Published late May

The Victorian ALP conference last weekend saw a great deal of tension over the issue of whether the 33 delegates of the Metal Trades division of the Manufacturing Workers Union would be allowed to vote. I personally felt far more angst about the slow moving queue for coffee downstairs from the Conference but that’s another story.

On the surface the issue was about whether the state branches of unions or their federal superiors had the ultimate say about appointing delegates. Michelle O’Neill, the Textiles, Clothing and Footwear Secretary argued the case passionately as didn’t want the federal office of her union taking her power away. As the presides over a union in hopeless decline, who can blame her for that?

Then Ian Jones of the Vehicle Builders division of the Manufacturing Workers Union ranted and raved about workers’ rights and how the decision by the Metal Trades division not to send any delegates was wrong and that the Federal Court’s decision that the national office of AMWU was binding on the ALP.

Then a cavalcade of rabble rousers argued the case for why the Victorian ALP had to comply with “the rule of law.” It was an amusing argument from people who often boast about organising illegal strikes, who beat each other up in and out of the Comrade’s Bar, the Lincoln, the bar at Trades Hall, the car-park at Trades Hall and anywhere else where there are brothers from militant world of militant unionism.

Greg Sword put the case best. He argued very persuasively that the Victorian branch of the Party had no right and no role looking into the process by which union delegates are appointed to the Conference. He said it would make us a laughing stock and reminded delegates to remember when the state was referred to as the Albania of the south. Greg is in the Right of the Party, as convenor of the Labor Unity group and many Labor Unity delegates were inclined to go along with their leader. Especially in circumstances in which there was argument in which his pulse rate had exceeded its normal Bjorn Borg levels.

That was on the surface. That’s what readers of the Sunday Age heard about. What was the debate really about?

It was about a conflict in the Right wing Labor Unity group that threatens to cause a major split.

Greg Sword is the National Secretary of the National Union of Workers. He is the elder statesman of the Victorian right. He has been a person of great influence within the Party for decades now.

He is profoundly unhappy about the emergence of younger turks, like ALP State David Feeney and the best man at his recent wedding AWU National Secretary Bill Shorten who while also in the Right have built their own power bases completely independently of Sword and the National Union of Workers.

This grates on Sword and the NUW who remember the fact that they founded the faction years ago. They remember days when they were practically the last union left standing in the Labor Unity group in the early 1990’s after the Socialist Left had seized control of the Clerks’ Union, the AWU and the Transport Workers Union.

Overlayed on that is a group called Network. It was a Young Labor group formed by Shorten in the 1980’s. It’s a long and bizarre story but essentially Shorten and Feeney were in intense and bitter competition within Young Labor. Feeney says Shorten was his “nemesis” in those days. Shorten had built a large group of Young Labor people, primarily from Monash University, Feeney built a smaller group, primarily from Melbourne University.

Due to a series of personality conflicts most of which caused by Bill’s outsized ego within Shorten’s own group, he left them and formed an unlikely coalition with David Feeney.

The remaining Young Labor Network people, formerly Bill’s best mates like NUW Victorian Assistant Secretary Martin Pakula, TWU’s Steve Moore, NUW’s Antony Thow, bumbling lawyer Charles Power and the younger ones like ambitious and capable State MP Tim Holding were all shocked that Bill could enter into a Devil’s Pact of this type.

In the way that the best of friends can become the best of enemies, this group renamed briefly as Agenda continued. Many of the Agenda group and the remaining Network group have coalesced around Greg Sword and the National Union of Workers bloc within the Right.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

The simmering tension is all about personalities. And it’s been played out in several battles.

Last year, Greg Sword and Martin Pakula had arranged funding for an all-out attack on Bill Shorten’s powerbase at the AWU. Bill’s enemies within the AWU were meant to deliver candidates to run against him in the Victorian branch but they got cold feet. The NUW denied any association with interfering in the internal affairs of another union.

