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Labor ‘fatally wounded’ ahead of SA election in Farrell fracas

An extraordinary morning in SA politics has crippled the Labor government ahead of the March state election. InDaily editor David Washington explains what happened.

In a few mad hours this morning, South Australian Labor’s electoral hopes have been damaged irreversibly.

Party faithful went to bed last night harbouring outside hopes of an election victory in the SA election on March 15. Today, they are in despair.

Factional discipline — essential to the ascendancy of incumbent Labor Premier Jay Weatherill from the minority Left — has collapsed in such spectacular fashion that hardened party warriors are shell-shocked and demoralised.

In short, this morning’s machinations have destroyed state Labor as surely as that tap on the shoulder to Kevin Rudd way back in 2010 destroyed federal Labor.

To recap, Weatherill today threatened to resign the premiership if Right faction boss Don Farrell — a man inextricably linked to the Rudd-Gillard in-fighting — gained preselection for the state seat of Napier, ahead of the March poll. The seat was offered to Farrell by its incumbent, cabinet minister Michael O’Brien, with a preselection process to happen next week.

Farrell lost his Senate seat at the 2013 federal election after he allowed then-Left minister Penny Wong to take the number one spot in the face of public outrage that the well-regarded Wong wasn’t in top spot. The Right faction was fuming. Payback was inevitable, but no one predicted it would be so damaging.

Today, in a few moments of extraordinary radio on ABC 891 Adelaide, Weatherill threatened to resign if Farrell were preselected, given Farrell’s connection to federal instability and the threat of uncertainty after the election. The Premier said Farrell was associated with divisions in the federal party that “destroyed” the Rudd Labor government and he did not want this in SA. When asked if he would resign if Farrell were preselected, Weatherill said: “I would have to reflect on that, of course.”

Farrell, hanging on the line and listening, seemed taken aback but vowed to keep going with his plan to seek preselection.

A few hours later Farrell — no doubt after hearing from wise heads in Labor that the party was facing electoral catastrophe — withdrew his bid for preselection.

Politics is the art of the possible,” he said. “Jay has made it very clear that he doesn’t support me in this. I do support the Labor Party, I do support Jay. I don’t want to see what’s happening federally happen in SA. I think the best thing I can do to support stability … is for me to withdraw my candidacy.”

Farrell said his political career would end when his Senate term ends on June 30. “When my term finishes I shall play no further part in public life, either state or federal … I’ve made my decision, I’ve made my decision to withdraw, and I have no regrets about that.”

Farrell backing down was the best case scenario for Labor but, even so, Weatherill and Labor are fatally wounded. Adelaide University head of politics Clem Macintyre described the Weatherill ultimatum as “gobsmacking”.

It’s extraordinary: a declaration of war within Labor that sounds pretty uncompromising,” he told InDaily. “It [the state election] is no longer in doubt.”

Labor was already facing an uphill battle. Airing this kind of disunity and factional game-playing six weeks from the poll is electoral poison. The Liberals will now be able to link state Labor with the most brand-damaging episode in the party’s history — the Rudd/Gillard debacle.

The blame game is happening behind closed doors. Factional hatreds, mostly dormant since the Right reluctantly handed the premiership to the Left, are now at boiling point. Farrell’s supporters are white-hot over the second humiliation of their leader in the space of six months.

On the other hand, O’Brien and Farrell are facing fury from some within their own faction. There are some that say Weatherill should have calmly accepted Farrell and moved on. Maybe. But even if he did, Farrell’s close identification with the disastrous Rudd-Gillard years would likely have been fatal to Labor’s re-election hopes. That Farrell and his supporters couldn’t see this from the start is baffling. And they’ve had plenty of time — Farrell has been mulling this over since last September’s election.

Beyond all the machinations and ifs and buts, one overarching question remains: how could Labor do this to itself after the years of pain inflicted by the federal disaster? It is impossible to comprehend.

The shredders will be starting this weekend.

