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Jun 13, 2017

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Former trade minister Andrew Robb (foreground) and former foreign minster Bob Carr

Former NSW premier and federal foreign minister Bob Carr launched a blistering attack on Four Corners in The Weekend Australian, which was designed to downplay concerns about Chinese influence over Australian politicians.

Carr, like so many other Australian politicians, has chosen to personally profit from Chinese advocacy and business interests since leaving Parliament. In an environment of heightened community cynicism about the political class, it was a bold move to attempt to discredit the work of Nick McKenzie, Sashka Koloff and Anne Davies on the national broadcaster’s flagship investigative program, Four Corners.

Not surprisingly, Carr got absolutely smashed in the comments under his News Corp column by people who said his credibility on the subject was compromised by his own position, something that The Australian and Carr both failed to explicitly disclose.

For the record, as one of the commenters observed: “Bob Carr is the director of the Australia China Relations Institute (ACRI) at the University of Technology Sydney. ACRI was setup with a $1.8m donation from Xiangmo Huang who is one of the two Chinese donors who were the subject of the Four Corners expose Bob Carr seeks to downplay in this article.”

Chris Uhlmann made this obvious point in a piece for The Australian yesterday, which sparked a lead letter response from Bob Carr today.

John Hempton, who is arguably Australia’s most successful and best known short-seller, attended a recent ACRI event and published this blog post on Saturday, which was very sceptical about the message Carr’s outfit was touting.

Carr’s column alleged Four Corners was beating up the issue with little substance but he ignored arguably the most egregious disclosure: the $73,000-a-month retainer that former federal trade minister Andrew Robb has snaffled from the well-connected Chinese billionaire who bought the Port of Darwin.

All of these revelations are timely given that Crikey is going to build a list tracking what former federal MPs do for a living, once they leave Parliament. Here are eight initial entries that focus on China and the gambling industry, two of the most sensitive sectors when it comes to influence-pedalling in Australia:

John Brumby

Former federal MP for Bendigo (1983-90) and later served as Victorian premier and treasurer during a 17-year stint (1993-2010) in the Victorian Parliament. Busier than ever now. Currently chair of  City of Melbourne subsidiary Citywide, chair of the MTAA super fund, chair of the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, chair of the Fred Hollows Foundation, deputy chair of Industry Super Australia, Vice-Chancellor’s Professorial Fellow at both the University of Melbourne and Monash University and a Director of the controversial Chinese outfit Huawei Australia, which has been banned from tendering for NBN work. Brumby generated a page lead in The Australian today talking up Chinese investment through his role as chairman of the Australia China Business Council.

Mark Arbib

NSW Labor senator (2008-12), former NSW general secretary and national convenor of the right in federal Parliament. Now works full time for gambling mogul James Packer and also chairs Athletics Australia, where he has become a political fixer for embattled AOC president John Coates. He’s even talked about as a potential successor to Coates.

Bob Carr

Spent 22 years in NSW Parliament (1983-2005) including 10 as premier and then less than two years in the federal Parliament (2012-13) as foreign minister. Was paid $500,000 a year to consult for Macquarie Group after serving as premier and after his foreign minister role finished four years ago, he took on the China-funded UTS gig, where he is also a professor in international relations. Has also thrown his weight behind the Palestinian cause in recent years.

Stephen Conroy

Former Victorian ALP senator (1996-2016) and communications minister who resigned shortly after winning another six-year Senate term last year and quickly landed a job as executive director of the James Packer-backed Responsible Wagering Association. After spending years supposedly resisting Murdoch influence, also quickly took a paid gig to appear on Sky News. Also doing other lobbying work, such as for Latrobe University, which has raised questions about his continuing position on the ALP national executive.

Helen Coonan

NSW Liberal senator (1996-2011) and a former communications, arts and revenue minister. The third former communications minister to take Packer’s coin after she joined the Crown Resorts board in December 2011, which is currently paying $131,400 a year. Incredibly busy as she’s also a director of Snowy Hydro, chair of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, on the Australian Advisory Council for JP Morgan and Aon, co-chair of GRACosway (Clemenger subsidiary), director of Obesity Australia, trustee of the Sydney Opera House, consultant to Samsung Electronics, corporate council member for the European Australian Business Council and on the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce advisory council. It gets even busier when you consider she is also an Ambassador for the Menzies School of Health Research and of the GUT Foundation, while also serving on the Advisory Council of the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Andrew Robb

As Four Corners highlighted, the former trade minister negotiated a free trade agreement with China and then stepped straight out of Parliament (Goldstein, 2004-2016) into a role with the new Chinese owner of the Port of Darwin on a deal worth $73,000 a month. Also represents Gina Rinehart on the board of Ten Network Holdings.

Paul Keating

Served in the Federal Parliament for 27 years (1969-1996) including eight years as treasurer and five years as prime minister. Has been chair of investment banking firm Lazard, spent 10 years on the board of listed tiddler Brain Resource Company and remains a visiting professor of public policy at the University of New South Wales. He also made millions on the talk circuit and is a former member of the international advisory council for the China Development Bank.

Kelvin Thomson

Former ALP member for Wills (1996-2016) who held a range of shadow portfolios including attorney-general. Now working against the interests of Mark Arbib and Stephen Conroy as a part-time campaign manager for the Alliance for Gambling Reform.  

