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EXCLUSIVE: How Labor Right sneaked turnbacks through National Conference

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To save Bill Shorten's shaky leadership, the Labor Right were successful in getting refugee turnbacks through the ALP National Conference only by capitulating to the Left on a range of other policy measures.

The Australian Labor Party National Conference has dominated the news headlines for the better part of a week.

Asylum seeker policy was always going to be a tense and hard fought policy issue; but at two-thirds of the way through the triennial meeting of the supreme policy and rules making body of the Australian Labor Party, it was the first topic to go to a vote.  

This is almost unheard of.

Independent Australia has been advised, by a well placed senior Left source at the Conference, that this is not an accident.

Bill Shorten and the Right leadership team, the source said:

"... are petrified of the mainstream/Murdoch media responding to a Left win on the floor of the conference with a headline that says 'Socialist Left controls Labor Party' or 'Radical Left controls Bill Shorten'. That's why Labor's conference is furiously agreeing on almost all amendments."

The source says this fear has seen Right negotiators

"... embrace progressive policies and amendments, and almost the most progressive platform the Left can propose."

The Right have been in the position to decide what wins or loses on national conference floor in votes for much of recent history. It is no doubt an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position for them this time around, where they are not fully convinced they can hold their numbers together and defeat Left motions by peeling off a few stray Left delegates.

Said the Left source:

"Things that a week ago they were rejecting vigorously, they are now agreeing."

The vast bulk of reporting from National Conference will be that the Left suffered a massive embarrassment, not being able to hold their numbers together to back ruling out boat turn backs under a future Labor government. It will be reported that the Right were the big winners, who cemented Bill Shorten's authority.

The reality is that Bill Shorten made the issue of allowing turn backs a key pillar of his leadership. It was an aggressive move.

Were the Left successful in holding together and excluding boat turn backs Shorten's leadership would have been terminal.

It appears after years of internal rancour during the Rudd and Gillard years, the main ally of Bill Shorten on this issue, the powerful left wing union, the CFMEU, couldn't stomach the idea of more leadership turmoil.

Other left wing unions, such as the ASU (Australia Services Union), the Rail Tram and Bus Union and United Voice also played a part in ensuring Bill Shorten can turn back refugee boats in the future.

Of course, there are many Labor voters and members upset and appalled that their party now includes Liberal Party policy among the suite of measures it is willing to use relating to asylum seekers. While this is a completely legitimate concern, the predominantly left wing base should turn their attention to the numerous policy wins of the ascendent National Left in the final platform that will emerge from this National Conference, which concludes today.

There are, for a start, signs the influence of the rightwing, religiously driven SDA (Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association) is waning. 

In addition, rules amendments are set to be debated today, along with a strong motion in support of Palestine, backed by the NSW Right and binding on marriage equality.

It looks increasingly like marriage equality binding will be a reality by the end of today, and a raft of popular internal reforms – like giving the president and vice-presidents of the party a vote on the National Executive and giving rank-and-file significantly more internal power – will be successful.

Should the National Executive rules reform succeed, it would give the Left control of National Executive for the first since the late 1970s.

This is not insignificant. The party membership, it turns out, does have something to smile about — a platform that across the board will more closely reflect their firmly held values.

Looking at the platform of National Conference in total, when all is said and done, the Right will be reeling.

The wider issue for the Australian Labor Party to consider however, is how long are both the Left and the Right prepared to let fear of an unfriendly Murdoch media behemoth dictate the internal functioning of their party?

This is the challenge for Labor going into an election sometime in the next year or so.

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