Sam Maiden’s story in The Australian yesterday that Lindsay Tanner tried to block Julia Gillard’s parliamentary dreams on three occasions in the 1990s should come as no surprise to those familiar with the inner workings of the Victorian ALP, or indeed anyone who read The Australian over that period.

Jacqueline Kent, whose The Making of Julia Gillard was launched last night in Melbourne, and from which Maiden was quoting, says Tanner harboured substantial levels of “personal animosity” towards the Deputy PM, stemming from their days at the Australian Union of Students in the early 1980s.

Last night’s launch was moderated by ex-Monthly editor Sally Warhaft, and interestingly contained several references to Warhaft’s lawyer and Gillard loyalist Josh Bornstein. Warhaft expressed her amazement that the Tanner/Gillard angle hadn’t been picked up by the weekend papers.

But rather than the historic hatred implied by the story, the more convincing explanation is that Gillard and Tanner simply belonged to different sub-sub-factions of the party.

In 1984, Gillard joined the Socialist Forum, whose sole purpose was to cleanse the ALP of the last lingering vestiges of old-style command-and-control. But Tanner, and Kim Carr, were aligned with a rival faction of modernisers that while rejecting the Bill Hartley era, were less willing to break entirely with Labor’s past.

Far from a personal vendetta, Gillard’s two failed preslection bids in 1993 and 1996 were mostly due to her stubborn unwillingness to negotiate with her fellow modernisers. Rather than being marginalised, it’s more likely Gillard simply marginalised herself. In fact if it wasn’t for the feisty redhead’s courting of the Right in 1998, it’s likely she would have been denied a spot on the green leather altogether.

The fundamental cleavage, as Kent identifies, was Gillard’s relentless careerism, lacking both the commitment of the traditional left to public services and Tanner’s concern with internal party reform. Despite a cobbled-together support base comprising the Municipal Employees’ Association and forestry unionists, whose stalwarts were in attendence last night, Gillard was out on a limb.

ALP insiders involved with Gillard’s Melbourne and Lalor preselection campaigns have questioned Kent and Maiden’s account of the personal bitterness between Tanner and his current cabinet colleague.

“It was never personal”, one source told Crikey this morning. “There was just no compelling internal factional logic why Gillard deserved a federal seat.”

Kent’s book details Tanner’s attempts to block Gillard’s preslection on three-occasions — in the 1993 fight for Melbourne won by Tanner on Franz Timmerman’s preferences, the half-Senate election in ’96, where Gillard was shunted to the unwinnable third “death spot”, and the 1998 campaign when Gillard finally got the nod in Lalor after doing a deal with the right.

In 1993 in Melbourne, the Socialist Left was split over privatisation, with Gillard taking a particularly hardline view. As Timmerman admits in the book, there was no way he were ever going to back Gillard, given how wedded the then-lawyer was to privatisation and the Accord.

“Lindsay had the temerity to enter the contest and Gillard’s candidacy was opportunistic at best”, say sources close to the campaign.

In 1996, Gillard took on sitting senator Barney Cooney, who shared an office with Tanner, and for whom Tanner had worked during the 1980s. Unsurprisingly, Gillard was relegated to the third position — exactly what would be expected given the factional dynamic at play. Cooney was also a well-respected senator with significant cross-party appeal.

Gillard’s time as John Brumby’s chief of staff in the mid-90s sowed the factional seeds for her eventual elevation at her third attempt in 1998. When Gillard finally got lucky, Brumby’s numbers enabled her to finally neck Gaye Yuille, the then state secretary of the Clerk’s Union that Tanner had famously wrestled from the right in 1988. Yuille had strong links to the local community and unlike Gillard was a fixture in the western suburbs.

Elsewhere in the book, Kent’s account of Gillard’s house hunting in the Melbourne FEA to use as a base for her 1993 preslection tilt makes for interesting reading in light of Gillard’s scarcely-occupied Altona residence in Lalor, also procured to lend her local credibility.

Nowadays, Gillard’s factional support is of a different sort entirely, as the emergence of the “PM’s faction” continues to eclipse the state-based cleavages that delivered power to the federal ALP’s inner circle. Ensconced in the comfort of Club Fed with the Coalition floundering, Carr, Gillard and Tanner are now best friends forever.

After the hype over Kent’s book dies down, the Gillard focus will turn to Canberra insider Chris Wallace’s biography, due out this time next year.

Wallace has rejected Crikey‘s previous suggestions that the book will take a scalpel to Gillard, owing to her perceived closeness to the Kim Beazley. Her publishers Allen & Unwin commissioned the rival tome after getting wind of Kent’s effort, whose 325 pages were amazingly put together in a matter of months.

Bernard Keane will launch The Making of Julia Gillard tomorrow night at Paperchain Bookstore in Manuka at 6pm.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.