Every Labor Party leader needs a patsy when it comes to Federal Conference time. At some stage of the managed debates, the script will call on the top dog to assert himself. An opponent will be allowed to bark out an objection or two before being crushed by a decisive vote in the leader’s favour. For next month’s conference, Doug Cameron, the federal secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, is being prepared for this essential and ritualistic defeat.

As a self-proclaimed spokesman for the left, Mr Cameron will be allowed, even encouraged, to argue for Labor to return to its past support of protection for manufacturing industry. Delegates will hear him urge the banning of free trade deals and public private partnerships. There will be a call for the removal of tax on superannuation payouts because it weakens the traditional pension safety net for retired workers. In the cause of old-fashioned equity the first-home owner’s grant should not be available to the wealthy. Evil rich speculators should not benefit from negative gearing tax incentives.

Mr Cameron is sure to play the villain’s role with panache and, as a trade union leader with ambitions to enter federal parliament himself and then advance his way to the ministry, will keep the rhetoric within the acceptable limits which Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd told his Caucus colleagues about yesterday. “Internal party democracy is important,” a caucus spokesman quoted Mr Rudd as saying. The spokesman added, according to the AAP report, that the leader was “relaxed about the debate – what was important was the tone of the debate.”

What will make it even more important for Mr Rudd is that the opposition debaters will come essentially from the ranks of trade union delegates to the Conference. The Parliamentary Party knows it is locked in to committing itself to reversing much of Prime Minister John Howard’s industrial relations legislation but it wants to do all it can to pretend that a Labor Government would not be a trade union puppet. Mr Rudd crushing powerful union bosses on the conference floor will be a powerful and necessary symbol of his independence.