If any more evidence was needed that the Labor Party’s Left faction (like the Right), is nothing but a vehicle for patronage, privilege and proferment, then this is it: On Thursday last week, the NSW Left voted against one of its defining tenets, namely the support of rank-and-file preselections.
Under NSW ALP rules, ordinary party members have the right to select their local Labor candidates at all levels of government. In winnable seats, this right is routinely taken away by the Right-controlled administrative committee, by way of the notorious N40 rule.
But by conniving in this process, the leadership of the Left faction also denies rank-and-file members a vote, with the hard and soft left sub-faction bosses horse-trading the seats they control with the right faction bosses, with each boss endorsing (or disendorsing) their aspiring minions and loyal MPs at a whim.
It’s happening right now in seats such as Fowler, Throsby, Werriwa, and Macquarie. There’ll be no democratic preselections there, and Julia Irwin, MP, and Jennie George, MP, a former ACTU President no less, have already been told they’ll be "retiring" at the next election whether they want to or not.
But this time there's a difference.
Never before has the Left explicitly endorsed this process. In word, if not deed, the Left has always supported the retention of democratic, balloted, rank-and-file preselections.
Last week, however, Left delegates held their conference ahead of this weekend’s NSW Labor annual conference. It’s made up of bloc delegations from Left affiliated unions, and rank-and-file delegates from the Left-controlled ALP electorate councils.
In what would ordinarily be an innocuous motherhood statement, impossible for the Left to oppose, a delegate moved that "conference calls on the Prime Minister and the (ALP) national executive … to allow rank and file preselections, consistent with the rules of the NSW branch".
The assistant general secretary of the NSW ALP, Luke Foley (from the hard Left) and NSW secretary of the LHMU, Mark Boyd (from the soft Left), spoke against the motion, warning it "would put the Left faction leadership in a difficult position". Never mind that the leadership was asking the membership to put themselves in the "difficult position" of voting away their last vestiges of influence.
You see, a bigger picture was in play. It attracted little attention at the time, but the membership had already been sold out back in June. That’s when Left and Right faction leaders agreed to corral the power of every state-based machine into one centralised super committee. In breach of the ALP’s affirmative action rule, the national executive granted five faction bosses (all men) the power to unilaterally select the Labor candidate for every seat in the country. It is an unprecedented centralisation of organisational power, and the Left leadership consented (without approval from Left delegates.)
And why not? Two of the five super committee seats go to Left bosses, infrastructure minister Anthony Albanese with his AMWU base, and Parliamentary secretary for health Mark Butler on behalf of the LHMU.
It was on their orders that NSW Left rank-and-file delegates were directed to commit political suicide last week. And with local faction bovver boys Foley and Boyd closely watching, they did so in a pathetic display of fear and misplaced loyalty (the vote was taken on the hands, of course, not by secret ballot.)
Seven voted in favour including the mover and seconder, with around 60 against.
About 20 of the votes against were cast by the LHMU, the "missos" representing cleaners, childcare and hospitality workers. But the delegation was made up of salaried union officials, not waitresses on their way to work. The LHMU employees were "free" to vote as they wished, but only one result would see them in work the following day.
Similarly, the hard left AMWU voted against as well, Peter Primrose and salaried union staff among them.
This is why Labor’s rank-and-file looks north across Sydney Harbour with embarrassed shame as they see the Liberals, the party of business, electing Brendan Nelson’s safe seat successor from a large field of diverse candidates, preselected by large numbers of ordinary local Liberals, in an open, merit based, fair and transparent process.
Mind you, this weekend ALP members are still welcome to attend an officially sanctioned "fringe" event at the party’s annual conference
. It’s called "Labor 2.0: new technologies give the Labor Party and our elected representatives the opportunity to reach out to members."
A better start would be Democracy 1.0, utilising the technological breakthroughs of the pencil, the curtain, and the ballot paper.