*Disclosure: Stephen Mayne this week commenced a part-time role working with the Alliance for Gambling Reform on a one year contract worth $45,000.

Federal

Mar 29, 2017

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Australian Federal Police at Parliament house 2016

The Senate privileges committee has raised concerns that NBN Co may have used evidence obtained during raids on an ALP staffer’s home to sack two whistleblowers, but has stopped just short of finding the company in contempt of the Senate.

The evidence obtained during raids on ALP headquarters and the home of a former ALP staffer in Melbourne, during the 2016 election, on alleged leaks from NBN Co will not be able to be used as part of an investigation into the leaks after a Senate privileges committee recommended the evidence be considered privileged.

But the Senate privileges committee questioned the actions of the government-owned broadband company during the raid on former ALP staff member Andy Byrne. An NBN Co staffer during the raid was seen taking photos of documents on his phone and sending them back to NBN Co. Former ALP senator Stephen Conroy had claimed privilege over the documents before the raid, meaning the AFP would need to wait before being able to use them as part of the investigation into the leaks, but the committee questioned whether the actions of the NBN employee — to both take photographs of some of the documents, and also see emails between two NBN employees and ALP staffers — may have led NBN to fire two of the employees alleged to have been leaking to Labor.

The committee found that in trying to identify if the documents were the ones NBN Co was searching for during the raid, there was a risk that the documents “may be used for purposes beyond those authorised by the warrant”.

NBN Co claimed that only the front covers of the documents were transmitted, but conceded that disciplinary action was taken against two employees after the raids. The company claims that this happened “independently of the AFP investigation” via the company’s own investigation, but elsewhere in the NBN Co submission, the company admits that, during the raid on Byrne’s Brunswick home, “certain emails were seen that appear to show that two NBN Co employees had been communicating with [Byrne] about matters pertaining to NBN Co.”

NBN Co confirmed to the committee that one of the two employees involved was not under active investigation before the names on the emails were communicated back to NBN Co.

The Senate privileges committee found that there had been improper interference in the duties of a senator, but stopped just short of recommending NBN Co be found in contempt of the Senate, stating that the threshold for finding contempt is high, but said that the committee was “concerned at the potential that unauthorised use of this information may have adversely affected an NBN Co employee”.

In a statement provided to Crikey, NBN Co denied it had used the evidence obtained during the leak to sack the employees.

“The grounds for dismissal did not rely on any documents or information uncovered as part of the raids. Breaches [NBN Co] relied on to dismiss the employees did not include any communications with parliamentarians, their offices or their staff. The basis for the dismissal was identified through nbn’s own internal investigation.”

The company said the two employees did not use the company’s whistleblower procedures in their actions to leak documents to the ALP and ultimately the media.

The House of Representatives already found some of the documents seized during the raid in Parliament House — those owned by then-shadow communications minister Jason Clare — to be covered by privilege.

Federal

Dec 12, 2016

5 comments

When it was announced last week that former minister Stephen Conroy had taken a major position with gambling industry lobbyist, ahaha, Responsible Wagering Australia, the reaction was resigned, rather than angry. Coming on top of everything that has happened to the left and progressives in 2016, it was just a kiss of the whip.

Conroy had resigned abruptly some months earlier; doubtless this was motivated by no more than the sudden realisation that he had nothing further to give to the Australian people. That it created a time gap between his resignation and his acceptance of the new job surely had nothing to do with it — though it has worked out exceedingly well in that regard.

Watching another Labor/union heavy cross over to lobbying for business has lost its power to shock. There was merely a sense of something further deflating. Doubtless Conroy will gain some camouflage from the name of the group, which brings to mind an NGO. But of course RWA represents CrownBet, Betfair, Unibet, and Bet365, among others — all companies that have a duty to their owners to maximise their profits, which means maximising the presence and spread of gambling, in most circumstances. Labor heavies clearly assume they can all do this, and that opposition, or even awareness of it, will be minimal in places where it matters most, and that it can simply go on indefinitely, the political caste conveyor belt, from student politics to Parliament to Richo’s Chinese Restaurant.

They may be right. But these things are cumulative and times are changing. The Labor/business conveyor belt isn’t new — “Red” Ted Theodore was perhaps the first consequential Big Labor figure to make his fortune in the media, from, among other things, founding the Australian Women’s Weekly — but there were long decades in which most Labor figures were content to retire on their pension, as was, or even go back to their goddamn jobs (that’s right, Labor pols were once people who had had jobs).

[What will Conroy’s departure mean for Shorten’s leadership?]

That began to shift in the Hawke/Keating years and because of the politics of those years — Hawke’s endorsement of the idea of “consensus” followed by Keating’s giving it content as a business-friendly move. As the creation of consolidated unions and large super funds bridged the union-business gap, and most unions became, de facto, labour management organisations, delivering their members to the employers, the line between labour and capital dissolved. What difference did it make which side you were on, the union or the merchant bank, if you were simply managing the expectations of workers-members? The structural shift means that it is not merely the obvious rats — the Mal Colstons — willing to slip across. It is the people who never had much of a conflict model of politics in the first place, who simply find that there is no barrier, internal or external to the passage across.