* This story was originally published at InDaily

23
  • 1
    grubbidok
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    It’s not just the infighting that puts people off, what is utterly astounding about this is that Right-faction leaders still haven’t cottoned on to just how electorally poisonous their members are electorally.

    People see the Labor party as a Centre-left one. Jokers like Farrell are the kinds of people swing to the Liberals to vote in. No wonder people won’t vote Labor as long as Labor Right remains dominant.

    Before people pick me up yes I know that Labor “right” isn’t as right-wing as the LNP is more centrist with a social conservative bent. However, the fact remains they are still far too right for Labor’s core constituency, and those whose right-wing or conservative values do align with the Faction end up voting for the ‘real thing’ and getting LNP govs anyway. Labor will always face an uphill battle while the Right are in charge.

    What is truly amazing, however, is that when you gauge popularity of policies, reactions to policies etc, Australia seems to be yearning for a centre-left government in the social democratic tradition. But no-one, even Labor, wants to give them one. Labor could actually be the ‘natural party of government’ in Australia if it wanted to, it just appears to prefer destroying itself instead.

  • 2
    Matt
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    The Right of the ALP (at least the bit of it fellas like Farrell hail from) are much akin to christian democrats in the European sense.

  • 3
    Stuart Coyle
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m constantly surprised by how self destructive the Labor party at both state and federal level has become. There seems to be constant infighting and problems with corruption.

    It is time for the party as a whole to decide wether it should exist as one party or split into the parties that the factions seem to want. Also the party needs a good shakeup to remove the corruptible elements. I’m not saying that other parties do not have the same problems with corruption, it is just that Labor seems to have been well and truly infiltrated.

    If this were to happen, the appropriate factional party would possibly gain my vote. The party as it is has not had my vote for a long time.

  • 4
    klewso
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Any wonder coulrophobia is on the increase?
    They couldn’t sell a turd sandwich in Canberra but it’s good enough to pass on to the state?
    How do these clowns think?

  • 5
    tonysee
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Predictions of ‘fatally wounded’ might be a bit ‘courageous’, David.

    I checked the paper that is most likely to ‘make hay’ while this Labor stuff up ‘shines’, ie Murdoch’s Advertiser (at least the on-line version). The headlines read ‘Weatherill stares down Don Farrell’ and ‘I’m in charge and will repel any rivals’. People actually might sit up and take a shine to Premier Bland for showing a little steel.

    Weatherill’s rival — I mean the guy in the other party — is not exactly setting the house on fire.

    Just sayin’

  • 6
    Matt
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    On reflection I’m not sure that this is fatal to Weatherill as such. He certainly put the spear through Farrell’s nefarious designs in an emphatic way. Though I must concede this incident whiffs a bit of drama gone awry.

    If Premier Weatherill has electoral problems (and it seems reasonable to conclude that he might) they’re probably not just about the last political gasps of a soon to be ex senator.

  • 7
    Phillip Monk
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the Libs and News Corp will try to turn this into the election issue. Until now they hadn’t really played the ‘faceless men’ card in SA. And the Libs in SA have historically been the party with the reputation for infighting.

    Weatherill has now at least actually branded himself as the guy who stood up to the ‘faceless men’ and won. I think the ALP are still long-shots to hold on but the opposition have spent most of the last 12 years in hiding so it’s not a given that they will now inherit government.

  • 8
    Scott
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    I’m with Tonysee on this one. I’m more on the right, but we also hate this “oh I lost my seat, but I’ll get preselected somewhere else via a factional sweetheart deal” rubbish.
    The punters respect a bit of courage, especially from a leader. The premier will gain more votes from this in my opinion.
    What would have been a death blow is if Weatherill disapproved but Farrell went ahead and got the preselection.
    Impotence is not a good look; in the bedroom or in politics.

  • 9
    MarilynJS
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Jay was right to cut down Farrell, Farrell tried it on with Gallacher to leave the senate and let him stay, that failed so he tried this on.

