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"The party needs to wake up": Labor at war over 'undemocratic' deals

Politics

UPDATED: SA Labor’s factions have splintered in a messy preselection brawl, with union threats to break away from the ALP and two prominent union bosses today nominating for the Upper House amid a protest at a factional stitch-up that has many party insiders seething.

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Maritime Union state secretary Jamie Newlyn today strode into the ALP’s Gilles St headquarters to lodge his nomination in a direct challenge to Australian Workers Union heavyweight and Tea Tree Gully councillor Justin Hanson – the candidate rubber-stamped in a factional deal between Labor’s left and right powerbrokers to fill the casual vacancy left by departing MLC Gerry Kandelaars.

“People in the Labor movement know I speak on their behalf, and I’ve represented workers for a long time, so I think this is a natural progression,” Newlyn told InDaily.

Also nominating for the casual vacancy is former CFMEU national president Trevor Smith, ensuring a three-way tussle for a gig that the party considered locked away only a week ago.

Long-serving MUA state secretary Newlyn has the backing of a host of unions loosely collected in the party’s Industrial bloc, an offshoot of the Left not affiliated with the larger PLUS (Progressive Left Union and Sub-Branches) faction that has recently signed off on a series of deals with Labor’s dominant right faction, Labor Unity.

The Health Services Union is one of those backing Newlyn’s bid. Its state secretary Jorge Navas said there was a “basic principle” at stake, with the renegade unions blaming PLUS and the AWU for allegedly claiming to have broad support for Hanson’s candidacy without consultation.

If this was happening in the commercial world that would be fraud

“There was a deal done we were not aware of,” Navas told InDaily.

“A particular union has decided to use our members to claim we were supporting something that the union has not even discussed with us… we will not support deals being done in our name without our knowledge.

“If that was happening in the commercial world that would be fraud.”

Neither Justin Hanson nor his father Wayne, the AWU’s longtime secretary, nor current boss Peter Lamps returned calls today.

The AWU has previously provided a springboard for now-Premier Jay Weatherill to cut his political teeth.

Justin Hanson sent an SMS saying it would be “an honour to follow in the footsteps of such a kind and genuine person as Gerry [Kandelaars], whose true Labor values I admire and share”, adding he would talk to InDaily “if I’m fortunate enough to be endorsed by the Labor Party to fill the vacancy”.

“The party has a democratic process and I’ll await the outcome before commenting further,” he wrote.

Navas said he would be “more than happy at all times to respect whatever decisions are made by the party – but they need to be made in a democratic process”.

“The reality for us is, the party needs to wake up and start doing the right thing by its members,” he said.

“Especially, the factional deals that are made need to be clearly expressed to everybody, so we can have an opportunity to put our point of view.”

InDaily understands there is simmering dissatisfaction within the Left factions both at Hanson’s elevation and with a raft of other deals struck in recent horse-trading, with many privately voicing concerns about a lack of consultation with members and a belief that too much power has been ceded to the party’s right by David Gray, the assistant branch secretary of United Voice  who convenes the PLUS faction.

Gray was unavailable for comment today.

National Union of Workers SA lead organiser Tony Snelson said in a statement his union “has been misrepresented in deals that have been made by those from various factions as to who the union will support for preselection and filling casual vacancies, by players who appear out-of-touch with the way democratic processes are undertaken and the values of our union members”.

Another supporter, Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Union federal secretary Graham Smith, went even further, saying his members “will be questioning our affiliation to Labor if factional powerbrokers reject a quality candidate like Jamie Newlyn”.

“He’s proven he will never be beholden to anyone,” he said.

The party needs to wake up and start doing the right thing by its members

Newlyn and Smith’s candidacies will bring on a vote at an ALP state council meeting to be held at the West Adelaide Football Club tonight – a vote both are expected to lose.

However, the open hostility to the manner in which the current round of preselections has been managed is unusual, and further evidence of a party degenerating into chaos.

Beyond the MUA, the NUW, the HSU and the AMIEU, the Industrial Left also comprises the likes of the Rail, Tram and Bus Industry Union and a group representing the sub-branch of Florey – the electorate currently held by maverick backbencher Frances Bedford.

Frances is the sitting member, and it’s Labor Party policy to support sitting members

A factional deal is set to see Bedford extricated from the seat she has held for 20 years in favour of Health Minister and influential right-winger Jack Snelling, with his factional colleague Michael Brown to surf into his safe former seat of Playford.

Newlyn said the Industrial bloc would continue to advocate for Bedford, arguing: “She is the sitting member, and it’s Labor Party policy to support sitting members.”

1200_720_0030_Frances_Bedford

Frances Bedford in parliament this week. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

A media release distributed today said Newlyn was standing “to give an important voice to the state Upper House and stand up to the Turnbull Commonwealth Government in its attempts to take benefits and rights away from those who need it most”.

However, asked if his candidacy represented a protest of sorts, he said: “You could say that.”

Newlyn said he would be “playing to the goodwill” of ALP delegates at tonight’s meeting, saying he represented the party’s own internal rhetoric of “regeneration, renewal and good quality candidates”.

“We want good candidates being put forward for the party, and I believe I’m one of them,” he said.

Asked if he considered Hanson a good candidate, he replied: “I don’t think that’s up to me to say.”

“Different deals have been done which potentially excluded lots of people on the Left, not just our group,” he said.

The explosion of internal tensions in recent weeks, combined with a host of sitting MPs shifting ground to escape the brunt of a looming boundary redistribution, could be viewed as a lapse of the party discipline that has long helped sustain Labor in government. But Newlyn insists: “I honestly think Labor can still win [the March 2018 election].”

“The redistributions have made some people in the party a bit shaky… consequently there’s been some manoeuvres to put people into other seats and create positions for other people, and on that basis we decided we had to put up a candidate,” he said.

The Industrial bloc commands the votes of fewer than 20 per cent of the ALP delegates, with Labor Unity accounting for around 45 per cent and United Voice’s PLUS left a further 35 per cent. The remainder contains assorted unaffiliated unions, including the AMWU which generally backs the right.

Newlyn said if he failed to win the vote, “we’ll just have to regroup and have a look and decide” what to do next.

“But I’m hopeful we can get enough votes to get over the line,” he added.

“If not, we’ve demonstrated there’s enough people that believe in the democratic process to create another voice for working families in SA.”

Nominations for all-but-one Labor-held seat closed today, with factional endorsements ensuring only one prospective candidate nominated in all but two seats – Florey and Colton.

The latter beachside electorate, from which incumbent Paul Caica will retire at the election, will see Penny Wong staffer Anton van Bavel challenged by local teacher Angela Vaughan.

A raft of young Turks will go unchallenged, including the right’s Peter Malinauskas in Croydon, left-winger Blair Boyer in Wright and former Channel 7 reporter Jayne Stinson in Badcoe.

Interestingly, the northern suburbs seat of King – reduced from a Labor stronghold (formerly Napier) to the party’s most marginal seat under the new boundaries – is still without a candidate, after its nominal incumbent Jon Gee shifted to the safer ground of the neighbouring seat of Taylor.

The party has extended nominations in King, although it’s understood there has been a keen expression of interest.

InDaily is seeking comment from Trevor Smith.

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