This year, there is a ballot coming up for the National Union of Workers. Ray Gorman and a number of disgruntled people from the Victorian branch are planning on running against Greg Sword’s ticket. Whether these old guys can form a Dad’s Army ticket or not is the big question. The notoriously ethically challenged NSW branch of the NUW (the late NUW NSW State Secretary Frank Belan once got busted for putting brothel services on his union American Express card) run by Derek Belan is funding the effort although it is clear the AWU Secretary Bill Shorten is providing support of some kind too.

And there’s the Health Services Union where there is an ongoing power struggle between its Secretary Greg Sword ally Maria Zarko and the majority of the Branch Committee which is controlled by Jeff Jackson and Kathy Jackson. It is the closest thing to a direct conflict within the Right that we’ve had for a long time.

In almost every preselection and other contest from the seat of Isaacs to Melbourne Ports to Holt to various state preselections, the bitter conflict plays itself out. Sword and the NUW have been on the losing end of most of these conflicts and it remains to be seen whether they can continue to tolerate a situation where a majority of the Labor Unity group divides up the spoils while they get continually frozen out.

The next battle will probably involve the position of State Secretary of the Party. Greg Sword has evidence that suggests David Feeney has been directly involved in interfering in the Health Services Union, which is not really allowed in the job he has currently.

If the evidence checks out and if there is no resolution to the challenge to Victorian branch of the NUW, it is highly likely that Greg Sword in combination with the Left will vote out David Feeney and install the Left’s Daniel Andrews as Secretary. From Sword’s perspective while he isn’t enamoured of Daniel Andrews he at least will have a State Secretary he can deal with who isn’t undermining his power base.

And of course last weekend’s issue was about whether Bill Shorten would be President of the Victorian branch of the Party. It was the unspoken but crucial issue of the Metal Workers’ debate. The effect of the Metal Workers’ delegates being allowed to vote would have meant that Greg Sword’s group would have had the “balance of power” on the question of whether Shorten was to get the top but largely ceremonial job.

Sword’s supporters would say that any pretense of power-sharing has gone out the window in a Party with Feeney as Secretary and Shorten as President. Shorten’s opponents would say that he does not have the peace-making skills required of someone leading the faction and the Party. He is a head-kicker, they say.

The NUW had sent its delegates and the Network delegates in to get their ballot papers but rather than put them into the ballot box they were holding onto them to see how these issues could be resolved. Feeney/Shorten would be forced to the negotiating table or they would face the consequences.

These are interesting days in the Victorian Right.

The other fascinating struggle occurred between Senator Steve Conroy and the State Government. Steve had drafted a series of highly provocative motions about the State Government and its policies. The Right’s person on the Agenda Committee of the Conference David White the former Minister and lobbyist copped a huge serve from Conroy in the Labor Unity caucus meeting where Conroy accused him of refusing to let his motions on the Agenda of the Conference for personal financial reasons as Conroy’s motion on stopping public-private partnerships had financial implications from David’s clients at Hawker Brittan.

Given how close White and Conroy have been in the past for a while White worked on Conroy’s staff doing hatchet-job research into Ron Walker, John Elliott, Peter Scanlan and Lloyd Williams it was an extraordinary attack.

Ministers Brumby, Madden, el Supremo Bracks and others were spitting chips that a leading light of the “moderate” wing of the Party would engage in such a display in a pre-election State Conference.

Conroy is upset about the direction of the State Government. He wants danger man Theo Theophanous in the State Cabinet. He wants the Government to be more aggressive in supporting its friends and culling its enemies from Government boards and the public service. He finds the average Ministerial staffer to be arrogant and incompetent. He says the average State Minister wouldn’t qualify to get a job in his electoral office.

And within the Left of the Party, the conflict over the Metal Trades was all about precedent setting. The implications for most state secretaries of letting their federal superiors choose their delegations were frightening. Some have rules that make this impossible but most don’t. So the tension between those who were desperate for the Left not to slip further behind Labor Unity which would have been the consequence of not letting them in and those who were concerned about their own members’ right to have people chosen indirectly by them was palpable. Peter Holding – world Kick Boxing champion and sometime barrister – was strutting his stuff in and out of the Left caucus offering an opinion on everything but a solution for nothing. His presence causes much disturbance in the Force.

