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CFMEU out of the WA Labor cold, state conference to decide

The Western Australian branch of the Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union appears to have succeeded in its botched bid to re-affiliate with the Labor Party, after an emergency meeting of the ALP’s powerful administrative committee yesterday referred the decision to a special February state conference.

Last night, a separate meeting of the party’s 160-member state executive resolved to endorse the committee’s recommendation, but ruled that owing to legal advice it couldn’t do anything but affiliate the union for zero delegates. The CFMEU is expected to submit an appeal within 21 days.

The referral is crucial because it enables the 10,000-strong CFMEU to influence preselections for the 2013 state election.

Under party rules state conference can resolve to make exceptions to the rules which require affiliated unions to submit a “statistical summary” of their membership and the number of members eligible to vote in an internal ballot by the last Friday in November.

Legal advice obtained previously by WA Labor State Secretary Simon Mead had claimed the union’s application was deficient.

Mead told Crikey this morning that an “outbreak of common sense” had prevailed. When the CFMEU’s appeal is considered by state conference, the union would be expected to garner enough broad support to see its delegates admitted for the remaining nine months of 2012.

A senior WA Labor Right source said that “everyone accept the Missos [United Voice]” supported the bid and the union’s delegates would be ushered in with little resistance.

But a senior Left source told Crikey this morning that even if the union was successful in affiliating, it is unlikely it could command a full complement of 13 delegates on the 120 member “union half” of the special state executive meetings reserved for preselections.

You don’t get to put the party through this much pain and get rewarded for it,” they said, noting unions would normally cop a 15% penalty for inconsistencies in their paperwork.

Retiring CFMEU state secretary Kevin Reynolds famously abandoned Labor in 2009 after factional recriminations flared following his partner Shelly Archer’s resignation from the party in 2007.

The Left, led by United Voice state secretary Dave Kelly, has argued the return of the CFMEU would once again give disgraced former premier Brian Burke a proxy say in internal party affairs.

A letter sent by Reynolds to Mead and CCed to all affiliated unions — obtained by Crikey  — lays bare the rancour that surrounded the stoush and accuses his rival of leaking to the media.

He said he was “disappointed” in Mead’s “carriage of matters” in relation to the saga and cited an earlier letter, dated November 29, that appeared to indicate the union’s application was in order. Reynolds wrote:

At no point during the process did you inform the union that there was any difficulty or deficiency in our application. Obviously, had I been informed of a problem with our application, I would have moved at once to remedy it. And, it is respectfully suggested that the appropriate course of action would have been for you to immediately raise any difficulty with the union directly and not through the media.

Our decision to re-affiliate with the party was taken after long consideration and in the firm belief that we can only be successful as an inclusive political force that seeks to benefit from all shades of opinion and not to exclude those with whom, from time to time, we may disagree. It would certainly be of no assistance to anyone if this matter, or any other, was resolved through the use of legal channels and legal professionals whose expense would be borne by the Party itself.”

But a response to that letter sent by Mead with an attached timeline — also obtained by Crikey  — claims that the union did not respond to requests for assistance and that after reviewing the party’s strict affiliation rules he was left with no choice. Mead wrote:

I agree that legal avenues are not the best avenue for the party. But our rules are very important. The union affiliation rule was introduced after some unions were disadvantaged by others rorting affiliation numbers. The rules exist to keep our party fair and strong.”

Preselections were formally opened yesterday for all 59 lower house and 36 upper house seats and will begin to be decided in March.

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