a privatisation ideologue'