Progressive forces within the Victorian ALP are preparing to deliver sweet revenge on the socially conservative shop assistants’ union by forcing debate on issues of gay marriage and asylum seekers at the party’s state conference tomorrow.
A series of urgency motions — obtained by Crikey — will be pushed by party activists at the biannual get together at Moonee Valley racecourse in the heart of Bill Shorten’s Maribyrnong electorate to rattle the chain ahead of a planned showdown at the party’s federal conference in December.
The equal love motion calls “upon the ALP National Conference to amend the national platform to support the legal right of couples of marriageable age in Australia to be married if they so choose, and for that marriage to be recognised and registered by law in Australia, regardless of the s-xual orientation, or gender, of the parties to the marriage.”
Three separate screeds on asylum seekers have been combined into one, with each calling on the party to adhere to the its national platform, reject the Malaysia Solution and process asylum seekers onshore. One expresses its pride in Chifley government minister “Doc” Evatt, who famously chaired the session of the UN General Assembly when it adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifying that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.
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But one senior Victorian Left source told Crikey this morning that they were expecting “procedural shenanigans” from delegates aligned to the BA Santamaria-influenced SDA to gag debate on the talismanic issues supported by the vast of majority of Labor’s membership and the Australian population.
“Their attempt to have these issues shelved clearly shows their lack of conviction in winning the substantive debate,” the source said.
At the party’s last state conference in May, members of the so-called “shoppies” staged a coordinated walkout to stifle discussion on same-s-x issues and boat people, drawing the ire of the Left and the section of the Right aligned to Shorten and Senator Stephen Conroy.
But the SDA is facing a severe numbers shortfall on the state conference floor. The ALP sends about 606 delegates to the state conference, about 400 of which are controlled by the closely-aligned “ShortCons” (150), the Socialist Left (200) , the Ferguson (soft) Left and Independents (50). A ragtag grouping aligned with the CFMEU and the NUW (48) make up the numbers. For the first time, delegates from the troubled Health Services Union will not be in attendance after its recent decision to disaffiliate from the party.
Crikey understands that on the specific issue of equal love the SDA has been further marginalised, with the powerful NUW planning to side with the majority to back gay marriage and reiterate the state party’s previous position reached in 2009.
The asylum seeker issue and a debate on preselections for the legislative council might prove more controversial. After the Victorian upper house was reformed by Steve Bracks, preselection power was shifted away from the membership towards the national executive. The motion proposes that the system return to a 50% rank and file and 50% conference vote in line with the lower house process.
Other potential flashpoints include statements on support for manufacturing and internal party reform. Former Victorian upper-house MP Nathan Murphy is slated to move a motion backing the rights of Kimberley landowners in their stoush with Woodside petroleum at WA’s James Price Point. Murphy is emerging as an impressive advocate on the issue, regularly blogging of his first-hand experiences on his personal website.
Rank and file members are looking forward to mingling with a cavalcade of MPs including Kim Carr, Jenny Macklin and Simon Crean set to attend and Gai Brodtmann planning a rousing speech that will skirt around her candidacy for ALP national president. Under party rules, campaigning for the position in the media is banned in the lead-up to the national conference vote.
The Left has been stewing ever since the last conference in May and are keen to get state conference endorsement of the motions as an entrée to the national conference on December 3, where Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised some colour and movement as a departure from the usual stage-managed farce.
“We expect the wishes of members and affiliates to see the party engage in debate on the issue of marriage equality to be successful,” the senior Left source said. “And we’re hopeful that reasoned argument, consistent with Labor’s long tradition of fighting against discrimination in society, will prevail.”
The SDA’s national secretary Joe de Bruyn did not return calls this morning.