Our History

The Early Years

NSW Labor is the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party. Formed in 1890 after the Great Maritime Strike, the union movement in Australia realised that social change could not be achieved through industrial action alone and sought political representation. Labor Electoral Leagues were formed by the Trades and Labor Council which went on to win 35 seats in their first election in 1891.

For the first decade of the 20th century, Labor achieved remarkable electoral results, but it was only in 1910 that Labor achieved its first majority Government in the NSW Parliament under the leadership of James McGowan. The McGowan government passed significant reforming legislation including the Industrial Arbitration Act and the Bursary Endowment Act, as well as industrial development programs.

The First Split

The First World War created a significant split in the Labor Party over the issue of conscription. Conscription was supported by a majority of leading Labor politicians and opposed by nearly all union officials. When Hughes, then Labor Prime Minister, put the issue to a referendum, Holman, the then Labor Premier of NSW, campaigned for the "Yes" case. When the referendum was lost, Holman decided to join with the Opposition and form a National Party and a ministry. Shortly after, Holman and 17 other Labor members of the Assembly were expelled from the Party. After narrowly winning the 1920 election, Labor lost the March 1922 election after a few months of chaotic factional disputes.

The Second Split

Jack Lang, one of the most memorable Labor leaders, brought the Labor Party back to power with a two-seat victory in 1925. The Lang Government subsequently reinstated the 44 hour working week and introduced the Widows' Pensions and Workers' Compensation Acts. Lang lost the 1927 election but re-emerged in 1930 and became Premier during the Great Depression. During this time the Lang Government gave relief to tenants, restricting evictions and the sale of tenants' furniture. Lang's broad economic policies, however, precipitated conflict between the Federal and State branches of the Labor Party. In 1931, Lang decided to repudiate interest payments due overseas, declaring that welfare commitments should take priority. The economic disagreements saw a split at the Federal level into three factions, and the development of two Labor parties in NSW, one headed by Lang and the other by R J Heffron. Lang was finally dismissed by the Governor in 1932 after he instructed public servants not to pay money into the Federal Treasury. The deeply divided Party lost the subsequent election in NSW and stayed in Opposition for nine years.

The Second World War

A united Labor Party was elected to govern in NSW in 1941. That year marked the beginning of 24 consecutive years of Labor government in the state, with William McKell elected as wartime Premier. McKell launched an elaborate scheme for social, economic and environmental reform, which was continued by successive Labor governments.

Social and industrial changes were the most important aspects of the McKell Government. Among these were the establishment of the Office of the Public Defender to represent under-privileged people in courts and increased pensions payments for widows.

Industrial legislation was enacted including the Annual Holidays Act, which guaranteed all employees the right to two weeks holiday per year with full pay. In the health area, the McKell Government passed the Pure Food Act and the Public Health Act, established a Cancer Institute in Sydney, and embarked on statewide health duration campaigns.

The Post-War Labor Party

When William McKell became Governor-General in 1947, James McGirr replaced him as a Premier. McGirr's five years as Premier are characterised by his desire to improve working conditions for NSW workers. One of his major achievements was the introduction of the 40-hour working week, making NSW the first state to legislate for reduced working hour.

McGirr resigned in 1952 due to ill health and was succeeded by John Joseph Cahill. Cahill used his political skills and astuteness to keep the NSW Labor Party together during the tumultuous fifties, when the ALP nationally was deeply split over the outside influence on the Labor movement.

The Cahill Government introduced equal pay for women, three weeks annual holidays, repudiated many of the penal clauses in arbitration and gave substantial support to the Opera House project. After Cahill's death, he was replaced by Robert James Heffron. Heffron did a tremendous amount to expand and advance the quality of education in NSW, and built on the program set by the previous Premier.

Heffron retired as Premier in 1964 and was replaced by Jack Renshaw. Renshaw's term was short, and in the 1965 elections the Labor Party was defeated after 15-years of majority government.

The Wran Government

After a decade of conservative government in NSW, Neville Wran brought the Labor Party back to power in 1976. During his decade in government, Wran pursued an impressive program of reform and change.

The Wran Government spent billions of dollars modernising public transport, including trains, buses, ferries and roads. In protecting the environment, the Wran Government accomplished more than any other State Government. One-third of the coast is now permanently protected and managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service and 20 new National Parks were created.

The Wran Government also created the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs, the Anti-Discrimination Board, the Education Commission, and enacted Land rights.

Wran resigned as Premier and as a member of Parliament in 1986. He was replaced as Premier by Barrie Unsworth, who continued the broad reform program begun by the Wran Government and initiated a number of new reforms mainly in the areas of environmental protection, development and law and order.

Labor was defeated at the March 1988 election.

The Carr Government

The Labor Opposition under the leadership of Bob Carr regained most of the lost ground when it narrowly lost the May 1991 election by two seats. This election and a subsequent Labor victory in a by-election in the seat of The Entrance resulted in a minority Coalition Government with five in depends holding the balance of power.

In the 1995 election, Labor was returned to power in NSW, winning 50 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Bob Carr was sworn in as the 13th Labor Premier of NSW on 4 April 1995. Labor's position in the Legislative Assembly was further enhanced by an historic victory in the Clarence by-election in May 1996.

The Carr Government built on its credentials as a reformist government with its strong emphasis upon traditional Labor concerns such as education, industrial relations, health, law and order, and the environment. The Carr Government also oversaw the 2000 Sydney Olympics as well as pioneered Private-Public Partnership models in Australia as a method for funding additional infrastructure in the state.

After Carr

After the resignation of Bob Carr in 2005, the Labor Party chose the former Health Minister Morris Iemma to lead the government into the next election, which ultimately saw the re-election of Labor. Having won the 2007 election, the debate for electricity privatisation saw a divide in opinions within the party. In 2008, the NSW Labor State Conference delegates voted overwhelmingly against privatisation.

In 2008, Morris Iemma resigned and Nathan Rees, the Member for Toongabbie, became Premier. In 2009 Rees was replaced by Kristina Kenneally. Kenneally was given the task of leading NSW Labor into the most difficult election ever faced by the Party.

The 2011 election saw 16 years of Labor government come to an end, and Labor was cast into Opposition. Kristina Kenneally resigned from NSW Parliament and was replaced as Party Leader by the former Minister for Transport John Robertson.


Labor has remained consistently united and determined to hold the NSW Liberal Government to account on their cuts to healthcare and education in NSW. Since coming to power, the NSW Liberal Government has repeatedly broken promises with the electorate. From trashing workers compensation, cutting public services, permitting hunting in National Parks, to slashing funding for TAFE's and emergency services -- the NSW Liberal Government have abandoned communities across NSW.

Help us fight for a stronger and fairer NSW.