Indeed, such is the spirit of the time that one has to note why it’s so undermining that Conroy slid across so easily. It’s not simply going from being a politician to being a lobbyist. It would be irritating even if Conroy were becoming a flack for the Australian Humidifier Manufacturer’s Association or some such. But his crossover involves far more. He’s taking the specific knowledge gained and applying it for profit back against structures he put in place. He’s doing it for an industry that relies on an addiction/dependency model in order to generate revenue, and sell the consumer to the product.

Labour as a movement relies on going in the opposite direction — to encourage people caught in the constraining circumstances of wage-labour to free themselves by becoming as fully understanding of their circumstances as possible, and change them through collective action. This involves a journey to fuller reflexive autonomy. Thus, the much maligned 19th-century temperance movement was essential to the creation of the labour movement — because without self-possession, en masse, there can be no collective action. You have to regain a continent selfhood in order to give part of it back to collective action.

The relentless spread of gambling works against that sort of subjectivity, that sort of citizenship. That it should be legal is as without doubt as that its spread should be limited. That’s especially the mechanised gambling of the pokies, which are simply “weaponised” Skinner boxes — conditioned-response tools, their design refined ceaselessly to bypass reflective decision-making. You couldn’t make up a better example of the manner in which atomised “choice” — hundreds per hour — defeats any possibility of real freedom, for hundreds of thousands of people in Australia, and the millions who are close to them.

Conversely, genuine and hard restrictions on their availability is, for many, the path to freedom, by removing the need to repeatedly make a decision not to gamble. The gambling industry adopted “responsible gambling” only after it realised that the social cost of its industry was so high that something would happen if it didn’t. Since then, it has offered a main course dolmades serve of fig leaves to put on the central fact of gambling: its relentless availability online and offline.

[Fake Stephen Conroy says goodbye]

So Conroy’s new commitment is not just to a quick-bucks payout. It’s to an industry that actively demoralises and disempowers, and forwards the sort of society in which Labor cannot prosper, because you cannot base a party of collective advancement on an individualised and atomised social life. Would Stephen Conroy care about this? Who knows?

The current generation of Labor Right have always been something of a mystery to me. The old Labor Right were aligned against socialism and communism, understandable enough. The new Labor Right are such a mix of genuine centrists, venal schemers and delusional narcissists that it’s hard to draw a bead on them. They suffer from a want of ethical desire — there is nothing they want very much to happen, nothing they want greatly to change. It’s difficult to know whether someone like Stephen Conroy always aspired to be a flack for Big Destitution, or whether he’s someone who started with modest aims, and has had his ambitions up-sized by being around all that money. He could take his lifelong super and head up an NGO, and he’d still pull in $300k+ a year — and do decent things for the country. He wants to be where the big boys are, with their big incomes, as a toady and factotum for James Packer. Pathetic.

Well, keep at it. Individually these things make no difference. Cumulatively, they become too big to be ignored. Despite Brexit, despite Trump, despite the fact that labour parties are actually starting to die — witness Scottish Labour, now essentially a ghost party, a distant third behind the SNP and the Tories — they think they can get away with this forever. Yet when the populist impulse hits Australia it will, because so long delayed, hit hard.

Keep joining the banks, the global corporations, the industry bodies, Labor. Keep being not the faceless men, but the manless faces. You are taking a big gamble on the continued inattention of the Australian public. The party will deserve what happens, we won’t deserve the consequences of the party doubling down on its decades of elitism, complacency and self-satisfaction. Cue further gambling metaphors here. Note that they’re all about loss.

Federal

Oct 24, 2016

5 comments

I need to place some historical context around Labor’s “Stability Pact” rort.

If Stephen Conroy’s departure from the Senate results in his withdrawal from involvement in future factional deals in Victoria, it would a welcome and positive change. Especially for those who still believe in democracy in the Victorian branch.

People should remember the so-called “Stability Pact” we hear about from time to time was created by Stephen Conroy, Bill Shorten, David Feeney, Richard Marles and Kim Carr after a massive factional bloodbath (that they themselves initiated) that resulted in several non-aligned sitting MPs dumped from preselection and a major assault on former Labor leader Simon Crean’s preselection during the run-up to the 2007 federal election.

This so called Stability Pact superseded all other cross-factional arrangements (i.e. grubby deals) that were in place before the 1998 federal election.

In what can only be described as breathtaking hypocrisy, the bloodbath resulted (as intended) with Shorten and Marles gaining safe seats at the expense of non-aligned senior and well-performing sitting members, including Bob Sercombe and Gavin O’Connor.

[Stability? Shorten throws an uneasy Labor pact into chaos]

Shorten was preselected for Sercombe’s safe seat of Maribyrnong; Marles was preselected for O’Connor’s safe seat of Corio (there were allegations of branch stacking in both).

Feeney gained a winnable spot on the Senate ticket before replacing Martin Ferguson in Batman. Senator Kim “Mal” Carr apparently sat by and watched — as none of this impacted on his position,  why should he care?

So the movers and shakers in Labor factional politics in Victoria during those days were more than happy to create total havoc and chaos in the Victorian branch in order to secure absolute power, as in Carr and Conroy’s case, or to secure preselection for safe seats, always after somebody else’s hard work over many years, as in Shorten and Marles’ case.

