November 17, 2009 

            The Daily Telegraph

Nathan Rees' secret plot to lop Labor heads
By Simon Benson

THE only way it was going to work was under the cover of darkness. Premier Nathan Rees needed complete secrecy to carry out his plan to choose his own Cabinet and sack ministers Joe Tripodi and Ian Macdonald.
But it was a phone call to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Singapore that really kicked the power play into action - a plan that Mr Rees threatened to resign over if it wasn't carried out.

And the clinically orchestrated pincer movement between the Premier, his chief of staff Graeme Wedderburn, the PM's office and the Labor Party secretaries Matt Thistlethwaite and Luke Foley was put into play only hours before Mr Rees executed two of his most senior ministers.

No one in the NSW caucus had any clue as to what was about to happen, particularly the two heavyweight ministers in the firing line.

"Absolute secrecy was the only way the plan would work," a senior Labor source said.

Mr Rees told close friends and advisers last Friday he was "sick" of threats to his leadership and told them to either back him or sack him.

Sources confirmed Mr Rees called the party's NSW assistant secretary and close friend Luke Foley at 10pm on Friday and told him what he wanted to do at the conference the next morning.

He knew he wouldn't get it through caucus so the only alternative was to ask the conference for unprecedented power over the caucus.

By last week Mr Rees had had a gutful of the nobbling of his leadership.

"I'm sick of it . . . I can't go on like this," Mr Rees told Mr Foley. "If I don't get some authority I'll resign. Will you back me?"

Mr Foley backed him to the hilt. Mr Thistlethwaite was asleep. He didn't get a call until the following morning.

Mr Rudd was in Singapore early on Saturday preparing a speech to APEC when, according to Labor sources, Mr Rees called Mr Rudd's chief of staff Alister Jordan to tell him he would be requesting extraordinary powers to choose his own Cabinet at the ALP state conference that morning.

Mr Rudd's office swung into action behind Mr Rees, lining up a host of federal ministers - Mark Arbib, John Faulkner, Anthony Albanese and Tony Burke - to appear on stage before the conference that afternoon and back Mr Rees - if the union-dominated delegates at conference wouldn't.

In the end they didn't need to.

Until he delivered his speech to conference at 11.30am on Saturday seeking endorsement for the same powers granted to Mr Rudd by his caucus after the 2007 election win, only a handful of people in Sydney, and a few in Singapore, knew.

An emergency meeting of the party's dominant right wing faction, Centre Unity, was called.

The message was sent loud and clear from Mr Rudd, through Mr Burke, who rose and spoke to the 200 or so right-wing ALP members that the proposal should be supported.

By 3pm rumours were circulating that heads were about to roll. Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt assured senior ministers that the power would not be used to sack people.

Mr Macdonald told Mr Tripodi that he had heard otherwise. Mr Tripodi confronted Mr Rees and the Premier denied anyone would be sacked.

A Labor Party source revealed Mr Macdonald had reportedly called Ms Tebbutt and said: "I'm going to become Nathan Rees' worst nightmare."

It wasn't until 11pm on Saturday that Mr Rees called Mr Tripodi and told him he wanted him to resign the next day. He gave no reason.

The next morning Mr Macdonald received a call from Mr Rees also asking for his resignation.

By 3.30pm Sunday both ministers were gone.

The audacious move has made Nathan Rees and Matt Thistlethwaite the most powerful men in NSW Labor, wresting control from the warring factions of the parliamentary Labor Party.

It revealed a shrewdness and ruthlessness that no one suspected he possessed.

It also provided a circuit breaker for the fractured relationship between Mr Rees and Mr Rudd.

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