Queensland Labor is a tough place to be right now with Annastacia Palaszczuk’s netball team struggling to land blows on a Campbell Newman juggernaut keen on smashing dissent in the Sunshine State for at least the next decade.
But while stressed MPs struggle across an average of five shadow ministries, the party’s junior wing has turned on itself in a brutal round of bloodletting and factional inappropriateness that’s normally confined to more-enlightened branches south of the Tweed.
Saturday’s bitter annual Queensland Young Labor Conference saw long-time Palaszczuk staffer Nino Lalic elected as QYL President after he ratted on his own Right faction in a stunning secret deal that should see Robert Caro boarding the next flight from Dallas to chronicle the fallout.
In a wily bait and switch, Lalic cosied up to the Left and the Old Guard to freeze out his Labor Forum comrades, leading his 15-member splinter group to a 68-44 triumph against rival right winger, Griffith University operative Kerrie Kahlon, who had the support of outgoing prez Chaiy Donati.
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Lalic’s vote was culled from a coalition of the willing comprising the Left (36), the Old Guard (17) and his own breakaway personality cult while Kahlon drew her support almost exclusively from campus acolytes dreaming of a future advising Joe Ludwig on Capital Hill.
In return for Lalic’s support, the Left snagged the secretary position for Chloe Moss and about seven more executive and committee positions than they would otherwise have been entitled to (subject to affirmative action requirements).
Interestingly, incoming women’s committee convenor, Brisbane City Council Pullenvale candidate Grace Johnston, decided to skip Saturday’s Annual Conference due to other commitments.
Crikey revealed this week that Donati — familiar to readers as a staunch supporter of Republican Ron Paul — had recently resigned as an AWU organiser. But suggestions Lalic had somehow assumed the mantle of the official Forum candidate were also wide of the mark, as a correspondence deluge from the state’s junior bruvvas makes clear.
Lalic is said to have canvassed extensively among the children of current and former state MPs, using his plum Palaszczuk post to cut deals with would-be detractors keen on dredging up his deception as a fake Family First volunteer during the 2010 South Australian state election.
Crikey understands that cheesed off Donati disciples believe the betrayal was hatched two weeks ago at a secret meeting with Left forces — the sneak attack so well planned that the first Labor Forum knew about out it was in the scrutineering room.
“It is yet unclear what the repercussions of this act of treachery towards the rest of the Right faction will be,” said one observer. “What seems clear now however, is that it will be difficult for the new president to balance his job as staffer to the opposition leader, his newly-found antagonism towards the rest of his faction and being beholden to the Left and the Old Guard on the running of Young Labor and on the organisation’s official policy platform.
“A question for the opposition leader might be how she intends to get more youth involved in the Labor Party, while one of her staffers is actively disenfranchising youth from her own faction.”
But a Lalic acolyte took the opposite view. “The main reason behind this whole mess is how much Chaiy is hated,” they said.
“He managed to drive every other group in Young Labor together, and the senior Right were either unwilling or unable to patch up the split that resulted. Probably because they all hate him too. Given that Chaiy’s friends spent Saturday evening hurling abuse at anyone they ran into who hadn’t supported him, it would seem they’re not quite ready to accept responsibility for the monster they created (Chaiy) or the fallout that occurred as a result.”
Insiders say the Pineapple power shift could hamstring the Queensland Right’s bid to pick up the prize of Australian Young Labor president at this year’s conference, with conservative elements in the Victorian Right salivating at the thought of a fractured AWU.
The QYL result is also a wake-up call for the AWU’s senior federal MPs like Wayne Swan, who may need to intervene to stop the brawl engulfing what remains of Labor’s talent base. Palaszczuk, herself a former QYL president and current Forum player, had been expected to move to formally disband the adult factions after (Left) party president Andrew Dettmer questioned their relevance in such a small caucus.
For the record, the Left has two representatives in caucus (Jackie Trad and Jo-Anne Miller), against the AWU’s three (Palaszczuk, Curtis Pitt and Desley Scott) and the Old Guard’s two (Tim Mulherin and Bill Byrne).
Lalic did not respond to several requests for comment.