“He’s just Captain Average.”
That was the devastating assessment of NSW Labor leader Michael Daley from a colleague, and Saturday night’s results confirmed the worst.
It would appear to also be the verdict of NSW voters.
But Mr Daley could still be spared a leadership ballot until after the federal election, with some Labor officials moving to delay any bloodletting until after the federal poll.
NSW Labor sources said agreement was likely to be secured on Monday to a deal to delay any vote until after the federal election in May.
Possible contenders include Chris Minns, who suffered a savage swing in his seat after Mr Daley’s gaffes over Asian immigration, and Labor MP Jodi McKay.
“I’m not ruling anything out, and everybody in the Labor Party needs to do some soul searching about the future direction of the party, including me and what policy approach needs to be looked at,” Mr Minns said.
“Facing 12 years in opposition we also need to take a look at the leadership.”
But the biggest barrier to Mr Minns becoming leader is his historical bad blood with the powerful NSW ALP state secretary Kaila Murnain.
For that reason, many believe the future leader with the most support is Western Sydney’s Prue Car, although she is believed to be a reluctant starter.
Ms McKay was keen to play down leadership hopes on the ABC’s election-night coverage, but still put the boot into the Labor leader for his comments on Asian migration.
“I won’t say that they were racist comments. They were very, very poorly worded comments and he apologised for that,” she said.
“Do I wish he said those? No. Do I agree with what he said? No. But I do think that it did not help our case for forming government.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten and his deputy Tanya Plibersek pointedly failed to endorse Mr Daley’s leadership on Sunday before putting in the boot on his comments over Asian immigration.
“That will be a matter for NSW.” Mr Shorten said. “He hit some rough road in the last 10 days.
“I’ve spoken to Michael Daley. He’s the first to acknowledge his comments were wrong and I’ve certainly said that to him. I think he paid a price for that.”
Mr Daley was caught on tape last year complaining that “Asians with PhDs” were taking Australian kids’ jobs, with Liberal strategists sitting on the damaging material for months before rolling it out for maximum effect in the final week of the campaign.
The opposition leader also stumbled over the detail of his education policy costings during a televised debate – an issue that came to no surprise to those who have worked with him who claim he is not a “detail person”.
Michael Daley’s last week may well have delivered the Coalition a majority rather than minority government…
— Peter van Onselen (@vanOnselenP) March 23, 2019
With leadership speculation inevitable after the electoral defeat, Mr Daley made a point of declaring on election night during his concession speech that he planned to stay on as leader.
“I have the support of party head office,’’ he said. “We have a responsibility to regroup. You can’t sit around and cry into your beer.
“I had a very short period of time and I did the best I could. Losing is never easy.”
Premier Gladys Berejiklian remains confident she will secure enough seats to form a majority government, but is vowing to build strong relationships with the independents regardless of the outcome.
“I want to have a very strong relationship with the independents. None of us has a crystal ball. We don’t know what happens.” she said.
“The most recent information I have is that we are likely to form a majority government with between 47 and 49 seats.”
A grim-faced Mr Daley told the media he accepted his “fair share of responsibility” for the defeat.
The Coalition has 46 seats – just one short of the seats required to govern in its own right.
The swing against the Berejiklian government was a modest 2.3 per cent.