After the Liberal Party–National Party coalition's 2001 federal election victory, much Labor blame for the result centred on the party's poor performance in New South Wales. Premier Bob Carr claimed that Labor's federal policies had not appealed to his economically buoyant state and argued that New South Wales Labor urgently needed to improve the quality of its federal representatives. His former state cabinet colleague, Rodney Cavalier, lamented that after supplying much of the ALP's federal leadership for ninety-six years, New South Wales Labor was no longer producing leadership contenders (Sydney Morning Herald, 13, 19 November 2001).
The twin themes in these comments were anxious variations of the two major traditions for understanding twentieth-century New South Wales politics. The first tradition is what Hirst (1998, 464) has called ‘the pre-eminence of NSW’. The second is that New South Wales is a Labor state. What concerned Carr and Cavalier was that the 2001 federal election might indicate an undermining of both traditions.
The premier state
The claim that New South Wales is pre-eminent in Australian state politics has a number of related dimensions. One rests on the state's foundational status. By some interpretations, the foundation of New South Wales as a convict settlement in 1788 began its role in setting the ‘defining moments and symbols’ of the wider nation. This process continued in the myths of the selectors, the great strikes of the 1890s, the formation of the Labor Party and Sydney's rise as ‘the quintessential Australian city, raffish, hedonistic, where old wealth means nothing and new wealth is admired and ostentatiously displayed’ (Hirst 1998, 464–5; see also Holmes and Sharman 1977, 55–6).