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September 2006
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Daily Media Quotation

Daleks Essential To Beazley Going Forward

September 22, 2006

by Rodney Cavalier - Sydney Morning Herald

In his address this week to the Fabian Society, Senator Robert Ray stayed well clear of an attack on factionalism or the existence of factions. The senator knows well enough from his involvement over 40 years inside the ALP that people will coalesce over issues, shared principles, and will work together to advance the interests of candidates they prefer.

Organisation brings with it the iron law of factions and groupings that seek to advance shared interests. Factions are a part of a vibrant party democracy. They cannot be wished away.

The problem with the ALP factions is who controls them. Essentially, these entities bear little more than a name in common with the factions that existed during the Cold War. Factions have been captured by the political class of party officials, union officials and MPs' and ministers' staffers. Thanks to the memoirs of John Hyde Page, we know that the situation inside the NSW Liberal Party is identical. People have gone from school to university, joined a faction - even as, or before, they joined the party - offering the most likely prospects of material advancement, and found employment that is in the gift of the faction they will serve. It is a closed world, and values-free. People shift from one faction to another without pangs of conscience. Factional allegiance, like allegiance to the party itself, is a calculation of opportunity, time frame, investment required, and probable return. A futures exchange for political careers.

When Ray sat down with Gerry Hand and Graham Richardson in the wake of the Bob Hawke electoral triumph of 1983 to decide on a joint approach to the composition of the ministry, they were creating a new model of ALP governance. The success of the exercise delivered one of the finest governments Australia has seen. Each of the ALP state caucuses adopted that model. We have forgotten that ministerial ballots used to be an all-in scramble - that is, openly competitive with good and bad results.

The exercise of 1983 worked because the authors had a single purpose: they sought the best people for the ministry and supported each other in pursuit of that end against adversaries. The factional leaders of 1983 placed the interests of the party first.

So much of the commentary about factions and factional domination has mistaken what has been happening. The canons of belief behind the ALP factional system have broken down totally. The end of the Cold War and the abandoning of socialism as an achievable objective demolished the ALP factions as they used to be. Factions have become stronger as belief has ceased to be a factor in the different parliamentary groupings and machine entities. Factions based on belief were necessarily hamstrung by a solid core of ideas, perhaps even a sense of what was right and proper. Belief-based factions were limited in the business they could do and with whom they could do it. Not today. In every state much of the Left - so-called - is in permanent alliance with some or all of the Right.

Factions have become executive placement agencies, competitors or (more usually) joint venturers that case recruits for jobs in exchange for loyalty and the lure of parliamentary preferment. The people so placed become patrons themselves, in a cycle of values-free renewal. When a party is in power, all is hunky dory. Out of power it has nothing much to sustain it beyond the prospect of winning next time. Incumbency is everything.

The crisis of federal Labor is the crisis of the state Liberals, is the crisis of the British Conservatives. It is a crisis of belief and values. That is why the outright imbecilic gets spoken by men who know better: arrest 200 young people of Middle Eastern appearance without cause; make "Australian values" a part of a visa for entry. The outlandish is probable when your policy is based on guesswork, market research and a requirement for clearance only by those who are the inner group of the political class.

These factional Daleks of the senator's evocative description, the machine men who are values-free, will not offer counsel to restrain stupidity. Robert Ray has gone as far as an insider can to warn that the worst people in the menageries are in charge of the show. Kim Beazley has responded by defending those whom Ray named.

That response was as certain as the sun rising this morning: the continuing leadership of Kim Beazley depends utterly on the Daleks.


Rodney Cavalier was the NSW education minister from 1984-88.



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