The Australian Young Labor national conference has backed progressive reforms on gay marriage and asylum seekers while simultaneously electing arch social conservative Ben Maxfield as its next president.
Resolutions calling on the federal party to amend the national platform to embrace marriage equality and to process asylum seekers onshore were easily passed at last weekend’s annual gabfest, held at the Australian National University’s greying Acton campus.
The dual triumphs (read them here) will increase pressure on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to bring on debates at the federal party’s national conference in early December. All the three national conference delegates elected by the party’s youth wing — the Victorian Left’s Sarah Cole, the NSW Right’s David Latham and Mem Suleyman, the son of feared Western Melbourne numbers man Hakki, are in favour of vigorous reform.
Gillard has invited debate in December, recently telling the Chifley Research Centre that she wanted “votes” and “surprises” on the conference floor. Last week, the Tasmanian lower house passed a Greens motion urging Gillard to immediately change federal law to allow gays to tie the knot.
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Maxfield, a staunch anti-gay marriage campaigner aligned with the conservative shop assistants union, was handed the president gig via a complex national Right deal to install a Victorian to replace the WA-based (but NSW Right-aligned) Matt Dixon (click here for the full list of office bearers).
However, the senior David Feeney staffer is expected to be hamstrung in his new role. Crikey understands the broader youth cohort will require Maxfield to respect the governing body’s wishes when making public statements on same sex issues given his vociferous disagreement with young Labor as a whole.
(Last year, Maxfield famously benefited from the preferences of social conservatives the Democratic Labor Party in his failed bid for the upper house seat of Eastern Victoria).
Maxfield’s minority stance was bedded down by a long verbal exposition from close associate Michael de Bruyn, the son of Australia’s most powerful unionist Joe de Bruyn. De Bruyn, who did not return calls, argued that he didn’t believe the polls showing majority support in the Australian community for gay marriage were accurate. He also reckoned the debate was a “moral” one, and called for a conscience vote.
But the vast majority of Young Labor’s 51 delegates rounded on the plucky youngster, arguing that conscience votes were usually only reserved for life or death issues like euthanasia.
While the social scene was a shadow of former conferences — which often saw delegates languishing for hours in the gutter following one-too-many Midori Illusions — some still managed to enjoy the hospitality of the Holy Grail and the Kingston Pub. Paul Howes, last seen at the Grail chatting with ABC journalist Latika Bourke on federal budget night, accompanied the Right out for several bevvies following a speech at its Saturday night dinner.
On Friday, Graham Richardson spoke to the National Right caucus, apparently quizzing Maxfield on what Feeney’s position was on gay marriage. “Richo told them if AYL didn’t pass the gay marriage motion then the party was f-cked,” one participant reported.
While de Bruyn was slapped down on Sunday, he appears to have met with greater success closer to home, where a bitter dispute among Young Labor’s Victorian arm over its for its presidency arrangements has been finally resolved in his favour.
The long-running farce — which exploded into tit-for-tat allegations of vote rigging and signature forging following the body’s annual general meeting in April — was eventually considered by the ALP’s national edifice with de Bruyn prevailing on a technicality.
He was involved in a pitched battle with Australian Workers Union organiser Shannon Threlfall-Clarke for the gig, which featured an amusing de Bruyn email likening the actions of her backers in the Left and the Short-Con Right’s “bullshit” to the video games Super Mario Brothers and Call of Duty.
Despite the win, de Bruyn will have to don a similar straitjacket as the one worn by Maxfield. “We’ve agreed to let Michael become president as long as he doesn’t ever represent Victorian Young Labor in public,” one left aligned source explained to Crikey this morning.
The spat was of immense interest due to the mirroring at Young Labor level of the factional divide that has cleaved the Victorian Right in two. Previously, the party’s youth wing was more keen to compromise on factional questions, believing its superiors spent too much time on internecine warfare and not enough on policy development.