By Tom Flanagan and Steve Painter
HOBART — While the ALP national conference marked no turn away from the Hawke government's disastrous social and economic policies, Victorian left delegate Lindsay Tanner is "reasonably confident that you will see a slightly more compassionate approach, a slightly less Thatcher-style approach, although that won't necessarily be reflected in public statements".
"I believe it has been a good conference for the left", Tanner told Green Left Weekly last week. Of course, that's in the context that "you are not going to have governments suddenly changing course. We are stuck with a particular general direction that is clearly not going to be reversed overnight regardless of what this conference decides."
Ted Murphy, another Victorian left delegate, noted that the left had been able to make good use of its increased strength among the delegates: "The results of all the manipulations of the party structure by the right, and the results of the privatisation decisions of the last few years have simply been to generate more rank and file support for left delegates". This led to greater influence of left positions in policy discussions, which were important though they went largely unnoticed on the floor of the conference.
"We've made some progress in foreign affairs areas", Murphy said. Perhaps most importantly, "the party continues to recognise the centrality of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to the current embryonic peace process" in the Middle East.
While the conference rejected the left's program to generate employment through more spending on infrastructure, it incorporated some left proposals. On uranium policy also, the left was vital in blocking moves to permit unlimited mining, though Movement Against Uranium Mining spokesperson Murray Matson argues that "the ALP decision makers were out of touch", and existing mines should be closed down.
While most media attention focussed on the tie in the relatively unimportant election for national president and a fight over rule changes on the last day, both Tanner and Murphy thought this conference had been more constructive than others in the past decade.
With 45 delegates out of 101, the left was stronger than it had been for quite a long time, and Tanner believes the party may be approaching a new phase in which "the left will be in the ascendancy".
Next week: More from left
delegates about the ALP national conference and after.