In an “exclusive” splashed across the front page of today’s Australian, Canberra-based Sid Maher and Matthew Franklin reported “internal ALP polling” that seemed to say Jennifer Kanis was doomed in her quest to hold off the rising Greens tide in the looming Melbourne byelection.

While a poll in one small state district 800 kilometres from The Oz‘s principal newsroom doesn’t usually make it above the fold, in this case special circumstances applied — this appeared to be a straight up destabilisation drop to white-ant Julia Gillard.

As Crikey noted on Monday, the most intriguing element to come out of the NSW Right’s Greens smackdown is the leadership dynamic, as Kevin Rudd readies himself to be rescued from backbench purgatory by right-aligned unions and MPs.

While Maher and Franklin’s yarn was thin on detail, the (presumably federal, presumably Right) source made certain one telling metric was included: “three times as many people cited the performance of the federal government rather than the performance of the state government as the reason they would not vote for Labor”.

This amounted to a sanctioned attack on Gillard by the faction that backed her in February — now the Rudd-backing Left and elements of Right are starting to agree.

But on policy, the factions remain at war. Behind the scenes, and despite the apparent support of federal Left conveners like Stephen Jones, Labor’s inner-city left — those actually running Kanis’ campaign — has been troubled by the broader Greens attack launched by luminaries north of the Murray.

In the state seat of Melbourne, the ALP vote has nearly halved over the last 10 years. And it’s the prospect of one day losing their grip on the federal fiefdoms of Sydney and Grayndler (and continuing to be shut out in Melbourne) that has driven the dismay — even if the Liberals mimic NSW Labor’s bid to put the Greens last.

The Left’s Melissa Parke — who could conceivably come under pressure in Fremantle — provided some pushback yesterday, saying the move amounted to “mutually assured destruction”.

One senior Victorian Left source concurred, but said the NSW Right’s motivation went beyond the impact on the primary vote and stemmed from a deep-seated desire to see the destruction of the Left’s grassroots infrastructure.

“The real winners here are the Right of the party,” they said. “They’ll be happy as Larry that the rest of us are tied up in ethical knots while they get to continue to de-legitimise progressives both inside the party and out. The [Sam] Dastyaris, [David] Feeneys and [Michael] Danbys will be dancing a jig. Their logic is perfectly self-perpetuating: paint the Greens as extremists and ipso facto, anyone who holds their pinko-lefty beliefs is similarly invalid.”

On this view, the votes lost to the Greens are the same types of people that have for decades been the kind of professional or academic types that provide what’s left of Labor with its intellectual rigour and political legitimacy.

“Thinking people in those seats automatically know that the Greens’ policy on asylum seekers isn’t ‘loopy’ or radical … every time the federal party launches that line they have a gut reaction that makes them switch sides,” the source said.

“The federal parliamentary Left are letting their well-founded concerns about the safety of asylum seekers blind them to the true intentions of Dastyari and co … they might shore-up some Western Sydney electorates, but in doing so they’ll create Greens fortresses in what were traditional Labor heartlands.”

Sam Dastyari slammed that view as “farcical” this morning: “Inner city branches are crucial to Labor’s success and there’s been a great amount of support from parliamentary Left leaders including Stephen Jones and Doug Cameron,” he said.

“The Labor Party needs to be united and work together to achieve its social and political outcomes.”

But beneath the vitriol, there remains one possible point of convergence — a swelling of support for Rudd to retake the Lodge. Watch this space.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW