In July 2013 Nick Bryant wrote this lengthy article for The Monthly magazine about Sam Dastyari. Dastyari opened up about the shocking election loss Labor faced at the NSW 2011 state election.
The story is quite lengthy - I've reprinted a few paragraphs below, commencing with Sam at a branch meeting of the Labor Party in Sydney.
SAM DASTYARI TRIES TO FIX THE ALP
Is the general of NSW Labor serious about reform?
After paying a thoughtful tribute to a recently deceased local member, he addresses the Obeid hearings at ICAC. “How did we let the Labor party be taken over by a handful of people for their own personal gain?” he asks. “It’s disgraceful,” shouts a man from his wheelchair. “I cringe,” seethes another old-timer.
Next, Dastyari moves on to the federal election. All is not lost, he claims rather implausibly. He has also come bearing gifts: books on ALP history that he discovered while cleaning out the party’s notorious Sussex Street headquarters. (In what he hopes will be a monument to his reforms, he has relocated the HQ to Parramatta in the heart of the western suburbs.)
But the main purpose of his visit is to talk about the need for party reform. His ideas, which he describes as “radical”, “very controversial” and “hated by the parliamentary party”, are aimed at devolving power from political professionals like himself to the civilians in his audience. “More people need to be involved in the decision-making process,” he says. “We need to end the practice where seven people meeting in a Chinese restaurant decide everything,” a reference to the famed Golden Century restaurant next to the old ALP headquarters, the long-time work canteen for plotters and knife-wielders.
His ideas receive a favourable hearing. More dispiriting are the questions from the floor. Virtually all of them focus on how to win the next election. Most are predicated on the view that the Gillard government’s problems are primarily presentational.
Others buy Dastyari’s argument. Mark Latham has written of “the Dastyari vision” in almost as hallowed terms as “the Keating legacy”. Critics, however, are distrustful. “He keeps company publicly with reformers,” notes one Labor insider. “He keeps company privately with the old guard.” So is he a Labor moderniser with the ideas, energy and connections to revive the party, or simply an apparatchik who has mastered the double game?
There is also a glaring omission in Dastyari’s reform agenda: any attempt to curb the dominant influence of unions, who hold half the votes at state party conferences. Precious few of his proposals challenge the power of union bosses. “He’s pushing the envelope, and that’s refreshing,” says Bramston, “but he’s not challenging the unions.” Were Dastyari serious about reform, his detractors argue, he would be calling for the membership to decide who does his job.
Dastyari is manifestly a product of the system he is now professing to dismantle. He’s a factional creature and a factional player. His formative political experience was working for the “Yes” campaign during the 1999 republic referendum, but he joined the Labor Party soon after, at the age of 16, and started rising through the ranks. The story of how he wrested control of a local branch in Baulkham Hills in north-west Sydney by recruiting pals from school has entered ALP folklore. Summoned to Sussex Street for a dressing-down, he arrived wearing his school uniform. So impressed were party bosses by Dastyari’s precocity that they earmarked him as a “numbers man”, the ultimate accolade of the NSW Right.
Sam Dastyari engineered the Craig Thomson legal machinations and oversaw Labior finances going to the Thomson private legal fees, he was pivotal in the installation of Gerard Hayes after Michael Williamson was cut loose, he was central in the ETU Labor Loans Affair - and he speaks publicly about the need for Party reform?
SAm DAstyari is not yet on the witness list for the Royal Commission. it would make a fascinating session in the witness box - the only difficulty would be to decide which union matter before the Commission Sam has been most involved in.