Strictly speaking, there’s no such thing as shadow cabinet solidarity;
the conventions that require the ministry to speak with one voice in
government don’t have the same relevance in opposition. But in practice,
opposition leaders try to present the same sort of united front on
their front bench. Which is why the civil war now being waged in the
federal ALP is so remarkable.


Here’s a rejuvenated Simon Crean, on last night’s 7.30 Report: “I think we’ve got more venality from one in particular in Victoria,
one Stephen Conroy, who masquerades as one of our four parliamentary
leaders, but who can’t help himself and seems to only ever involve
himself full time as a factional wheeler-and-dealer.”

I can’t think of a case in Australia where an MP has made such a direct
attack on a front bench colleague on national television, unless
actually trying to force them out. Yet although Crean wants Conroy out
of the deputy Senate leadership – “if he continues those games, he
should do the honourable thing and resign the deputy leadership of the
Senate” – he’s apparently prepared to continue to sit in shadow cabinet
with him; as is Julia Gillard, who has echoed Crean’s comments in more
restrained tones.

Some obviously respect Conroy’s abilities; a profile by Jason Koutsoukis in The Age quotes an unnamed caucus member saying of him: “This bloke is a
fanatic when it comes to factional politics … But he’s not without
considerable ability. He should get out of all that rubbish and leave
it to the others.”

But the last word should be left to Mark Latham. Among many such
stories in the Latham Diaries, my favourite is the one where Conroy “told me
he’s against me on the Tasmanian forests because of his affiliation
with the TWU – their members carry the logs. Nothing to do with
argument, reason or public policy, but rather his factional links to a
union. Has he ever driven a truck? Is it just me, or is there something
fundamentally wrong with our Party?”

Not much doubt about the answer to that last question.

Peter Fray

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