Victorian ALP factional conflict

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Victorian ALP factional conflict

By Vannessa Hearman

MELBOURNE — The Victorian Labor Party's factional conflict became "public" at its state conference on February 27-28. About 20 delegates walked out during opposition leader John Brumby's keynote speech.

The conference was designed to focus on Labor's platform for the next state election, which could take place as early as June. Instead, the walkout, led by Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) president and state secretary of the construction division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) Martin Kingham, became the major focus.

Before the conference, Brumby, from the Labor Unity faction, was embroiled in disputes with key trade union and "Socialist Left" faction leaders in Victoria. He first antagonised teachers and the Australian Education Union by stating that under-performing teachers should not be tolerated and teaching standards must be lifted.

On February 15, he condemned a meeting between VTHC industrial officer and convenor of the building industry unions, Brian Boyd, representatives of those unions and Premier Jeff Kennett. Brumby accused Boyd of being Kennett's "lapdog" and of suffering from "sour grapes" after missing out on pre-selection for the state seat of Melbourne.

According to the Age newspaper, Michele O'Neill from the textile, clothing and footwear union stated in a VTHC executive meeting that Brumby had not supported the 80 union members locked-out by the Australian Dye Company earlier this year.

Soon after his attack on Boyd, Brumby forced Theo Theophanous, a Socialist Left leader, party leader in the upper house and relic of the last Labor state government, to resign. News that Theophanous had met with key Labor Unity figures, including the ACTU's Greg Sword, led to accusations that Theophanous was backing attempts to dump Brumby as leader. Brumby then declared a new cabinet, supposedly one to take on governing Victoria.

The ALP under Brumby has not been very successful. Brumby is rating just 23% as the preferred premier and the ALP looks set to lose another election. Brumby's leadership is blamed.

Following the conference walkout, the left Victorian unions came under pressure from Labor powerbrokers not to further jeopardise Labor's electoral chances. The party is still hoping a media campaign around its "New Solutions" platform will lift its fortunes.

New Solutions covers jobs, social services, the environment, "law and order", sports and the arts. It promises to overturn the policies of Kennett's "arrogant administration" by measures such as repealing "voluntary student unionism" legislation, restoring public ownership of key strategic assets, phasing out private prisons, restoring injured workers' right to common law action and improving the quality of education.

However, New Solutions is careful to emphasise that the ALP in government will be "fiscally responsible", despite promising more funding for schools, hospitals and the environment.

Conveniently, it "does not commit [the ALP] to specific funded initiatives within a set time frame". Instead, these "will be provided in subsequent policy releases before and during the election campaign". It promises that an ALP government will deliver a continuous budget surplus.

Like Tony Blair's "new Labour" in Britain, New Solutions uses the language of rights and responsibilities — such as that used to justify welfare beneficiaries' forced compliance with tighter regulations imposed by government departments.

New Solutions states that education funding will be determined by "performance based outcomes". Business is promised payroll tax deductions for new employees and "competitive business taxes and charges", a euphemism for tax cuts.

The document also pledges to better target public expenditure to "improve services", (code for "we won't support universal access to social services") and to maintain the Formula 1 Grand Prix site, ending ALP support for the Save Albert Park campaign.

It is clear that the Socialist Left faction and trade union leaders who walked out of Labor's state conference would do better to resign from the party altogether.

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