Reports that Dean Mighell is actively supporting what most thought was a Right wing push against Brian Daley from the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union also didn’t help the joie de vivre feeling in the SL meeting room. Accusing glares were being sent in the direction of ETU delegates, most of whom hadn’t heard a thing.

The Left’s candidate for President Jim Claven was heard complaining bitterly that people like Daley, O’Neill and others had brutally shafted him. His only chance of being President was the Metal Workers being allowed to vote. Claven is the failed candidate for Syndal in the 1988 election when Labor was still riding high. He wrote an uninspiring book on English politics which was an apologia for the right of the Labour Party in England causing many comrades in the Left to question Claven’s ideological purity. Even more disturbing for the Left are his ties with the NSW Right Postal Workers. By the end of the weekend, Kim Carr and others were wondering whether they should support Claven at all. His suggestions that his rival Bill Shorten was cosy with the corporate sector made several wags throw comments around about the tame-cat role his union plays with Australia Post and Telstra as they downsize with no resistance from the likes of Jim Claven. The appellation “softcock” arose in the mind of several comrades.

The courts will now resolve whether the Metals delegates can vote. As a consequence of this and several other administrative bungles by the Labor Unity aligned Tony Lang ALP Returning Officer, there is to be a postal ballot of all elected positions. This will create more time and most probably more tension in the Victorian branch, as the ballot will occur at the same time as Sword is just beginning to defend the principle of power-sharing within the Victorian Right.

The bigger principle of whether every major or minor controversy within the Party should be resolved by unelected, often very conservative judges is a hard one to resolve. There is no question that because the Parties are in receipt of millions of taxpayer dollars Courts have decided that it is in the public interest for Courts to enforce Party rules when the Party won’t. This happened in South Australia, as the Conference’s resident legal savant Diane Anderson kept reminding the Conference. Diane is a barrister. Diane is the least popular Delegate, loathed almost equally by all factions. It is people like Diane, wealthy legal practitioners who stand to benefit from all of this. Maybe there’s no alternative but it’s surely enough to have the founders of the Party spinning around in their graves faster than Diane Anderson talks.

Regards, Delia Delegate

Sword goes nuclear again Feeney and Shorten

Published June 4

By Delia Delegate

Since my last treatise on the farcical factional fracturings within the Victorian branch of the ALP many have speculated on my identity. Indeed, I have myself participated in water cooler conversations pondering who the leaker was. So convincing were some accusations that even I found myself persuaded of the guilt of others.

Like many comrades in Labor Unity, I am a little confused about my political identity myself now that Labor Unity Convenor, ALP National President, State President, National Union of Workers National Secretary and friend of Joe Gutnick, Greg Sword, on Monday announced that the Union has left Labor Unity to form an as yet unnamed grouping. In fact, the practically unknown State Secretary Charlie Donnelly made the announcement but the fingerprints of Dual President Sword were all over it.

So while I’m pondering my own future factional identity, I’ll share with you the background you probably won’t read elsewhere on the faction formerly known as Right.

After weeks of characters like Senator Steve Conroy, Small Business Minister Marsha Thomson and others trying to drag back in the departing comrades, there was a rather glum meeting of NUW officials at the NUW bunker at 552 Victoria Street North Melbourne on Monday. In the corner room with the spectacular view of the bitumen of Victoria Street, the officials of the union that once formed the faction Labor Unity formally resolved to leave Labor Unity. To be sure that all the niceties are observed, the matter is being referred to the Branch Committee of the union. But it’s a done deal as far as Greg is concerned.

Why? Why has Greg Sword taken this step.

The official line is “we don’t have much in common with the other parts of Labor Unity any more”. And that the union were so disappointed with the debate at the State Conference on the issue of whether the Metal Workers were allowed to vote that they couldn’t live with themselves.

