Paul Daley in this week’s Bulletin
goes where only the wariest and most seasoned of political observers
should venture – into the Byzantine world of Labor’s factions. Alas, on
Queensland he gets its wrong when he says: “Understand one thing. Bill
Ludwig – senator Joe’s dad and Australian Workers’ Union supremo –
controls with an iron fist the Beazley-supporting Right or Labor Unity
faction. He pretty well runs Labor politics in the state.”

Understand no such
thing. For starters, Ludwig is famously the
boss of the AWU union and shares leadership of the political faction of the same
name (it has tried to rebadge itself lately as Labor Forum, more on that in a
moment) with Wayne Swan. Labor Unity is an entirely different Right faction, a
remnant of the Trades Hall union faction (“The Old Guard”) that ran the State
ALP prior to federal intervention in 1981. One senior figure in the Goss
Government once described Labor Unity as a “self-selecting faction – it is made
up of people who can’t do running writing”. That assessment may have
been adjusted since Premier Peter Beattie and the “brightest boy in class”,
Kevin Rudd, used it as a flag of convenience to further their own political
ambitions.

And it is no longer true that Ludwig
“pretty well runs Labor politics” in Queensland, powerful though he may be. He
did dominate in the latter years of the Goss Government and beyond, but then ran
into a little thing called the Shepherdson Inquiry into electoral rorting, all
of it committed by AWU apparatchiks. That significantly reduced Big Bill’s
power, to the extent that Peter Beattie can get Anna Bligh (Labor Left) up as
deputy Premier and as his anointed successor. A Left woman would not be next in
line to lead the party once dominated by the Right-wing boys club if “Thugwig”
could do anything about it. But he can’t, because Labor Unity often votes with
the Left, and when they do, they easily out-number the AWU. As for the
rebranding exercise, that was an attempt to escape the bad odour surrounding the
phrase “AWU faction” post-Shepherdson.

Peter Fray

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