CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Talentless, faction-torn Labor on the skids
, March 18, 2006
Labor's political factions are personal fiefdoms, without ideas and based on personal hatreds, paybacks and revenge
.Trouble inside the Australian Labor Party has reached the point that Kim Beazley is no longer assured of leading his party to the next election.
The attempt to clean out a bunch of Victorian MPs in the name of "generational change" has been such a disaster that recriminations are taking on a life of their own.
Even after the monumental disaster of the Mark Latham experiment, Labor seems set on embarking on another leadership fight - this time with Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd being urged to take on Mr Beazley.
A cabal of Victorians, which included Senator Stephen Conroy and Labor machine-man David Feeney, dreamed up the strategy to install unionists Bill Shorten, Richard Marles and Martin Pakula in the Federal Parliament.
Unfortunately, the MPs they chose to dislodge to get them there included former leader Simon Crean and agriculture spokesman Gavan O'Connor, who happens to be one of Labor's best performing and most well-liked MPs.
Mr O'Connor, a former farmer, holds one of the four Labor regional seats - from a total of 45 regional seats.Breaking with traditions
The attempt to get rid of Mr Crean also broke many traditions in the party, including paying respect to former leaders.
In itself, it was a dangerous strategy; but the implementation of the strategy was even more disastrous.
In order to succeed, an extraordinary number of deals with factions and sub-factions had to be done to make it happen - with subsequent favours having to be returned in the form of state seats.
In the end, rather than "generational change", a political bloodbath took place, exposing the weakness of Mr Beazley's leadership and prompting demands that Senator Conroy be removed from his position as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
According to Labor insiders, Senator Conroy and his allies were advised to go for a more clinical clean-out of party dead-wood, but he ignored this.
Sitting MPs in safe seats were being replaced with party hacks and talentless candidates whose only claim on a seat was being able to provide branch members (read branch-stacking) to factional warlords.
The whole episode has exposed the shallowness of Labor and the fact that it is more concerned about squabbling over the spoils of opposition rather than regaining government.
A decade out of office and Labor is moving further away, rather than closer to, the Treasury benches.
Unfortunately, Labor has still not come to terms with its role as a modern political party - since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The faction system, which was once based on a battle of ideas between left and right and the meaning of a democratic socialist party, has been supplanted with a factional system based on personalities.
Factions are personal fiefdoms and are based on how many branch members can be brought to the table.Payback and revenge
The factional system is in fact worse than the so-called bad old days of Labor because, without ideas, the acrimony is based on personal hatreds, paybacks and revenge.
Labor has in fact failed to make the transformation from a labour movement rooted in the trade unions to a modern political party which is in touch with everyday working Australians.
Attempts have been made to grapple with its internal structural problems, including the Hawke-Wran review and Simon Crean's reform to cut the power of the unions.
Other suggestions for reform have come from the timber division of the CMFEU, and former politicians John Button and John Cain.
Most of these have been ignored or, if implemented, have failed to have any impact at all.
More recently, Labor frontbencher Kelvin Thomson has suggested taking the power away from faction chiefs to select the frontbench and giving the selection choice to the leader - as is done in the Liberal Party.
But Labor has to look much deeper than these superficial solutions, because it has reached the stage where there is no prospect of a return to office in the foreseeable future - barring a cataclysmic recession.
Even then, it would be remarkable if the Australian people would risk handing the country to the rabble the Labor Party has become.