The real reason as previously explained is the mother of all personality conflicts between Greg and his supporters and the Feeney/Shorten camp. Sword’s position is that Feeney has perverted the office of State Secretary of the Party and that he must be removed from the position forthwith. Certainly there has been much speculation throughout Melbourne about the pernicious dealings of Comrade Feeney, his ties with conservative Catholic organisations and his support for branch stacking.

Some with long memories will recall Comrade Feeney’s forced resignation from the office of then Opposition Leader John Brumby’s office for being implicated in the round of Macedonian branch-stacking occurring in the western suburbs of Melbourne. Many thought it was not cricket for someone in the Leader’s office to be using the office to recruit dozens of Macedonians, so after a spot of bad press, Feeney was banished.

Even his many critics would accept that Feeney showed astonishing tenacity and cunning, with the sponsorship of his conservative Catholic brothers in the NSW Right, from the more tolerant support base of the national office of the Transport Workers Union. Some speculated he was the first TWU official ever who was unable to drive when he took the job. That’s tolerance. Anyway, he continued his branch-stacking and also got involved in a couple of very nasty union battles. One of which was the Health Services Union. This came to bite him badly in the end when he was caught red-handed paying for a defamatory mailout against his opponents. They sued. There was a big settlement. That whole fiasco merits another story for another time.

Feeney’s ties with the NSW Right extend beyond the truckies. He is known to be very friendly with Johnno Johnson, former President of the NSW Legislative Council and former Senator and Party Secretary and frequent flyer at the SeaWorld Nara Resort, Graham Richardson. (Crikey: thanks for that $80 million loss for Trico on Sea World through Richo’s mate Peter Laurance.)

Sword and close allies like Martin Ferguson say Feeney’s days as State Secretary are numbered. Why?

Because Greg Sword has decided that this NSW Right protected boy is a cancer within the Party that must be excised. Some say exorcised. The challenge, for the first time in living memory, of the Victorian branch of the NUW under way at the moment supported by the NSW branch of the NUW no doubt has heightened the anti-NSW feeling felt in Greg Sword’s bunker.

As previously mentioned the NSW branch of the NUW has a history that even colourful racing identities from Sydney would be proud of. It would frequently leave the NSW Right, leave the Party, threaten to leave the Trades and Labor Council. A couple of years back the NSW branch left the ALP as a result of its mishandling of the Davids dispute where the union had to pay huge fines and costs for ignoring court orders not to block trucks during the Davids strike. The late Frank Belan known for booking hookers on the Union American Express Card demanded the State Government “fix” his contempt of court problem which the Attorney General wisely refused. Frank, the Yugoslav born union official, also resigned from the NSW Admin Committee which did not diminish the quality of their deliberations.

Needless to say, many people attended Frank’s funeral in October last year to make sure he was actually dead. (Crikey: this is getting nasty.)

This is the calibre of those opposing Charlie Donnelly and Greg Sword in the imminent NUW elections. Greg’s critics point to allegations of close intra-office friendships (occasionally referred to in graffiti in the Trades Hall carpark), the crucifying of former state secretary Dennis Lennen for “irregularities” and the practice of holding massive fundraisers called Industrial Relations Seminars – at the Hilton Hotel where employers like Bonlac and many others hand over vast amounts of money to support Sword’s private election account. An account that has not needed to be used for NUW elections until now. Some of Greg’s tension I suspect is caused by having to use these funds to defend both Charlie Donnelly and his own position. The Sword campaign cost will exceed a few hundred thousand dollars so I can feel his pain. By the standards of his NSW brothers though, Greg is Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama rolled into one.

So unless Feeney wins Tattslotto by the very unlikely Ray Gorman stealing the NUW State Secretary’s crown, Feeney faces one of the largest and long serving ALP affiliates and one-time cornerstone of the Victorian Right being absolutely sworn to his destruction and demise. Many of them believe that Feeney and Shorten are directly or indirectly assisting Gorman’s challenge.

