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Labor "game-playing" blamed as factional charge falls flat

Politics

State Labor’s newest sub-faction has been trounced in its first electoral test, but its organisers say they are undeterred, blaming the ALP factional “machine” for galvanising against them.

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InDaily revealed last month that a group of hard Left unions, grassroots activists and community groups had united under the banner of “Active Left” as an “active campaigning voice within the SA Labor Party”.

But in a ballot this week to elect four delegates from the influential Adelaide sub-branch to Labor’s state convention in October, Active Left’s candidate – Maritime Union boss Jamie Newlyn – failed to garner a single vote, InDaily has been told.

Newlyn is currently overseas and could not be reached for comment today, which would explain why he did not even manage the consolation, in a ballot of 62 members, of having one vote – his own.

But InDaily has confirmed that Newlyn was one of five candidates who stood for the four delegate positions. Among the successful candidates were two former senior advisers to Premier Jay Weatherill – right-winger Aaron Hill, now a director at Deloitte Access Economics, and the Left’s David Pearson, currently executive director of the Don Dunstan Foundation.

Two other left-wingers, Grace Fitzpatrick and Pauline Gambley, were also elected.

Active Left was formed around a nucleus of Industrial Left unions and others not affiliated with the larger PLUS (Progressive Left Union and Sub-Branches) faction which, with the Right’s Labor Unity faction, comprises Labor’s factional “machine”.

It’s understood Newlyn also missed out on election to the party’s state council, where Hill and Fitzpatrick will be joined by marketing manager Victoria Fielding and Robert Fletcher, a state government adviser and former staffer to Left powerbroker Mark Butler.

But Active Left spokesman Graham Smith told InDaily the result was not a major setback, insisting: “Our priority is on our industrial agenda.”

“It’s not the only way to get our industrial agenda achieved,” he said, adding that the group planned to make its voice heard through various rallies and forums.

“We’ll be doing various things,” he said.

“The first part of our title is ‘active’ and that’s what we’ll be, so whether we want to get involved in silly games with the Machine… they can play those games, we’re not really fussed about them.”

He said the result indicated “the Machine is probably galvanising against us [but] we’ll get through that”.

“We’re not worried about that… I can’t see these games continuing on for a long time,” Smith said.

“They can play them now if they like.”

Smith said the concept behind Active Left “is to have some robust debate”.

“I find it astounding if groups are in fact co-ordinating activities to try to stop that from happening… that’s quite a ludicrous position for them to take,” he said.

“If the [reaction] of some is to try to shut that down, that’s the wrong position to take – and that will become known.”

He said the group was “certainly attracting a lot of attention” within the party and was “getting new members registered and growing”.

The formation of Active Left followed Newlyn’s unsuccessful nomination for an Upper House vacancy in February, as a protest against a factional deal that saw the seat handed to Australian Workers’ Union powerbroker Justin Hanson.

At the time, Smith’s union – the Australasian Meat Industry Employees’ Union – threatened to disaffiliate from the party.

It’s understood the Industrial Left group subsequently entered negotiations with PLUS convenors in a bid to broker a peace deal, which floated the prospect of the federal seat of Makin being handed to the group’s candidate when incumbent Tony Zappia retires.

However, the deal never got off the ground, in part because of Zappia’s determination to continue on, and because the future of Makin itself is in some doubt, with the Australian Electoral Commission set to determine by tomorrow whether to abolish an SA-based seat in its next redistribution.

There is some speculation in party circles that Makin would be a logical seat to disappear, which could also cause headaches for prominent Liberal Christopher Pyne, whose seat of Sturt would then likely subsume several Labor-leaning booths.

However, another option mooted is a merger of the state’s two largest regional seats, Grey and Barker.

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