Luke Foley’s reluctant rise and swift demise as NSW Labor leader explained
Luke Foley landed several telling blows against NSW’s Baird, and Berejiklian governments. (AAP: Jeremy Piper)
Many voters had never heard of Luke Foley when he became NSW Labor leader just three months before the 2015 State Election.
- Luke Foley was considered a realistic chance of being NSW’s next Premier
- However, resigned as Labor leader after being accused of sticking his hand down an ABC journalist’s dress in 2016
- Mr Foley denies this, and says he intends to clear his name
His immediate task was immense — facing off against then-Premier Mike Baird who was at the height of his popularity.
Labor had been reduced to only 20 seats after an electoral wipeout in 2011, but after the 2015 vote the party slowly became competitive again under Mr Foley’s leadership.
Talk in the halls of Parliament House had, recently, turned to the possibility of Labor winning government when people in NSW head to the polls in March next year.
But the events of the past three weeks have sent shockwaves through the party, leaving it in need of a new leader and trying to regroup just five months out from the election.
In recent months, Mr Foley made several stumbles prompting some Labor MPs to privately question his judgement.
In May, Mr Foley was accused of dog-whistle politics after using the term “white flight” in an interview to describe what he saw as an exodus of Anglo-Saxons from certain Sydney suburbs.
He subsequently apologised.
“I won’t use the term again, some people find it offensive,” he said.
More recently, colleagues also questioned if Mr Foley missed an opportunity by not opposing the Government’s controversial decision to promote the Everest horse race on the Opera House sails.
Mr Foley’s attacks on the Government’s stadium blueprint were effective. (AAP: Erik Anderson)
Mr Foley also notched up notable successes, with Labor sparking painful Government backflips.
After Gladys Berejiklian took over as Liberal leader last year, Mr Foley attacked her Government’s plans to rebuild two Sydney stadiums, using the slogan “schools and hospitals before stadiums”.
Ms Berejiklian later amended the plans, reducing the size and cost of the redevelopments.
Mr Foley landed his biggest blow through his relentless opposition to the Government’s greyhound racing ban.
The Government’s blueprint was announced in July 2015, but just 15 months later Mr Baird abandoned the policy.
Mr Baird was wounded and, three months after winding the policy back, the Liberal leader resigned.
The greyhounds policy was also seen as a key factor in the Government losing the Orange by-election to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in November 2016.
The Nationals suffered a swing of more than 21 per cent against them in the seat, which prompted their leader, NSW Deputy Premier Troy Grant, to resign.
Reluctant start, fiery fall
Mr Foley once said he had been raised by his single mother with a triple faith: “The Labor party, the Catholic Church and the Eastern Suburbs Rugby League Football Club.”
By the time he became leader in January 2015 he had already gained a reputation in Labor circles as a potent political weapon.
He worked his way through the ranks at Labor’s Sussex Street HQ as a heavy hitter of the party’s left faction, before taking a seat in the Upper House.
When his predecessor John Robertson resigned in December 2014 after revelations he had provided electoral help to Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis, Mr Foley at first had to be persuaded to run.
Ultimately, the father-of-three was elected unopposed.
His new position required a move to the Lower House, so he stood successfully for the seat of Auburn.
Former Premier Mike Baird goes head-to-head with Mr Foley during a 2015 election debate. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
However, campaigning was not always a natural fit.
Mr Foley fought the 2015 election as the underdog, drawing his political battle lines around Mr Baird’s power privatisation plan.
He fell well short of victory, but the swings to his party made Labor competitive again.
By the time the Liberals lost this year’s Wagga by-election on September 8 to independent Joe McGirr after a mammoth swing against them, talk about Mr Foley sweeping to power became more serious.
But less than nine weeks later, that came crashing down.
When Corrections Minister David Elliot last month used parliamentary privilege to air allegations Mr Foley had drunkenly harassed an ABC journalist, the Opposition Leader came out swinging.
“Mr Elliot should come out of the coward’s castle, walk 10 metres outside and if he said that again I’d sue him,” Mr Foley said.
He vehemently denied — and continues to deny — the allegations and said: “There has never been a complaint”.
But the issue did not go away.
Federal Liberal MP Eric Abetz used a Senate estimates hearing to put the allegations against Mr Foley back in the spotlight.
When NSW Government ministers used Question Time to call on him step aside, Mr Foley reacted furiously, threatening to use parliamentary privilege to unleash on the private lives of Coalition MPs.
Labor MPs said they were not willing to roll a leader on the basis of allegations aired under privilege, with one telling the ABC: “We are not about to ditch a leader with very good reason.”
Another, however, was more blunt.
“He’s a dead duck if these headlines continue,” they said, while another described the last day’s of Mr Foley’s leadership as “a waiting game”.
That waiting game is now over, and Labor again has to regroup under a new leader just four months from a state election.