Inside Labor’s impending factional collapse

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Bill Shorten’s Labor Party is being plunged into chaos at the worst possible moment and in the worst possible way – with a massive factional collapse and realignment in Victoria, Shorten’s power base, and the de facto seat of federal ALP power.

The factional war within and between Left and Right subfactions is being led by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) on the left, and the Adem Somyurek-fronted “Mods” (Moderates) faction on the Right. But it has been supercharged by personal rivalries, score-settling, ancient alliances and sheer pique. At its worst, it could draw in Shorten and much of the shadow frontbench, confronting them with a nightmare scenario: sustained intra-factional warfare, which the public loathes, and which they punish at the ballot box.

In a series of articles, Crikey can reveal:

  • The new secret deal between sub-factions and unions, purporting to be a push for party revitalisation;
  • The takeover of the Right by a “start-up” faction based in ethnic communities and multicultural politics in outer-suburban and Western Melbourne;
  • The challenge to the Kim Carr-led Socialist Left by his former allies in the “Industrial Left” grouping (of which there are two);
  • The ambitious clique of factional and union leaders united through friendship and marriage driving the war;
  • The disastrous involvement of Shorten in a series of factional skirmishes; and
  • The long history of factional warfare and double-dealing that led to this point.

The war has come about with the collapse of the “Stability Pact” — the Victorian-based agreement between Socialist Left and “Labor/Centre Unity” (the Right), which has been in place for around a decade, as an attempt to prevent draining factional turf wars.

The new agreement between groups breaking away from both sides is being presented as a revitalisation of debate within the party, and the creation of a “dynamic and diverse” organisation.

Yet it simply reprises the Stability Pact it replaces, sharing out seats without regard to local branches, or best-suited candidates for particular areas. Locking together very left unions with a faction based on conservative suburban branches, it appears to stifle the prospect of debate, rather than open it up.

And its critics say that talk of new ideas is a thin cover for a purely personal agenda of a tight friendship group in the “Industrial Left”, centred around the erratic state member for Brunswick, Jane Garrett, who has tried and failed to find an alternative, safer seat for the upcoming Victorian election.

“They’re obsessed with getting Jane back into a seat … it’s all based on revenge, exclusion, anger and in-group loyalties,” one highly critical Socialist Left insider told Crikey.

However, rank-and-file defenders of the new agreement say the personal angle is overblown.

“The Andrews government has ridden roughshod over workers rights, look at the trains stuff. They’re terrified of being seen as pro-union.”

The CFMEU is also understood to be angry at the lack of interest in construction workplace deaths, rising in number as part of Melbourne’s building boom. “Industrial Left” supporters Crikey spoke to believe the Stability Pact’s importance at the federal level is stifling political change.

Bill Shorten was dragged into the conflict before Christmas, meeting with leaders of the new pact — apparently, under the impression that he was attending discussions about reunification of the party. “Bill will be pissed off he was dragged into this,” Crikey was told.

Read the proposed secret agreement below, and the response of Stability Pact supporters at Victorian Trades Hall.

In tomorrow’s Crikey, the true story of friends, partners and lovers allegedly driving this fundamental realignment of Labor.