    He is a pig who belongs more rightly in the liberal facist party somewhere in Europe.

  • 10
    Mark from Melbourne
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Or maybe, just maybe, people will see someone taking a moral stance that is in the interests of their state and reward him at the ballot box. Bet the media won’t let that happen though.

  • 11
    graybul
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Into the Valley of Death rode the Australian Labour Party. Factions to the ‘Right’ of us; Factions to the ‘Left’! Ahead and behind; our land, our Industries (and the Great Barrier Reef) laid waste. Who can we vote for? We the remnant Proletariat distraught, abandoned and bloody pissed-off …
    Our Kingdom for a horse, any old horse . . that could serve faithfully, lead us anew, see us safely through; this dark miasma. A ‘true blue’ horse to defend us when faced by the Mad Monk’s lycra, terrible ears, and mangled words, the realised sum of all our fears!

  • 12
    CML
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    I am also with tonysee and Scott on this one. IMHO, the stand taken by Weatherill, who won the day, will enhance his chances at the election. He must be quite a strong leader to stand up against Farrell - the man who is said to ‘run’ SA - and come out the other side virtually unscathed.
    There is no down side for Weatherill, but there would have been if he had just given in to Farrell. Good to hear that yet another right factional overlord is vacating the public arena. I hope he, and people like him in the Labor Party, disappear off the planet and leave the running of the country to the good guys in the party.
    And if you think the LNP doesn’t have a factional divide in SA, then you are living in cloud cuckoo land! If they should happen to win the election here, I’ll give them three months for the old enmities to surface once again!! They have been at it much longer than the ALP in SA.

  • 13
    Roy Inglis
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    By Friday evening the Premier had seen off Mr Farrel.

    A Premier powerful enough to counter and assert leadership is a Premier in charge. He and Labor achieved a more decisive and rapid solution to a leadership threat than the SA Liberal ever managed with their factional assaults on their leaders.

    I’m not arguing that Labor will retain office but methinks your and other assertions of the Premiers and Labors demise are certain as a result of the Farrel assault are by the end of this day, a tad over cooked.

  • 14
    AR
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    G’dok has it right in my view - every poll shoiws that this country wants a euroid-lite government but, when the ALP win office, they are scarceky distinguishable from the tories.
    Why the soi disant “Left” faction ( which once had la Reine Ranga, or so I was told by them wot still had faith in such things) tolerates the continuing hands-around-ankles stance is beyond me.
    The myth of the Sussex St Lubyanka being the font of (not wisdom, far from it)electoral success, forged (sic!) during the Fraser Somnabulancy, claimed to be masters of the (P)Universe after the drover’s dog’s Dag won in 1983. Thereafter (check the figures, if you can get uncorrupted member lists out of the motorway pylons..err..I mean archives)the Machine took delight in, not just disregardibng local branches but rubbing their noses in their irrelevancy before the Hawkeating error, sorry.. era.
    The last distressing interregnum just shows how utterly deracinated & Bourbon-like are the apparatchiks.
    They are dead but they haven’t yet stopped moving, all those necrotic worms - to paraphrase “I CLaudius”.

  • 15
    John Beswick
    Posted Friday, 31 January 2014 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Surely it was a gift to Weatherill to emphatically state we are not going to import Federal factionalism into this State.
    Labour incumbancy might be struggling but I doubt this has been the mortal blow portrayed. We’ll see how the next few days turn out.

  • 16
    Hamis Hill
    Posted Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    Just like someone who has a cancerous growth timely removed from their anatomy is “fatally wounded”.
    Looks like the DLP is still doing their DLP Prime Minister some favours.
    Infiltrating both major parties must be recognised as a Machiavellian masterstroke.
    And if it were necessary to lie along the way, well that’s covered in the instruction book, isn’t it.

