Jodi McKay resigns as NSW Labor leader to give party ‘best opportunity to heal’

Jodi McKay has resigned as leader of New South Wales Labor in order to give the party “the best opportunity to heal and to move forward” despite saying she would win a leadership ballot if one were held.

Her decision clears the way for a new leader, with Chris Minns the most likely successor.

It is understood NSW Labor head office intervened and demanded a resolution to the instability that has followed the Upper Hunter byelection result, but it is not yet clear whether there will be a contest for the leadership.

Minns and the former leader, Michael Daley, have both expressed interest in the past but a contest would activate the Labor party’s new rules and require a poll of the rank and file, followed by a vote in caucus.

Talks are under way to avoid that outcome.

Another MP named as a possible leader, Ryan Park, the member for Kiera, has agreed not to run.

In a brief statement on Twitter, Minns said McKay had “today shown great leadership in putting the party first.”

“In coming days I intend to continue talking to my colleagues in the Labor caucus, party, and movement about how to unify and win the confidence of the people of NSW,” he said.

Daley’s supporters have said he has considerable support among the union movement and colleagues.

He said in a statement on Friday evening that McKay “was democratically elected overwhelmingly by both the membership and the caucus”.

“It’s a shameful thing she felt forced to go,” Daley said. “I wish her well and hope she stays in public life for a very long time. Thank you, Jodi.”

A visibly upset McKay had made a brief statement earlier on Friday when she did not take questions.

“I am stepping down with a heavy heart,” she said.

“No one has asked me to stand aside, in fact colleagues have asked me to stay. If a ballot was held today I can tell you I would win that ballot.”

In a swipe at those within her own party who have agitated for change at the top, she said: “It is clear that although I was elected leader in a democratic ballot, there were those within our party who have never accepted the outcome of that process.”

“Leadership is about knowing when to step up and when to step down,” she said.

“This time we must accept the outcome. We must all support the new leader, and we have to work to win government in 2023, because New South Wales deserves no less.”

McKay said she would spend some time at her farm with her husband, before returning to spend more time as the local MP for Strathfield.

Yasmin Catley, McKay’s deputy, has also resigned.

Minns, 41, is the member for Kogarah and has run unsuccessfully for the leadership twice before.

But the former rightwing assistant secretary of the NSW ALP has struggled to gain the support of the unions. In his inaugural speech in the Legislative Assembly, Minns called for reducing union influence in the Labor party, and “increasing representation of ordinary members of our party who have more diverse voices”.

Minns’ supporters say he has repaired relations with some of the unions but not all and that Daley may be prevailed upon to run against him.

Daley carries his own baggage. During the 2019 election campaign, a tape emerged of him saying that “Asians with PhDs” were taking Australians jobs. Daley apologised, but the comments were seen as damaging to Labor’s campaign in the last two weeks.

McKay has been leading the opposition since March 2019. She won the leadership in the wake of the 2019 state election, which saw Labor narrowly defeated and Daley stand down.

Labor has now been in opposition for a decade.

Since premier Bob Carr stepped down in 2005 the party has struggled to find a leader and control the factional warfare within the party.

Between 2005 and 2011, when it lost government, the party went through three leaders. In opposition it has had another four and has struggled to find someone that can cut through with the public.

Corruption inquiries and the subsequent prosecutions of several former Labor figures have not helped.

McKay was elected leader under Labor’s new rules, designed to prevent the regular churn of leaders. She won a vote of the rank and file against Minns and subsequently won the vote in caucus.

Despite her cleanskin image she has struggled to gain traction against the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, who is widely regarded as having done a good job in leading NSW through the Covid-19 pandemic.

The next state election in NSW is not due until March 2023.

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