Feeney boasts of his successes in leading the Victorian branch to victory in the September 1999 election and for raising tons and tons of money from likes of Kerry Packer and Tabcorp and Tattersalls since then. It is true that Bracks won the election. But Feeney had barely arrived in the State Secretary’s job when the Independents gave Bracks the nod. And as for raising money from those enjoying the millions of dollars of profits flowing from the pokies, I suspect the Party could have hired one of those muscular dystrophy sufferers who sell the Herald-Sun and Chupa-Chups to raise funds and got a similar result. Who wants to donate to a newly elected Government no one thought had a chance? Everyone. And strangely enough, everyone did.

So while everyone thought Feeney would be focused on building up the fortunes of the Party and the Government, what concerns Sword is that Feeney has been focused on protecting his mates and building a Head Office culture like the NSW Right have. Head Office staff show a disturbing degree of devotion to Feeney, even those from the Left seem to be caught in his spell of blarney and charm. Sword is also concerned that Feeney has been willing to accept funds from practically anyone, including developers with checkered histories and businessmen with close ties to the Liberal Party and the Kennett Government. Sword is upset that the socially conservative Shop Assistants Union gets its candidates up and its agenda heard while the NUW is just as big and is systemically shafted in almost every preselection contest.

He contends that Feeney/Shorten did not accept power-sharing within Labor Unity and that while the NUW/Network group were expected to stay loyal and accept results where they didn’t prevail that the same did not apply in reverse. He cites the Isaacs preselection fiasco which followed the tragic suicide of Greg Wilton.

Greg Wilton was very much a creature of the NUW culture, he’d worked for the Union for years and while not close to Greg was certainly aligned to him within Labor Unity. In the traumatic days following his suicide, the Union was appalled that Feeney/Shorten were claiming yet another seat for themselves. They proposed Natalie Sykes, someone very loyal to Feeney despite having worked for the NUW. It was regarded as a sneaky way of getting yet another Feeney/Shorten candidate up.

The NUW/Network group countered with their own candidate, Julie Warren who eventually won the Labor Unity preselection. Julie was a much stronger candidate. However, there was such a pattern of leaking and hostility about it that the National Executive seized control of the preselection which is where it really stuffed up.

Opportunistically, the Left put up Blonde Bombshell Jill Hennessy who has contested more preselections than Garth Head has had hot dinners or indeed Double Whoppers with Cheese. The Centre Left on the National Executive didn’t want to vote for the Right and preferred Jill. But there was also local school administrator, non-factional Ann Corcoran who no one had ever heard of. Due to the skulduggery and deviousness of the Feeney camp and a series of stuff-ups no one could ever really explain without a Ph.D. thesis, Ann won.

Ann was then elected to serve in the House of Representatives and continues to have a look of surprise on her face. She shares the same happy look as One Nation Senator Len Harris, delighted with being paid probably twice what she’d get elsewhere. Without the hard work ethic of her predecessor it is inevitable she will return to school administration. We can only hope.

And interestingly, Natalie Sykes has ended up moving up to Sydney to be with her man NSW Right Senator and power-haircut TWU bovver boy Steve Hutchens. Jill Hennessy has had many personal problems and looks like not being a candidate again. She has taken a lot of time off work from the Premier’s office.

So the NUW/Network group were shafted again for nothing.

The systematic shafting of NUW/Network candidates is I believe the real reason why Feeney has incurred Sword’s wrath. Sword copped it sweet many times but has decided that enough is enough. Sword’s opponents would say that the quality of candidates proposed by Sword has been even worse than the already low average of Victorian ALP candidates.

Sword’s supporters in the branches, predominantly former members of the Network group are ready and primed to leave Labor Unity in response to Greg Sword’s call. They are very confident that their Supreme Leader will carry out his mission: destroy Feeney/Shorten once and for all. Greg has the demeanour of a suburban accountant and the calming voice of your local GP but when crossed there is no more effective crusader in the ALP anywhere. Some close to Sword say that nailing Feeney is his final ambition in politics. I suspect Greg’s plan is to build a new group based around key allies like Ian Jones of the Vehicle Builders, Mar’n Ferguson from the Left, Doug Cameron from the AMWU, Dean Mighell from the ETU and others. How stable such a group would be is the big question, although Sword’s political management skills are excellent. In addition Greg has excellent relations with the press, such as Paul Robinson of The Age, know by some as the official mouthpiece of the Socialist Left, particularly Kim Il Carr, although he does talk to all the major players. (And Crikey rates him as a good journo)

