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Calls to fix "broken" Labor after protest falls on deaf ears


The leader of a rebel union says a clean break from the SA Labor Party remains on the table, lamenting there is “something broken” in the party’s culture, after the ALP’s factional machine ruthlessly swept aside a challenge for an Upper House vacancy.

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At a state council meeting last night, Australian Workers Union official and Tea Tree Gully Councillor Justin Hanson was overwhelmingly endorsed as the party’s choice to replace Gerry Kandelaars in the Legislative Council, with delegates largely voting along factional lines to endorse him with 128 votes. Challenger Jamie Newlyn, the state secretary of the Maritime Union who yesterday announced his candidacy to protest the factional rubber-stamp, received just 22 votes.

Another candidate, retired CFMEU heavyweight Trevor Smith, got seven votes.

The result was predictable given the industrial bloc that backed Newyln’s candidacy comprises significantly less than 20 per cent of the party vote, which is dominated by the ruling right faction Labor Unity and the PLUS (Progressive Left Union and Sub-Branches) left group, which includes Premier Jay Weatherill.

But the result, and the unusual situation whereby two candidates forced a vote to protest a deal endorsed by the ruling factions, have left open wounds within the party, and in particular the Left factions.

Smith, a one-time CFMEU national president, told InDaily today he and Newlyn could have better coordinated their assault but that they carried the “same statement” – one redolent of historical critiques of the ALP’s infamous ‘faceless men’.

There’s a growing dissent that we’re not getting it right

“The point is obvious – there’s growing dissatisfaction amongst a number of unions, in particular from the Left, that the process and quality of candidates is somewhat questionable at the moment,” Smith said.

“From a CFMEU perspective, there needs to be review of the processes by those that take part in discussions and negotiations on the various positions that need to be filled from time to time, because there’s a growing dissent that we’re not getting it right.”

Jamie Newlyn arrives at ALP HQ this morning

Jamie Newlyn nominating for preselection at ALP HQ yesterday. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

He said that “at times there are clearly more appropriate candidates, with broader skill sets, broader experience and broader expertise” than those elected to parliament, “and I’m not at all sure that the allocation by both the Right and the Left factions have got it right in respect to the filling of various vacancies”.

Smith also told the meeting last night it was the CFMEU’s “turn” to have a candidate preselected.

He said today the union had long “lacked a voice within parliament”, having not had a single member elected in SA since he joined in 1974.

“I can’t be convinced that over that journey there hasn’t been one CFMEU representative [with] the ability or calibre to fill a political position,” he said.

Despite the result of the ballot, Smith said “I guess what it’s done is clearly made a broader group of people aware of the growing dissatisfaction, and obviously it’s timely to start making a statement”.

However, he noted, there “also needs to be a solution”.

“There needs to be an urgent review… certain individuals in my view are taking on too much responsibility in identifying, selecting and recommending individuals for certain positions within parliament [and] I think there needs to be broader consultation… otherwise there’s going to be continuing dissent, in particular within the Left.”

Smith’s views are publicly shared by many in Left factions not affiliated with PLUS, and appear to have currency, with last night’s vote – while lopsided – suggesting at least some delegates who were previously on board with Hanson’s election switched their vote to Newlyn.

The ballot appears to have left a bitter aftertaste, with meat workers’ union boss Graham Smith maintaining a threat to quit the ALP if Newlyn was not elected remains a live possibility.

“Of course it is,” he told InDaily today.

“It’s something we’re certainly going to have to talk about given the circumstances… obviously we’re not happy about the way it went [and] we’ll be having discussions internally, and meeting with some of the other unions to see if this is really the end of the line with this battle.”

Smith said the Australian Meat Industry Employees’ Union represents around 2500 members across SA and WA.

While he conceded that such factional deals “have been going on for generations”, Smith said: “That doesn’t make them right – and they’re not right.”

“They’re not a good thing for the party, they’re not good for democracy and debate,” he said.

“There’s something wrong at the moment… something’s broken at the moment, something needs fixing.”

Losing candidates all say the same thing every time

But long-time right-wing powerbroker and parliamentary Speaker Michael Atkinson dismissed the notion that the factions were splintered, pointing out that the endorsed candidate got more than 83 per cent of the vote.


Michael Atkinson in parliament this week. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

“Unions have been talking about leaving the ALP every year for the last 30 years,” he said.