The fact that this brawl was extremely damaging to both federal and state Labor was completely ignored by the perpetrators during this arrogant and blatant grab for power.

In another unprecedented display of arrogance, seats Labor already retains are allocated to the Left and Right factions, i.e. the Left would support Right candidates in seats allocated to the Right, and the Right would support Left candidates in seats allocated to the Left.

This results in Stability Pact control of around 80% of the central numbers on the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) and effectively locks out any meaningful input from local rank-and-file members in those electorates manipulated by the organisers of the Stability Pact.

[Victoria’s new senator could be a ticking time bomb for Labor]

Of course the Shorten, Conroy and Carr faction have held and continue to hold veto over all candidates’ preselections in those seats, at the exclusion of local rank-and-file party members.

In yet another display of absolute arrogance, several safe or winnable electorates have been allocated to various trade unions in return for numbers for either faction on the floor of the Victorian state conferences.

This means any seat allocated to a union usually results in local rank-and-file party members being totally excluded from any worthwhile input or influence as to who gets to be their candidate and, therefore, their parliamentary representative should the seat be won.

However, these rank-and-file local branch members are always required to provide organisational support, including financial support, for the imposed candidates during election campaigns.

[What will Conroy’s departure mean for Shorten’s leadership?]

The main problem with this type of rort (apart from the obvious principle) suggests that while there are plenty of good and dedicated union officials (and rank-and-file members) that would make outstanding contributions to the nation, they are almost certainly overlooked.

The factional warlords prefer mostly uninspiring and unemployable union and factional hacks, promoted by (usually self-appointed) factional leaders in return for a pledge of total loyalty to the individual factional warlord rather than the party.

The question remains: will Conroy still remain active in Victorian branch affairs? Or will his departure from the Senate mean the end of the Stability Pact and a return to some form of basic fairness in future party activities and preselections?

I doubt it.

Federal

Oct 21, 2016

5 comments

The Victorian Labor “stability pact” is wilting under pressure from all sides.

The latest threat to the uneasy alliance, which largely locks out and disempowers rank-and-file party members, is critical to Bill Shorten’s power within his home branch, and his party leadership.

The stability pact is the mechanism that keeps the peace in Victorian Labor. Neither the Socialist Left nor the newly reconstituted Centre Unity Right grouping (ShortCons — that is, allies of Shorten and the now-departed Stephen Conroy — plus the National Union of Workers minus the right-wing Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees’ Association) can rule their branch alone as neither has the state conference numbers. The result is the Socialist Left/Centre Unity pact, which guarantees certain positions to certain factions.

[Victoria’s new senator could be a ticking time bomb for Labor]

When questioned about the latest outbreak of rancour in the Left and Right — related to Shorten’s championing of controversial Right powerbroker Kimberley Kitching to replace the retiring Conroy — the Opposition Leader tried to speak softly and carry a big stick, saying caucus members should resolve any issues internally.

Despite his weak and ineffective push for party reform, Shorten is a king of behind-the-scenes deals and side deals that lose their shine when exposed to light. This is how he’s built his career and power base, in the darkness.

The existential risks to his power base are two-fold.

The issues and concerns within Shorten’s Centre Unity grouping around Kitching’s appointment are already known. They have been joined by an outbreak within the splintering Victorian Socialist Left, triggered by extraordinary on-the-record attacks from a Kim Carr ally, Senator Gavin Marshall, against members of his own faction and their preselection.

Marshall, along with federal MPs Lisa Chesters, Maria Vamvakinou and Carr, formed a sub-factional “Industrial Left” grouping backed by the Victorian Trades Hall to save Carr’s position in shadow cabinet with the backing of the national Right on Shorten’s request. The AMWU is believed to be the major player in this breakaway push.

[What will Conroy’s departure mean for Shorten’s leadership?]

The entire national Left, save for this small sub-grouping and Victorian Trades Hall, wanted Carr booted from shadow cabinet for what they see as his treacherous consistent backing of Shorten against the national Left and the Left’s leading light, Anthony Albanese. Secretive and arcane caucus rules mean that four caucus members combined are entitled to their own shadow cabinet spot.

In public comments Marshall, who was dumped from the deputy presidency of the Senate for backing Carr, has fired shots across the bow of senior backers of Albanese such as Catherine King, Jenny Macklin and, most forcefully, against national Left convener Andrew Giles. Marshall has said he will back a preselection challenge against Giles, who holds the electorate of Scullin. Giles told Fairfax:

“Am I organising a contest in Scullin? Yes, I am.”

“He lied about the strategy to knock off Kim [Carr], there is disenchantment with Andrew and I believe he will face a preselection challenger. No one has an entitlement to their position, the purpose of the rules is that members are free to challenge for these positions.”

It’s an indulgent, unfathomable outburst given the federal election has only just occurred and preselections are the last thing on members’ minds.

The claims that Marshall will be mounting aggressive challenges are even more extraordinary given any candidate seeking to roll sitting MPs would need 80%-plus support of rank-and-file members to outweigh the 100-member state conference-elected Public Office Selection Committee (POSC).

