There is no sterner proving ground for a left-leaning youngster’s nascent political ambitions than the annual Australian Young Labor Conference, and so it went again at the Australian National University last weekend where the nation’s finest socially progressive brains saddled up for their annual shindig/booze festival/factional brawl.
The fireworks began with TWU chief and Labor vice president Tony Sheldon’s ballsy address to the national Right dinner on Friday night. But that was soon eclipsed by one of the more boneheaded moves ever witnessed at conference, when a subgroup of feral NSW right-wingers temporarily shoehorned a motion slamming party elder statesman John Faulkner (read it here) into the policy book.
Titled “John Faulkner is a contemptible charlatan”, the proposed insertion into Young Labor’s platform alleged the ALP legend “has now successfully joined the ranks of the sideline whiners and the hypocritical teetotallers that are those few ALP politicians, whether former or current, who complain about the processes of the Australian Labor Party despite the deeply hypocritical nature of their complaints.”
Faulkner confirmed to Crikey this morning that he and his office was aware of the motion, saying only that “I have no comment to make other than I rest my case”.
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The draft vitriol (possibly prompted by the Senator’s recent slapdown of the NSW Right) is unlikely to have seriously perturbed the veteran left-winger, who has fought wars against certain elements of his party, such as Eddie Obeid, for decades. But senior AYL sources say its temporary appearance prompted a harried phone call from NSW Young Labor president Michael Buckland, who was unaware of its genesis. It was then swiftly removed.
Thankfully, in between boozy sessions at various Kingston hot spots, conference also managed to pass some more serious reforms, including a NSW-sourced motion to subject candidates for public office to a US-style Senate nominations process to prevent, for example, the ascension of another Ian Macdonald to high office.
Meanwhile, the position of AYL president was settled in Kerrie Kahlon’s favour following a complex intra-Right 2011 deal, previously reported by Crikey, effectively gifting the position to Queensland Young Labor Right.
However, the expected chosen one, former Queensland president and social libertarian Chaiy Donati, withdrew from the running with close associate Kahlon elected instead in a classic bait-and-switch manoeuvre reminiscent of deals involving Scott Crawford at the Melbourne University Student Union circa-2003.
Donati, a former AWU organiser, told Crikey this morning that Kahlon’s election was “a fantastic outcome for progressive politics and she’s going to be very conscious that the main game is stopping Abbott in 2013 and convincing young people of that should be one the goals of progressive politics”.
The result was all the more extraordinary given the involvement of senior Queensland-based union officials, including, Crikey has been told, newly-elected AWU state secretary Ben Swan, who did not initially return calls.
One analysis received by Crikey shows that the Byron Bay-based Donati had still been on the planned ballot paper as late as last Thursday but withdrew.
One senior Old Guard source said that the genesis of the deal was an agreement between Donati and Old Guard convenor Ryan Casey that meant the OG would support Donati in return for two Forum YL delegates for the next Queensland Labor state conference, without approval from the senior faction. He met fierce resistance from current QYL President Nino Lalic and Joe Ludwig staffer Khiraan Kumar.
“According to what I’ve heard the Forum executive met to discuss the issue of the AYL presidency,” the source said.
“Apparently Khiraan was basically backed by everyone including the AWU and SDA except the TWU who backed Chaiy. So because Chaiy was giving away factional delegates to propel himself to the AYL presidency it was decided in the interest of factional unity that he wouldn’t be supported but neither would Khiraan. A consensus was worked out between the pro Khiraan people and the TWU to pick Kerrie.”
The source claimed that “backing someone that was actively disliked by all the Right conveners around the country and who, most importantly was hated by Forum especially Anthony Chisholm, Ben Swan, Bill Ludwig and everyone else. It was stupid from the start to align ourselves with Chaiy and hopefully this will spell the end for Ryan.”
But further incendiary analysis from another source said Kumar and Lalic’s challenge wasn’t necessarily dead in the water.
It was widely assumed that the candidate for this position would be Chaiy, the lead negotiator in this deal. Furthermore, Chaiy had the (overwhelming) majority support of the Queensland Young Right and separately of the Queensland delegation to the AYL conference. However, things did not go quite so smoothly for Chaiy as was expected. Right up until Thursday (the close of nominations), Chaiy Donati was Queensland’s nominee for President. However, when the Forum faction in Queensland convened a senior factional executive meeting for that night, it was clear that trouble was on the horizon. A push was on for Chaiy Donati to be black balled as the right’s presidential candidate.
This push was led by Khiraan Kumar (staffer to Joe Ludwig) and Nino Lalic (current QYL president), who had nominated separately and wanted the presidency for themselves. At the meeting, the recently elected secretary of a certain large union in Queensland mounted a scathing critique of Donati and insisted that Kumar be supported for President.
Chaiy had several vocal supporters in the room from other Unions and other parts of the party who believed that the wishes of the Young Labor Right caucus, of the Queensland delegation to AYL and of the deal that had been signed by state and territory leaders across Australia should be respected.
However, in a clear indication of the lack of a fair and democratic framework for decision making in the senior right caucus, the voice of the leading union secretary and current ALP state secretary, Anthony Chisholm, was sufficient to override the wishes of the Young right caucus and Chaiy could not be president. Chaiy’s supporters at the factional executive meeting did, however, deliver one win for democracy and insisted that the Queensland Delegation to the AYL conference be given the right to choose their new candidate for president. The Queensland delegation consisted of three Chaiy-aligned right members, three Khiraan-aligned right members and three Old Guard members.
After extensive negotiations by the delegation, a strong Chaiy supporter, Kahlon (elected unopposed) was chosen as the presidential candidate. At this juncture, Chaiy’s opponents once again tried to intervene, but the support for Chaiy and for democracy saw Kahlon allowed to be candidate. Kerrie was elected president on Sunday, making her the first female president in twelve years and just the third in the organisation’s sixty year history. The remainder of the weekend saw Nino and Khiraan desperately trying to woo support from the other states and from the Left for the position of President and later for any position they could get their hands on.