Queensland ALP factions duel over affirmative action


By Dave Riley

BRISBANE — A major factional spill during last year's state ALP conference dismembered the party's left wing. Two key left unions — the Miscellaneous Workers' Union and the metalworkers — allied themselves with factions of the centre and right to back cabinet minister Bob Gibbs as party state president, defeating the Socialist Left's incumbent, Ian MacLean.

With the SL crying foul, and staggered by the sudden haemorrhage of some of its power base, the faction went on a recruiting drive to shore up its party numbers.

For a time the SL asserted itself by campaigning strongly outside the party against the privatisation of the Australian National Line advocated by the federal government. It also published a newspaper, Keep Left — two editions of which have been circulated within the party.

Now the vicious factionalism of the bitter preselection battles for the 1994 Brisbane City Council elections has resurfaced over the ALP Queensland Senate ticket. This time the Socialist Left has been defeated by the support generated for its new rival, Bob Gibbs' Labor Left faction. At stake are the top two positions on the ticket.

At the ALP State Council meeting, shop assistants union official John Hogg won the preselection ballot with 78 votes. Hogg was the candidate for the right-wing AWU faction. MWU official Jeff Slowgrove won 72 votes to take the second winnable place. Slowgrove was the Labor Left candidate.

Bernadette Callaghan, who took the third — virtually unwinnable — place with 62 votes, is a long-time member of the party's Socialist Left and was joint national president and Queensland secretary of the Australian Services Union.

While the ballot result reflected the competing factional strengths, the order of the ticket failed to fulfil federal affirmative action policy. At last year's ALP federal conference, it was decided to allocate to women candidates 35% of winnable seats before the year 2002. Callaghan has since insisted that the Senate ticket runs contrary to the intent of this rule change.

In a bitter newspaper campaign, women members of the Socialist Left accused the ALP of being a boys' club dedicated to securing jobs for their mates. The furore took a personal turn when details were leaked to the press of Jeff Slowgrove's drink driving offences and of allegations that he had an illegitimate child. The factional bitterness found a ready outlet in the pages of the local Courier-Mail as unnamed "party sources" knifed their factional rivals between quotation marks.

With Callaghan asserting her credentials as a preferred candidate and determined to lodge an appeal with the party's federal executive, Slowgrove was prevailed upon to stand down from his number two position. However, this concession does not guarantee that Callaghan will move up the list. In an attempt to reduce the damage the dispute is doing to the ALP's electoral prospects and still maintain the factional status quo, it was announced that Slowgrove's Senate spot would probably go to a woman — not a Socialist Left candidate — when endorsement was finalised.

The dispute has at least ensured that some lucky woman now gets to advance to the $74,000 base salary and $25,000 allowance the Senate job pays.

As party members become increasingly disillusioned with the Goss government, Bernadette Callaghan was keen to abate any impulsive acts. "The rank and file are fed up", she told Brisbane's Sunday Mail, "but I don't think anyone should leave the party. That is what they want us to do and it would be playing into their hands."