[Why Shorten pushed for Kimberley Kitching — and why it could blow up in his face]

This 80% is starting to look increasingly shaky for Shorten and likely to splinter as Conroy/Transport Workers Union-aligned elements within Centre Unity express private concerns over Kitching’s selection and Victorian Socialist Left unions and the “Industrial Left” are at odds with the majority of Victorian Socialist Left MPs and senators.

Perhaps Marshall envisages a weakening of stability pact control of the POSC?

There are reasons for the pact and if these divisions continue to widen expect to see why the flawed structure was implemented. The fallout of its dissolution would be catastrophic.

Victorian Labor is a powerful branch and splits on the Victorian Left and Victorian Right could potentially impact on state and federal preselections in Victoria and Victorian Labor positions, as well the state Andrews government and even the federal leadership of the party and national conference control.

Victoria is, once again, the largest headache for the man who has gained most from using its tangled web to his advantage to get to where he is today, and help his mates along the way.

Federal

Oct 14, 2016

5 comments

The Victorian Labor Right (Centre Unity) continues to offer up unending intrigue following the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) approval of lawyer and former Victorian Health Services (HSU) general manager Kimberley Kitching to replace Stephen Conroy following his shock resignation.

Regular readers of Crikey will know by now that Victorian Labor Right (Centre Unity) is a messy tangle of inter and intra-factional deals and understandings coloured by often tense personality clashes within the factions and between factions.

These connections and clashes date back decades to relationships formed and enemies created during their time as hot shots within Victorian Young Labor.

[Why Stephen Conroy departed in such a hurry]

There were 8 candidates being considered to replace Stephen Conroy at last night’s POSC meeting, all of them women.

The men who initially sought to be considered for the position stood down when confronted by the weight of argument that newly implemented affirmative action rules required the replacement be a woman.

EMILY’s List will be pleased.

Bill Shorten privately threw his weight behind Kimberley Kitching while publicly stating no preference.

Under the terms of the “Stability Pact” — which controls 80% of the POSC — between the Socialist Left and Centre Unity, the candidate for the position was the choice of Centre Unity alone. The Socialist Left were bound to wave through Centre Unity’s pick.

The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) locked in behind Kitching at Shorten’s request, and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) locked in behind lawyer and Geelong Football Club director Diana Taylor, seemingly at Conroy’s request.

Kitching is said to have only just edged out Taylor at the Centre Unity meeting to determine the candidate they would present to the POSC to endorse.

That formality concluded, Kitching carried the POSC vote almost unanimously, with 20 or so POSC delegates boycotting the meeting in disgust.

Interesting to note Shorten still carries sway within Centre Unity — if only marginally — over Conroy’s TWU-aligned forces.

The TWU considered this to be “their spot” and won’t be pleased with this outcome.

I have previously alluded to the fact that the stability within Centre Unity may be tested by Conroy’s resignation, and this may be starting to play out.

[What will Conroy’s departure mean for Shorten’s leadership?]

The presumptive replacement as convener of Centre Unity in the post-Conroy era, Richard Marles, the increasingly less influential MP David Feeney and Stephen Conroy himself are all said to have issues with the former general manager of the scandal-plagued HSU being endorsed by POSC. Socialist Left Senator Kim Carr is also reportedly not happy.

They were however all bound to vote for her once the decision had been made by Centre Unity.

The amazing part of this saga is that scandal-plagued HSU Victorian Branch isn’t even affiliated with the Australian Labor Party. This fact might be one of the reasons senior members privately object to Kitching’s endorsement.

So how has Kitching found herself in this fortunate position?

The answer relates to how Bill Shorten climbed the ladders of power, first within Victorian Young Labor, then the union movement and then into Parliament.

Kitching is married to Andrew Landeryou, the son of former National Union of Workers (NUW) union official and minister in the Cain government Bill Landeryou.

[Labor branch stacking becomes an arms race, with Stability Pact a possible casualty of war]

Bill Landeryou is credited with masterminding the creation of Victorian Centre Unity in the early ’90s and along with Greg Sword allowing the Right to take control of Victorian Labor from the Socialist Left.

Andrew Landeryou remains an influential figure within Centre Unity and is a trusted confidante of Bill Shorten to this day. having risen through the party at around the same time.

He was recently caught defacing opponents’ election signs in the electorate of Melbourne Ports, along with another influential Centre Unity figure, David Asmar.

Asmar is another figure upon whom Shorten relies within Centre Unity.

He’s been linked to numerous branch-stacking scandals within Victorian Labor in Shorten’s electorate and branches but has managed to remain unscathed.

He’s believed to have been central in Shorten defeating an incensed Bob Sercombe for preselection in Maribyrnong in 2005. Sercombe resigned before a local vote was conducted.

David Asmar’s wife, Diana Asmar, was elected secretary of Victoria’s No. 1 branch of the HSU in 2013, and  Shorten is said to have thrown AWU support and funds behind getting her elected.

These connections may explain why Bill Shorten selected Kimberley Kitching as his pick and persevered with her despite the objections of powerful forces within Centre Unity.

You got all that?

This appears to be Bill Shorten looking after his allies who have got him to where he is and due to their long and close connections may know “where the bodies are buried”.