Feeney has much to fear say Sword’s supporters. The Left is united on little except how dangerous Feeney is to all of them. If you add their votes with the NUW/Network on the current Administrative Committee and the likely to be elected new Admin, then Feeney will be looking through the Saturday Age Situations Vacant. The Left’s concern with branch stacking is likely to motivate them to vote with NUW/Network to bump off its primary practitioner and beneficiary David Feeney. The atrocities in Geelong are just one of a long series of outrages encouraged by Feeney, where ACTU Assistant Secretary Richard Marles has thoroughly stacked Corio in anticipation of next year’s federal preselection which will probably culminate in a rare and gruesome sight: sitting MP Gavan O’Connor being electorally dumped in the Geelong Harbour with concrete boots supplied by Richard’s slippery mates from the Turkish community. The exploitation of ethnic groups is a common but not often spoken about characteristic of branch stacking. Feeney is by no means the inventor of it, in fact the Socialist Left inspired the 1970’s round of ethnic stacking. You only need to read some of Frank Hardy’s work to know that stacking the ALP is an ancient art, some might say a primitive art.

The NUW/Network group is not just a splinter group, it includes the some of the most influential people in the right of the Party. From the top, Simon Crean while above the vulgarities of factional disputes as Leader is unquestionably aligned with the NUW having once served as NUW National Secretary. He employs a number of Network aligned people on his staff including Jamie Driscoll and has done so for years.

In the Premier’s office as well, the Chief of Staff Tim Pallas is an NUW member and Greg Sword loyalist. There are many other NUW aligned staffers in Bracks office and throughout Treachery Place. They considerably outnumber those aligned to Feeney/Shorten, something known to rankle at Head Office.

The third highest ranking Minister in the Government, Government Leader in the upper house Monica Gould, harshly criticised in Crikey last week, is a former NUW official. Also aligned in the move to dump Feeney are State MP’s Bob Stensholt, Matt Viney and the leader of the Network grouping Tim Holding.

My praise of Tim Holding in the past prompted an avalanche of accusation that Delia was in fact Tim in girl’s clothing. Not true. Tim’s critics say he is best known for leaking to journalists anything he hears in the Caucus room and for his leadership role in Network at a time when there was a minor furore over a bungled Young Labor operation where a room was established at the Downtowner Hotel (just down the road from the Trades Hall where the Young Labor conference was being held). Then Head Office organiser Roland Lindell raided the room but missed all that went on in there. No one can ever be sure what went on in that room, but the Melbourne University University Council resolved to call in the Police expressing concern at the large-scale production of false Melbourne University student cards which were being used to facilitate false voting in the Young Labor conference. Can anyone guess whose name appeared on the hotel reservation form, a document still in the files of a number of activists. I happen to think that despite the critics, that Tim is indeed highly capable and is potential leadership material of the Party, he is young and will have twenty years under his belt before getting his chance but he definitely has what it takes. He is the Victorian Paul Keating, in style and substance.

Anyway the NUW/Network group represent a very significant and influential grouping that is a key part of the Bracks Government and the federal leadership. It seems far more likely that Bracks will eventually side with the influential figure Greg Sword than the young but replaceable David Feeney. Sword has made it clear a choice must be made.

Just like the conservative Catholic Arch-Bishop fending off criticism from 60 Minutes, many in Sword’s camp believe there is an air of inevitability about Feeney’s demise. Feeney’s defenders say that this is the one job in life he always wanted and that if Sword wants to nuke him that he must get ready for some return fire. Those stuck in the middle like the husband and wife team Thomson, Conroy and faction Secretary Fiona Richardson must be feeling as nervous as the million troops along the Kashmiri line of control.

Time to duck and cover, I think.

Do ya best, Delia Delegate

Peter Fray

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