Another launch this week was from the other side of politics: a new website, www.laborfirst.com.au, put together by a cross-factional “grass-roots renewal movement of ALP members.” As reported in last Monday’s Australian,
the new group has emerged from a series of meetings organised by
internet millionaire and pre-selection aspirant Evan Thornley and
Fabian Society president and former Victorian minister Race Matthews –
although its origins actually lie with a letter by Keith Currie
published in Crikey last October.

Labor First says its
priorities (“in order of importance”) are new ideas, stronger
membership, better candidates, structural reform, and better
campaigning. No question that the ALP needs all of those things. The
group was in The Australian described as “a life-support
system” for Thornley’s ambitions, but another source said it “was more
likely to damage” his prospects than promote them. The latter is
probably closer to the truth: the best way to get ahead in the Labor
Party is to keep quiet and play by the rules, which is just what Labor
First is promising not to do.

Although they deny strenuously
that the group amounts to another party faction, Thornley and the
others are experienced operators who must know that reform is not
achieved by pious words. If they’re serious about the struggle for
power, they will have to get down in the gutter with their opponents.

And
some of their ambitions are fairly heady. Among the “specific projects”
listed on the website are “uncover breaches of Party rules and ensure
enforcement against branch-stacking, union over-enrolment and other
corrupt practices. Ensure respect for the rule of law” (code for being
prepared to take people to court). No-one with even the most basic
understanding of the Labor Party could think those things can be
achieved without an almighty factional brawl.

Peter Fray

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