The labyrinth that is Victorian Labor continues to intrigue.

The ramifications of Kitching’s endorsement will continue to play out for some time to come.

Federal

Sep 30, 2016

5 comments

As Stephen Conroy leaves Parliament today, this is the last missive from Fake Stephen Conroy.

If you are reading this, I have been murdered.

However, if I’m reading this aloud in Parliament, I was subsequently raised from the dead by dark, unholy forces. Now, stripped of my divinity, I exist to torture the living through cruel and needlessly complicated machinations.

Anyway, enough of the formalities.

Today marks the last time I will sit with you in this chamber, or eat with you in the cafeteria, or watch you while you sleep.

According to Google, empathy-afflicted humans deal with the loss of a colleague in different ways; some mourn them, while others will celebrate the achievements of a life well-lived.

I don’t care either way, to be honest. What you do at home while you think about me is your own business. Just don’t upload it to the internet.

There is one thing, and one thing only, that I, your brutal and beloved parliamentary enforcer, expect of you dummies today: sit down, shut up, and listen.

In 2007, I tried to warn Australia that sexual deviancy and terror on the internet threatened to drown our great nation under a tide of semen and blood.

Now here we are, almost a decade later, and our children are gay-marrying cats wearing suicide vest tuxedos, and elderly Australians can’t buy a carton of milk without fighting off the molestations of tentacle monster gangs.

We’ve gone some way to undoing the damage. Our craven capitulations to the other side on metadata retention and ubiquitous surveillance are steps in the right detection, but there is much work that remains.

Twitter, for example, remains a persistent threat to our way of life, emboldening punters with a sense that they’re entitled to question us directly, and that it’s OK to Photoshop our faces onto the tips of penises.

But that’s not my problem anymore.

What’s next for me? Twenty years in Parliament is my private sector ace in the hole. I don’t want to tip my hand, but if I’ve played my cards right, odds are I’ll hit the jackpot.

Federal

Sep 21, 2016

5 comments

The jostling for prime positions and speculation after Senator Stephen Conroy’s shock resignation is at fever pitch. Conroy has left a tornado of chaos in his wake, and Bill Shorten will be flying in from Canada straight into faction meetings to tie down loose ends and reassert his dominance.

The vulnerability felt by Conroy’s clearly rocked allies is on display with their anonymous public comments yesterday that “he’s not going anywhere’’ in terms of factional leadership.

While this may be true for his sub-faction grouping, it won’t be true for the broader Victorian Centre Unity leadership. Shorten will need somebody with their ear to the floor in caucus, and that person will almost certainly be Shorten’s decades-long ally, Richard Marles.

It is coincidental that the resignation occurred when Shorten was out of the country. Or was it?

Conroy is in the media saying he apologises for the manner of his resignation and for not warning Socialist Left darling and at the time acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek. But he knew what he was doing. It was planned and deliberate. He didn’t tell even tell his staffers, so why would he have told Plibersek?

Speculation is mounting around the two vacancies that will be open from the first of October: deputy leader of the Senate and a replacement senator to fill the casual vacancy. The replacement in both cases will be from the Right.

Opposition Senate Leader Senator Penny Wong is from the Socialist Left. The deputy Senate leader, by convention, is always from the opposition faction to the Senate leader — in this case, Conroy.

The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) is the dominant grouping within the Right nationally, but the Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees’ Association (otherwise known as the SDA, or the Shoppies) isn’t far behind. They would ordinarily take the deputy leadership role. However, the AWU doesn’t have anybody of the appropriate seniority in the Senate to fill the role.

As Crikey has previously reported, the SDA now has an awkward relationship with Centre Unity Right grouping in Victoria, having been recently ousted from the faction for causing Premier Daniel Andrews and his government too much grief and embarrassment.

This being said, the only two credible replacements being discussed for opposition deputy leader are Senator Jacinta Collins and Senator Don Farrell. Both are SDA to their bootstraps.

[Why Stephen Conroy departed in such a hurry]

Collins is a previous Senate deputy leader and Senate manager of government business prior to Labor’s defeat in 2013.

She is, however, from the SDA grouping that is on the outer in Victoria, so she could struggle to get support from the nationally important dominant Centre Unity grouping from her state.

Senator Don Farrell, “The Godfather”, comes with his own issues.

Having squeezed his way back into the Senate, he’s marked forever as a “faceless man” and one of the key powerbrokers who was instrumental in removing prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2010.

In the past, by virtue of his iron grip of the SDA and the Labor Party in South Australia, he’s been able to secure a cabinet post in government. This, despite having almost no profile and there being plenty of qualified candidates in the Right.

Shorten won’t be keen to place him in such a senior role given his notorious history during a bruising time for Labor in government.

He’s seen as a relic — both in terms of age and ideology. He’s only back because there is no Right faction without the SDA in South Australia, and he still carries significant sway down south. A chronic pest. Just ask SA Premier Jay Weatherill. Farrell is, shall we say, not the best example of the modern Labor Party image Shorten is trying to foster.

My bet is Collins will be opposition Senate deputy leader.

The casual vacancy looks set to bring up a whole other set of issues. One of the major reforms out of the national conference mid last year was the push towards women making up 50% of state and federal Labor caucuses by 2025. (The often proudly touted affirmative action measures are currently set at 40% and progressively slide up to 50% in 2025.)

