The Queensland branch of the ALP is confronting a fresh factional crisis, with the forced departure of key staff and a funding shortfalls threatening to breach containment lines and escalate into open warfare.
After years of delicate power-sharing, insiders say the Left is heading towards a zero-sum bloodsport traditionally favoured by less-enlightened apparatchiks in Victoria.
The state branch is said to be still reeling from the departures of Assistant State Secretary Terry Wood and Treasurer Damian Power in the wake of the disastrous state election campaign, which resulted in a 5% swing to the Liberal National Party.
Power, who also served on the board of campaign cash cow Labor Holdings, resigned last week in an attempt to short-circuit conflict of interest allegations about to be levelled by the Queensland opposition. He was also said to be concerned over state branch’s finances, after the slush fund cut the largesse it usually syphons to Peel Street to pay for elections.
Electoral Commission filings reveal Labor Holdings gave around $4.3 million to the state branch to pay for this year’s campaign — a disappointing dividend according to insiders.
Crikey understands that State Secretary Anthony Chisholm recently went cap in hand to the Labor Holdings board, which includes State Party President Andrew Dettmer, for a fresh funds injection, but was savagely rebuffed. The cash cow came under further scrutiny earlier this week, after Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek claimed serving board members were exposed to a conflict of interest through their parallel board positions on Queensland government Qangos.
The ALP’s Queensland election campaign famously descended into farce two days out from the poll when it emerged that basic logistical tasks, including the distribution of postal votes, were botched. The ALP National Executive convened a secret review of the campaign, with the findings forcing Wood from his position.
An outstanding redundancy payment to Wood continues to inflame tensions.
Wood told Crikey he had yet to receive his payout, with intra-factional debate still rumbling over whether redundancies are appropriate for an elected position.
The loyal leftist, now employed as an adviser to state MP Karen Struthers, said he was “aware of the state of the finances”, but refused to elaborate further.
Wood’s replacement, Bligh-loyalist Jackie Trad, told Crikey that the branch’s finances were “sound” and that Wood could expect a redundancy payout in due season. When pressed for a date, she said the issue of the payout was a matter for the party.
However, Trad will soon be forced to shed some light on branch finances, with a 25 August deadline looming to lodge donations and expenses for the first six months of this year. These will appear on the ECQ website in November.
Meanwhile, Trad’s appointment has enraged the Electrical Trades Union, who were striving to install hardliner Jacqueline King in Wood’s place. Crikey understands Audi-driving former ETU secretary official Dick Williams made a rare Saturday trek into Brisbane from Ipswich in an attempt to install King and delay Wood’s axing.
The ETU has abandoned the Left over the vexed issue of privatisation, and are now unaligned. Crikey understands the Communications Division of the CEPU are also on the verge of upping sticks and defecting to Kevin Rudd’s Old Guard, following their comrades at the CEPU Plumbing division.
And all may not be well at parliamentary level. Insiders tell of the emergence of a Left “ambition faction” agitating to ascend to the lofty realms of Club Fed.
Rumours have been swirling around Canberra for weeks that Queensland Senator Jan McLucas is set to be stripped of her spot on the party’s Senate ticket, despite her recent re-endorsement at state conference.
Left powerbrokers Dettmer, CFMEU State Secretary Michael Ravbar and LHMU State Secretary Gary Bullock, are said to have devised a progression plan to dislodge McLucas and maintain the delicate balance of power following Wood’s departure.
McLucas, alongside former husband Steve Bredhauer, has dominated Far North Queensland politics for 20 years, with a power base derived initially from the Queensland Teachers’ Union. However, she now receives her formal support from Dettmer and the AMWU.
Both Dettmer and Ravbar are said to be keen to snaffle McLucas’ Senate spot although sources say that this would be difficult, with the position traditionally reserved for a Far North Queenslander. Under one theory, Dettmer would take McLucas’ spot, with Ravbar anointed party president in his place.
Dettmer told Crikey that he had no interest in usurping McLucas and that his focus was squarely on the manufacturing sector. He said he met with Bligh last Monday, but only to discuss assistance for the manufacturing sector.
QPSU state secretary Alex Scott has also been mentioned in “ambition faction” dispatches. When the QPSU and the LHMU complete their inevitable merger, creating a a super union of 70,000, Scott will control the single biggest branch of bruvvas in the country. The two unions recently moved into shared accommodation.
In June, McLucas resigned as Parliamentary Secretary for Health, following revelations that the she only spends sporadic amounts of time in her Cairns hometown, in contravention of Australian Electoral Commission guidelines.
McLucas’ office dismissed any looming challenges, saying the Senator was gearing up to run again next year.
But while all may seem calm on the surface, the latest developments suggest intra-factional undercurrents will continue to cause havoc for months to come.