The West Australian branch of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is poised to re-affiliate with the Labor Party in that state, injecting up to $80,000 a year into ALP coffers and burying once and for all a bitter 2007 spat with foreign minister Kevin Rudd.
The looming intervention — set to be considered by the ALP’s state administrative committee next month — will shift the factional balance power in the West back towards the Centre-Right faction, with the party’s senior ranks and powerful administrative committee currently controlled by the Left.
After the application is received, a strict audit of members will be conducted before the move is ultimately ticked off and the associated factional largess apportioned.
In 2009, retiring CFMEU boss Kevin Reynolds famously dumped the ALP following an extended tussle with forces aligned to former premier Alan Carpenter over links with disgraced former leader Brian Burke.
Reynolds has announced he will step down from the union in December, temporarily passing the baton to senior organiser Mick Buchan before its 2012 internal elections.
The union claims to have about 10,000 paid-up members in WA with an additional 2,500 non-financial members waiting in the wings. The ALP currently levies $4 per member to affiliate.
Its re-affiliation would gift the CFMEU about 10 delegates on the “union half” of the 160-member state executive, with the other half reserved for members elected by delegates. It would also have implications for the larger state conference and potentially the ALP’s national executive.
Under the new paradigm, a centre bloc would be able to significantly influence the party — including preselections — with the possibility of it assuming control of decision-making before federal and state elections, both due in 2013.
Under WA Labor rules, unions control 50% of the preselection vote with 35% allocated to party members through the state executive and 15% sourced directly from individual branches.
In 2007, Kevin Rudd expelled Reynolds’ Assistant Secretary Joe McDonald from the party after the Liberals repeatedly used footage of the robust OH&S enforcer in negative advertising campaigns.
Labor state secretary Simon Mead sounded a cautious note when contacted by Crikey this morning: “The CFMEU’s a great Labor union and we’d always look to secure their support but clearly there’s been along history between Kevin Reynolds and the party,” he said.
Mead said that if the state administrative committee received an application at its meeting next month, an audit of the union’s members would need to be submitted. A fresh state executive would then be convened on New Year’s Day.
As Crikey reported last month, state WA Labor’s finances are struggling — bringing the union back into the fold would be expected to produce a much-needed revenue stream. Mead says the party currently has around 3,200 members and about 80,000 affiliated union members, however these numbers have been questioned by his internal rivals.
A senior right-aligned WA Labor source told Crikey this morning that the CFMEU’s reaffiliation “could be enough to quell mutterings on the National Executive about federal intervention”.
“This could help the party take the next step from internal wrangling to external success. We might even see an outbreak of sanity,” they said.
Crikey understands that the Left may counter the move and pursue the potential affiliation of the Finance Sector Union.