There are currently four Labor senators from Victoria. Three are men: Kim Carr and Gavin Marshall from the Socialist Left, and Stephen Conroy from Centre Unity. Senator Jacinta Collins holds the remaining slot.

[Labor branch stacking becomes an arms race, with Stability Pact a possible casualty of war]

My simple reading of this Victorian Labor rule is that for the party to adhere to the 40% rule Conroy’s replacement must be a woman.

Even if by some lawyerly argument it’s not required by the rules, not appointing a woman would be a bad look for Shorten, who prides himself on his championing of affirmative action within the party.

Centre Unity’s Tony Clark is being thrust forward in the media as the presumptive replacement, and I’ve had strong private representations to me regarding his entitlement to this vacancy.

Tony Clark, a blind disability advocate, was the popular and affable Labor candidate for Deakin in the last federal election who was dudded by the woeful results out of Victoria for Labor.

If the position is to be filled by a man, it is hard to see him beating out the likes of Mehmet Tillem, who has longstanding strong connections to senior members of Centre Unity.

Emily’s List Australia has also publicly put the case that the position must be filled by a woman, under the rules.

Further comment has been sought from the Clark camp and Emily’s List regarding their positions on and understanding of party rules.

There are no women candidates I’m aware of at this stage, and none are being publicly touted.

Stay tuned. This will be a moving feast Victorian Labor style. Hopefully bloodless, for a change — but let’s not get greedy.

*Ben Chiefly is a Labor activist and Crikey’s man in the room. Know something he should know? Get in touch or drop Crikey a line (you can stay anonymous

Victoria

Sep 19, 2016

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What will the Victorian Right do without factional Dalek Stephen Conroy? And can Opposition Leader Bill Shorten survive without his factional ally?

Victorian Labor is notoriously sectarian and driven by decades-long personality clashes, particularly in the Right.

Victorian Labor also has the unfortunate circumstance that neither the Socialist Left nor newly reconstituted Centre Unity Right grouping (ShortCons — that is, allies of Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy — plus the National Union of Workers minus the right-wing Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees’ Association, otherwise known as the SDA or the Shoppies) can rule their branch alone, as neither has the state conference numbers.

The result is the Socialist Left/Centre Unity “Stability Pact”, which lords over every element of party machinery due to its combined super majority. But the recent bizarre and slightly passive-aggressive resignation of Victorian Centre Unity powerbroker Stephen Conroy will have Bill Shorten and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews anxious.

The recent inclusion of the Victorian NUW bloc into the Centre Unity fold (and the ousting of Michael Donovan’s wacko SDA bloc) had settled years of damaging instability and tension between the remnants of Bill Shorten’s former “Young Labor Network” grouping (NUW) and the old Richard Marles/David Feeney (Australian Workers’ Union, SDA and Transport Workers Union) grouping.

This Right stability, however, relied largely on the leadership and enforcement of long-time Centre Unity convener Conroy. Now he’s gone from the end of the month, so expect a return to previous form.

Several factors will decide whether there will be a smooth transition after Conroy’s retirement.

Firstly, the personal working relationship between Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas and Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula from the NUW grouping, and the dominant ShortCon (new name needed now?) grouping’s man, federal MP Richard Marles, is critical.

In the past, federal MP David Feeney might have been battling for Centre Unity leadership with the support of his SDA power base, but with the Shoppies out in the cold, so too is he. This is most clearly demonstrated by his recent ousting from federal shadow cabinet.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will, no question, back Richard Marles for the Victorian Centre Unity leadership. Given past Victorian Labor history there is plenty of water under the bridge between all these individuals.

[Why Stephen Conroy departed in such a hurry]

Conroy’s leadership and relationships with senior NUW sub-faction members clearly sealed the larger Centre Unity grouping, but his departure changes the whole dynamic within the Victorian Right.

Conroy is believed to control a majority, or nearly, within the ShortCon grouping, and it’s yet to be seen if his grouping will keep playing ball with Shorten. Could we be looking at a split between the Shorten and Conroy forces?

Secondly, the relationship between Labor Left “factional Dalek” Kim Carr and Conroy is very close, much to the chagrin of many members of the Socialist Left.

Will Carr and Marles be able to work together to keep continuity within the “Stability Pact” like Carr and Conroy did?

The federal opposition and Andrews government will be praying and begging for peace and tranquility within Victoria. Andrews is already trying to put out numerous fires within his caucus, so to speak.

All up, it equals one big mess that won’t end anytime soon, if recent history proves accurate.

It just goes to show what a house of cards, not to mention a liability, the unreformed Victorian Labor branch continues to be for the broader labour movement.

Meanwhile, Shorten’s leadership is much weaker for Conroy’s departure, and he’ll have to keep a close eye on his numbers — and his back.

*Ben Chiefly is a Labor activist and Crikey’s man in the room. Know something he should know? Get in touch or drop Crikey a line (you can stay anonymous

Federal

Sep 16, 2016

5 comments

You can probably hear the champagne corks popping in the offices of NBN Co in North Sydney today, with news that Stephen Conroy is retiring from politics.