  • 17
    CML
    Posted Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    It is a great pity that Rudd has left the political scene for one reason, and one reason only. He started the long journey to give the members a say in what goes on in the political wing, and IMHO needed to be there to carry on that vital program. Can’t see the likes of Shorten having the bal+s to do anything like that!
    If what you are saying above is true - that the membership of the Labor Party would prefer a centre-left government - then that would have been evident if Rudd had continued the fight. Think we had some insight into that position when Albo was voted for leader by two-thirds or more of the membership.
    Weatherill has done a good job here in carrying on that fight. The Lieberal nonsense that he will be removed from the Premiership if he wins the election, is just that - nonsense. He will virtually be untouchable!
    As for that ‘dollybird’ Kate Ellis - would be good if she could grow a brain. Bloody dill!! Like a few other people on here, I’ve had it with these right wing lunatics in the Labor Party who couldn’t care less about the country, just so long as they remain with their snouts firmly planted in the trough. Ellis and her ilk should join the Lieberals!!!!

  • 18
    graybul
    Posted Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Fully agree with your summation CML. Question is . . what can be done about it? Our Federal political Masters’ are virtually indistinguishable. Maybe Conservatives slightly more committed to their Business allies, whereas Labour appears to have abandoned their roots. When the members clear support for Albo was shown the door, it was writ large on everyone’s forehead. He at least had values! I can cop us being in Opposition, that’s the process for sifting out chaff. But is real hard to accept lack of fight at a time when Abbott and Morrison are running amuck!

  • 19
    klewso
    Posted Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

    Hasn’t she already, who’d she marry?

  • 20
    CML
    Posted Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Hi! Klewso - No to the first part of your question, unfortunately. And the marriage bit? Isn’t she hooked up with David Penberthy that shining light from Ltd News? Which includes the Adelaide Advertiser and all the cr+p that is purported to be ‘news’ printed in that rag.
    Penberthy and all the others are having a field day arriving at the WRONG conclusions about Jay Weatherill and his tussle with that dreadful Farrell git!
    If you ask me, Penberthy and Ellis are a good pair. A real puzzle as to why she doesn’t just join the Tory party and stop polluting Labor!

  • 21
    Mal Phillips
    Posted Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Hopeless and pathetic. The current Labor pollies work for the Conservatives and themselves. It has become a circus since Gillard rolled Rudd. The biggest own goal in Australian history.

  • 22
    tonyfunnywalker
    Posted Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Other than knowing Stephen Marshall he is the hidden leader for some reason best known to the Liberals. A bit of an Abbott in the slogan area when he puts his head above the parapet for a second or two in the media. At this stage there are no contentious issues emerging and the ” budget leak ” Weatherill quickly kicked over the sideline when with a weak Marshall challenge as quickly dispensed with as a much resistance as a skin on a rice pudding.
    Farrell was kite flying and was kicked over the sideline without much ado by Weatherill much to the bemusement of the ABC morning news team - for once they were silenced and their shock jock style of interviewing negated in surprise and awe.
    The Advertiser did run a story on the simmering in the Liberal camp as the Bernardi/Vanstone stouch fizzes out from want of fuel and boredom - its the same old Liberals - but confirming the truce is over - but so far any infighting is behind closed doors.
    Jay4 SA has learned from Abbott and the campaign bar the kite flying Farrell - there is little to report. It could be the dual heat wave - bit there was no political milage there either unlike Victoria the power system held up boosted by the high home incidence solar panels and the input of the wind farms. Even the wind farms got a boost with gale force winds over the last 24 hours. Grubbick I take issue with your reading of the Liberal Right - Led by Bernardi and it would appear Pyne with the revaluations of

  • 23
    tonyfunnywalker
    Posted Tuesday, 4 February 2014 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    For some reason my earlier post was posted before I finished.
    The Liberal Right in SA is a scourge on the Liberal Party and kept them out of power for 16 years with the defection of Brokenshire and the election of Day to the Senate in July - both from Family First.
    SA Labor made it clear to Farrell at the Federal Election of his and the right faction position in the Party by making Penny Wong number 1 on the Labor ticket.

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