“There’s not been a year when I’ve been an MP that a union did not talk about disaffiliating from the ALP because it did not get its way… unions [regularly] come in and out of affiliation with the ALP.

“We have a party of 3000 members – shock, horror: more than one of them has nominated for a Leg Co vacancy!”

He also dismissed rhetoric around the need for broader consultation, saying it was “entirely predictable”.

“Losing candidates all say the same thing every time – it doesn’t vary,” he told InDaily.

Last night’s result is an ominous portent for Florey incumbent Frances Bedford, facing a challenge from key right-winger Jack Snelling as a boundary redistribution threatens to shift a swathe of his Playford electorate into her seat.

The challenge will be decided by a vote of the local branch members (25 per cent) and party delegates at a meeting next month (75 per cent), with Bedford likely to comfortably lose both.

She has not ruled out running as an independent.

Ironically, it’s understood the Right supported Bedford to eschew retirement and stand again in 2014, a move that blocked an existing deal for the AWU – and Justin Hanson – to take over the seat. That deal was part of a broader arrangement that also saw left-winger John Gazzola (who recently confirmed his retirement) installed as Upper House president. The AWU and PLUS Left have, however, now ceded the newly-safe Florey to the Right in exchange for a guaranteed Upper House berth.

The current Florey sub-branch – notoriously responsible for several esoteric motions at ALP state conference every year – is currently aligned with the industrial Left, but the new boundaries will bring in a surge of right-wing Labor Unity members.

Atkinson, with whom Bedford works as deputy speaker, said: “I would expect her, as a member, to adhere to the rules and spirit of the party, and abide the outcome of the preselection process.”

He noted too that Bedford has “been a very good deputy speaker and chair of committees”.

Newlyn said today that while “the numbers are clear as day”, winning last night’s vote “wasn’t the full reason for my nomination”.

“The result was not unexpected… in fact, it was more than I thought I’d get,” he said.

“Clearly people in the party believe there needs to be a bit of a shake-up… this demonstrates people will stand up and participate and protest against things they think are wrong or incorrect in the way politics are run, and people will continue to agitate for a fair and transparent process.”

However, he eschewed suggestions his Maritime Union would join Smith in contemplating disaffiliation, saying “we believe we need to be in the tent”.

“You can’t force change from outside,” he said.

The casual vacancy was brought about by the sudden resignation of Legislative Councillor Gerry Kandelaars, whom InDaily revealed earlier this month would stand aside due to his wife’s ongoing health battle.

This is an excerpt of his valedictory speech this week:

“It has been a great honour and privilege to have served the South Australian community in this place. However, I have a greater responsibility as the carer of my wife, Glenys, the love of my life for over 40 years.

The year 2016 has been an emotional rollercoaster ride for Glenys, myself and our family… Unfortunately, the year started on the wrong foot with my wife being hospitalised with a serious lung infection which was a sign of things to come. She was hospitalised countless times throughout the rest of the year, often for weeks at a time. Although Glenys has suffered from a chronic lung condition for four decades, we were not prepared for what was to come.

In June, the issue of a possible lung transplant was first raised. At this stage, we sought a second medical opinion… after some extensive tests, [the doctor] confirmed that Glenys had cystic fibrosis.

For Glenys to be diagnosed with CF was quite extraordinary, given her age of 61. For Glenys’s generation (and my generation, for that matter), very few CF patients survived to their 20s. Even today, life expectancy for someone with CF is around 35 to 37 years of age…

From late August, Glenys has required permanent connection to an oxygen supply. Since that time, my life has changed considerably as I have become her full-time carer. I have come to expect the unexpected at times, never knowing when the next round of hospitalisation can occur, but also knowing that should it occur, Glenys will get the best possible care available.

I must say the events of the last year have highlighted to me the value of our public health system, and the quality and empathy and passion and talent of those men and women who work in the public health system in South Australia. Given the nature of Glenys’s condition, if it were not for the public health system, she may not be with us today…

My decision to resign has not come lightly, and I have come to the conclusion that the best time is spent in ensuring Glenys receives the greatest level of care possible. When I first spoke in this chamber some five years ago, I said: ‘Throughout our marriage Glenys has truly been a tremendous support to me. This may sound corny, but, Glenys, you complete me.’ And that wholeheartedly remains the case today. It is my turn to support my beautiful wife in her time of need.

I have absolutely no regrets about that.”



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