Members of the PLUS [Progressive Left Unions and Sub-branches] faction were this week notified that former SACOSS boss Karen Grogan had been elected unopposed to fill the key post as Left convenor – a move first flagged by InDaily last month.
She will formally take over at the faction’s AGM on Sunday, replacing longtime powerbroker David Gray, who did not recontest the role, which holds sway over key preselections to state and federal parliament.
Grogan was the only nominee, despite several insiders previously flagging a contest for the position, with several alternative ‘consensus’ candidates being sounded out, including former state Labor minister Paul Caica.
“If Karen Grogan wants to have broad-based support within the faction, she’d have to demonstrate a willingness to have a more inclusive style of leadership than we’ve seen in recent history,” one factional source said last month.
However, it’s understood factional bosses have just concluded a broad review of PLUS operations, chaired by deputy Labor leader Susan Close – the Left’s most senior state MP.
Close, who headed a panel comprised of Grogan and Community and Public Sector Union political coordinator Karen Atherton, declined to comment today, telling InDaily: “It’s better factional matters are dealt with internally.”
But factional insiders have told InDaily the review had helped avert a messy power struggle to replace Gray, who has held the role for the past decade.
During that time the faction managed to install Left-winger Jay Weatherill as Labor leader, but was also riven by internal spats and defections, most recently with longtime member Steve Georganas quitting to join the Right’s Labor Unity after a standoff over his former seat of Hindmarsh.
“There’s been lots of movement in the right direction,” one source said today.
“A good portion [of the faction] have made their views known to the review, or participated in one form or another.
“We’re in a new political cycle, we need to work out where do we go, how are we going to play it, what are our policy priorities… how are we going to grow and develop all of that?”
InDaily has been told that while there were “several different names being bandied around” as candidates to lead the faction, it “ultimately came down to the fact that people didn’t want to [run] if we could get a good direction out of the review, and the review has helped create a really open conversation and an opportunity to rebuild and renew”.
“The serious effort that’s been going into the review process, the openness in which it’s been conducted, has given people a lot of confidence in the future.”
That includes the faction flexing its muscles against the Labor machine’s dominant Right, with one insider saying: “We don’t want to see the party drift into adopting a series of reflexive and potentially regressive positions on various policy issues.”
“There’s a sense we want to galvanise ourselves to ensure many of our policy initiatives don’t get watered down or brought backwards,” they said.
The source argued that the SA left is “the smallest Left faction in the country at the moment [so] there is plenty of opportunity for it to grow over time”.
“[We want to] grow our numbers, grow our influence and support our MPs to stand up for our values and principles.”
They sounded a warning about the Labor Unity hegemony on policy with the ascent of Right powerbroker Peter Malinauskas to the party leadership.
“He’s put out some strong markers, but he ultimately comes from a different camp and has the support of that camp, so it’s about contesting [and] holding true to the values and making the Labor Party as strong as it can be, so that of we return to government it’s not a wasted opportunity,” they said.
Another source said Gray’s departure was “quite a significant change [given] the influence he’s had over the years”.
“It’s just an opportunity to involve more people in decision-making and doing more… more social events, more engagement with new members, more connections between the different people in the faction,” they said.
Another described the review as a “stocktake”, saying: “The broad Left always wants to be able to influence progressive policy the best way we can.”
Neither Gray nor Grogan, who has also worked as an adviser to both Weatherill and Malinauskas, returned calls today.
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