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Dec 2, 2011

Bonhomie thick at ALP conference as the deal-making begins

Prime Minister Gillard kicked off ALP National conference proceedings at the Sydney Convention Centre this morning by adopting Obama's/Optus' “yes” refrain, presumably to distinguish Labor from Tony Abbott’s negativity.

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The National Union of Workers is holding firm to its decision to back the ALP National Left to avoid the prime minister’s conscience vote on gay marriage, despite suggestions from the party’s Right that they had “binded” on the issue.

A senior NUW source at the party’s 46th national conference told Crikey this morning that last night’s pronouncements of unity following the Right’s 300-strong right caucus meeting and widely reported in the media, had been made in haste.

It did not include their 10-strong delegate bloc that brings the Left to within nine defectors of striking the PM down with a majority of 201. The addition of the Right’s ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Victorian MP Danielle Green draws that gap to just eight. Independent delegates and others from the right’s 218 delegates could easily see the conscience vote shot down.

NUW National Secretary Charlie Donnelly was seen at one point locked in friendly discussions with Left wing AMWU chief Dave Oliver to plan their next move. Crikey understands that earlier Donnelly was personally summoned by the prime minister’s office to explain himself.

On the sidelines of conference a senior Left MP confirmed they weren’t giving up on the proposition and the situation was “enormously fluid” despite members of the socially-conservative Shop Assistants Union backgrounding journalists overnight on the Right’s non-decision to bind.

As Crikey reported on Wednesday, the move by the Left to defy the prime minister and amend the party’s platform to specifically provide for gay marriage is almost certain to pass.

Left and right caucuses are currently meeting again to refine their positions.

Gillard kicked off proceedings at the Sydney Convention Centre this morning by adopting Obama’s/Optus’ “yes” refrain, presumably to distinguish Labor from Tony Abbott’s negativity. The PM decided to take the personalised approach, name-checking everyday Australians who found success selling dog biscuits, another suffering from a skin infection and someone else with a dodgy hip.

A complicated triangular narrative linking jobs to growth to fairness and back to jobs had some delegates scratching their heads, although most still found the time for a standing ovation.

Some on the Left may well have been reluctant to embrace the moment after a last minute scramble to avoid a skirmish to pick delegates to the national executive. Late last night, a grab-bag of Left-wing union heavies including Dave Oliver, Nadine Flood, Louise Tarrant and Michael O’Connor were all persuaded to hold their fire in their earlier bid to snag one of the nine spots reserved for their faction on the party’s powerful ruling body. The Left’s representatives, formally announced as Crikey’s deadline approached, are all incumbents.

Other partial highlights this morning including Left convener and official spokesperson Doug “Doog” Cameron delivering an impressive sledge on Wayne Swan’s surplus fetish, calling on the government to go into deficit to protect jobs instead. The Senate firebrand also railed against “Armani anarchists” and “Twiggy no tax” in a call for a boost to the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.

However, Cameron reserved his greatest opprobrium for former Treasurer Peter Costello, slamming him as “lazy and gutless”. “The press should actually do some critical analysis of the state he left this country in,” Cameron said.

In response, Wayne Swan said it would be “nuts” to impose a financial transactions tax while Europe was in crisis. The amendment, the first contested vote at an ALP conference since 2007, was defeated on the voices.

This afternoon is expected to see debates on climate change, with Bob Carr corralling premiers from the “class of 2003” to speak out as detailed on his popular Thoughtlines blog.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence will spruik pro-union amendments around unstable work flagged at a rousing breakfast this morning on casualisation that featured a Qantas pilot who railed against his CEO Alan Joyce’s intransigence. While some attendees expressed some reservations over the state of the skim milk, the progressive vibe was palpable.

The enthusiasm was echoed last night at the Left’s “Challenge” party as delegates ate out of Anthony Albanese’s hand when he muttered his “no-alition” zinger and revealed his historic support for gay marriage. A Rainbow Labor event at the nearby Belvedere Hotel was sold out and standing room only.

But whether the bonhomie can be translated into wins on the conference floor remains to be seen.

*Andrew Crook will be reporting from the ALP conference all weekend — stay tuned to the Crikey website for updates

Andrew Crook —

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

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22 thoughts on “Bonhomie thick at ALP conference as the deal-making begins

  1. Peter Ormonde


    I’d reckon that, as a rule, ideology and policy counts for very little in the Liberal Party… less so the Nats. The arguments – to the extent they have them – are polite, stage-managed and are more likely to appear as rumours and rumblings in the media than on the floor of a conference. But that is not always the case.

    There is a hard right rump who are still living in the shadow of Maggie Thatcher, Reagan and the wreckage of the American neo-conservative agenda… the Robbs and Reiths … a castor oil dose mob who reckon politics is about putting things right by putting in the boot. These differences invariably boil over into battles for votes and positions… and really nasty slanderous viciousness. After a while it becomes extremely difficult to disentangle the personal hatreds from any ideological difference.

    These are the types who regard Work Choices and individual contracts as the only god-given set of industrial relations that a conservative party can apply. These are the guys who reckon sending messages to boat people by turning their boats back and gaoling kids is quite acceptable, that paramilitary union busting is a useful bit of nation building, that the end justifies the means…

    But the overriding Liberal ideology is one of bum placement … of having the right rumps in their proper place. Both within the Party and more – overwhelmingly more – in the Government benches.

    So no, debate is not encouraged; ideas are not encouraged; policies are not encouraged. These all lead to nastiness. Deeply personal nastiness.

    To the extent there are ideological differences they are intertwined with the ugly personal politics of the Liberal Party. Traces can be seen in the battle for votes and positions. But much less so when they are only distributing the largesse of defeat and Opposition.

    In that regard it will be interesting – enjoyable actually – to see just how much damage Reith can inflict on Abbott over the few months he has left.

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