Most of the political obituaries for Labor Senator Stephen Conroy will note his biggest legacy is the National Broadband Network, but Conroy spent the past few years being the project’s biggest rival.

Whenever NBN executives reluctantly came onto his turf — the Senate committee hearing rooms — a sly grin would appear on the Labor senator’s face. He relished the chance to grill them on what they had done to the project he had founded. Even the super-mellow CEO Bill Morrow lost his cool sometimes.

The NBN, often incorrectly claimed to be something developed by Conroy and former prime minister Kevin Rudd on the back of a beer coaster on a plane, will remain Conroy’s legacy. The ambitious plan to roll out fibre to around 93% of Australian households was an election winner for Labor in 2010, but constant delays in the rollout allowed Malcolm Turnbull to tweak the Coalition’s policy slightly enough to make it less of of a political issue and make it sound like the network would actually get on track if he were elected. Meanwhile, Labor’s insistence on red-button launches for a bunch of homes allegedly connected to the NBN but unable order a service gave the impression that it wasn’t going as well as planned.

Tech journalists had a difficult relationship with Conroy during his time as communications minister. Although lauded for the NBN policy, he was not as popular for the controversial policy to block material that had been refused classification via a mandatory internet filtering policy. His “spams and scams through the portal” comment also didn’t earn him much love in the tech sector. He gained awards for being a villain of the internet, and noted in his speech on Thursday that he had been a target for quite a lot of online as a result of the policy, which the government eventually dropped.

It wasn’t just tech journalists, either. The government’s antagonistic approach also got the telecommunications sector offside. Nowhere was that more apparent than the reaction when Conroy was revealed to have told an international conference some interesting view of government’s reach in the telco sector:

“The regulation of telecommunications powers in Australia is exclusively federal. That means I am in charge of spectrum auctions, and if I say to everyone in this room ‘if you want to bid in our spectrum auction you’d better wear red underpants on your head’, I’ve got some news for you. You’ll be wearing them on your head. I have unfettered legal power.”

Before leaving the communications portfolio after Labor dumped Gillard for Rudd in 2013, Conroy had a few encounters with Turnbull. I moderated a debate between the pair, and they had been scheduled to be both in the studio with me, but at the last minute Conroy decided to set up remotely in Brunswick in Melbourne to show off an NBN connection (over a Google Hangout link, of all things). The debate was tense at times, peaking when Conroy began sledging Turnbull on his corporate history with HIH. This got under Turnbull’s skin, and the future prime minister called Conroy “a grub” and “a sad figure”. When the debate was over and the cameras were off, Turnbull ripped out his ear piece, clearly quite frustrated with Conroy.

When the Coalition came into government and the policy quickly fell apart, Conroy became the hero of what Turnbull mockingly called “fibre zealots” on forums like Whirlpool and on Twitter for his continual pursuit of the government on the NBN. Labor used its numbers in the Senate to set up a Labor-controlled Senate select committee specifically on the NBN. The Coalition had attempted to re-establish a joint committee chaired by a Coalition MP with a majority of government MPs, but Labor was having none of it.

Conroy held close to 20 committee hearings between 2013 and 2016, with NBN executives facing hours of questioning, sometimes late at night, as Conroy continually probed and pushed on minute details about the switch from his legacy to the so-called multi-technology mix. He was keen to ensure that the project remained as controversial as Turnbull had made it for Labor, and to a degree he was successful — but as the promises for a quick upgrade quickly faded, he didn’t need much help.

The senator knew all the detail of the technologies being pursued by the Coalition government, even though it wasn’t his area anymore. He was more knowledgeable on it than all of the other politicians on the committee, who would usually stick to questions about their own electorates or areas. Coalition staffers and politicians viewed the hearings as the “Conroy Show”, and the former minister sought to protect his legacy on what Turnbull had termed the “Conrovian” model, but those who keep a close eye on the NBN loved it. By the end of it, Conroy had taken to reading out the screen names of the Whirlpool users following the hearings on the live broadcast, and he made it known he was reading all the threads and all the information they were supplying to him, including the drinking games.

For the past three years while Labor has been in opposition, tech journalists always joked that, just as Paul Fletcher had been Malcolm Turnbull’s shadow shadow communications minister, the then-shadow defence minister was shadow communications minister Jason Clare’s shadow.

It was no surprise, then, when the AFP raided ALP offices during the election campaign seeking the source of leaks from NBN, they went to Conroy, not Clare. Conroy’s shock departure on Thursday should not have been a surprise, given the NBN committee had not been re-established. For that, NBN executives (not to mention their media reps, whom Conroy often targeted) will be breathing a sigh of relief.

Labor is fortunate to have many skilled staffers who have been across the detail over the years, especially Andy Byrne — the staffer who had his home raided by the AFP — but few within Labor have ever been able to prosecute the case for the NBN as Conroy was able to. Labor’s current shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland has potential but is still finding her feet in the role. Ed Husic is also a contender, but he is focused on other areas for now. Former Conroy staffer Tim Watts is also one to watch.

But with the government promising to complete most of the network rollout, and most people switching to the NBN — in theory — in this term of Parliament, Labor will need to replace the NBN institutional knowledge that walks out the door with Conroy.