The ALP party has rolled into town for the first day of the Labor national conference in Sydney. With gay marriage, uranium and asylum seeker policy all up for grabs, expect it to be a raucous weekend.

Lets take a look at the topics dominating this weekend’s conference

Gay marriage:

Last night Transport Minister — and friend to visiting pop stars everywhere — Anthony Albanese attended a World AIDs Day Event with Elton John, where Elton commented that “…it’s about time Australians got same-sex marriage together.”

Albanese agreed: “Elton John had a message for delegates of the ALP conference, which is we need to be open about the fact that people exist in terms of different relationships and love is real”

Stephen Smith told Lateline last night that he supports a conscious vote on the issue and that he would vote in favour of gay marriage. “… if we had legislation before the House to allow gay marriage for same sex couples, my decision now would be to support such a change in the law,” said Smith.

Somehow Gillard’s stance on gay marriage has become a sign of her leadership, notes Michelle Grattan in The Age:

“This has become the unlikely weekend test of Gillard’s authority. She simply must carry a conscience vote for MPs – and after a Right faction meeting last night, this seemed virtually assured. Failure would be a disaster. The Greens would bring up a vote on a private member’s bill and she would have a crisis on her hands, as some Catholic right-wing MPs revolted.

Assuming she gets the conscience vote, Gillard can afford to have the party change its anti-gay marriage platform – which it is set to do, though how far the final motion will go is up in the air. Even that will be embarrassing if, as seems likely, the new platform repudiates the PM’s line that marriage is between a man and a woman.”

Gillard may be from the Left faction but it will be the Right that saves her (perhaps fitting, since they decided she would be prime minister), argues Annabel Crabb at The Drum:

“The Prime Minister promised before the last election that her government would not change the Marriage Act. If her word is to be made good, it will be thanks to the Right faction, who doggedly protect her against her own grouping.”

In The Australian former ALP heavyweight Graham Richardson wishes for the good old days of ferocious debate at a national conference:

“It is to be hoped that when delegates sit down this week at this conference, they each refuse the chloroformed pod that has been applied to all and sundry over the last few years. There are big questions to be decided here: gay marriage, uranium to India, refugees and mandatory detention to name just a few. I long for the great speeches of great men and women but for those to occur passion must be allowed to run free.

There will still be opportunities for the backroom bargaining that tradition tells us must occur. Oddly enough the Right from NSW, led by Sam Dastyari and Paul Howes, are out there now trying to organise a platform change to allow for gay marriage while allowing the Prime Minister to win in her quest for a conscience vote. The conscience vote means that no change will occur, because the Liberals will be instructed to oppose any change and enough Labor MPs and senators will join them in sufficient numbers to maintain the status quo, but the door will have opened. I wish them well.”

Opinion polls show the public want gay marriage, and so do most Labor MPs, says Troy Bramston in The Australian:

“Many inside Labor struggle to recall a party leader so badly misjudging not only the sentiment in the community about an issue, but also the sentiment in the party that they lead.”

Uranium:

Gillard is pushing to sell uranium to India, while Labor has traditionally not sold uranium overseas to countries that were not signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

India having uranium will not lead to the spread of nuclear weapons or lessen Australia’s reputations, says Rory Medcalf, a former arms diplomat, in The Age:

“A change of Labor policy would build a new foundation of non-discrimination, mutual respect, trust and partnership with a rising India. It would also help Australia catch up with a global non-proliferation order that is already adapting to India’s importance in the Asian century.

Current Labor policy insists that India can make electricity with Australian uranium only if it signs the 1970 nuclear non-proliferation treaty. But that rests on a political impossibility — expecting India to surrender its nuclear weapons while China and Pakistan keep theirs.”

Gillard’s speech this morning about job creation and the future of the Australian economy is unlikely to be a show of her leadership strength, says Dennis Shanahan in The Oz:

“In contrast, the extent to which factional leaders have had to go to fend off a major defeat for her on the floor of the conference she addresses this morning demonstrates that Gillard is still not confidently exercising her authority or earning enough respect to be given a victory by the rank and file.

What could have been an emphatically positive end to the first full year of minority government has turned into one of cautious optimism and uncertain authority.”

Asylum seekers:

Currently the party platform still supports the Malaysia Solution, although the High Court decision declared the move illegal and therefore it cannot be implemented.

Yesterday immigration minister Chris Bowen called for the number of humaniatrian refugees allowed in Australia each year be lifted from some 13,000 to 20,000, but that the government needed a regional policy — a la the Malaysia Solution — in order to do this safely.

“… Labor should stand solidly and clearly for regional arrangements which discourage dangerous boat journeys to Australia and that for the reasons of fiscal discipline and public confidence that you can have the conversation with the Australian people about increasing the refugee intake if you have the appropriate steps in place to discourage people taking that dangerous journey by boat,” said Bowen.

While the Left faction may agree with raising the number, it won’t agree with a refugee swap policy, reported James Massola in The Oz:

“Left convenor Doug Cameron said the refugee intake should be lifted, but the change should not be tied to the Malaysia people swap plan.”

Peter Fray

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