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Queensland Labor Party State Conference 2015

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Queensland ALP member John Ryan provides the most comprehensive and illuminating summary you'll find anywhere of the recent Queensland Labor Party State Conference.

Queensland Labor State Conference 2015

(August 29-30)

DAY ONE

Hi again from the ALP Queensland State Forum. If any remember my coverage of last year’s event they will recall it was a feisty affair. Things ought to be different this year. It is now the second year that the Left has controlled the floor and Annastacia Palaszczuk’s Labor Government had been in power for a full six-and-a-half months! Gee, wonder if that victory will be brought up today?

There is a happy hubbub as party faithful greet each other. The first session of a conference is always cordial; people are fresh, and the speeches are warm and embracing, welcoming the faithful into the loving arms of the mother party. Must start asking what ideas people have envisaged for the weekend… Of course, some people gave the cynical response that all the deals are already done. Conference would be pretty chaotic if it wasn’t that way. Still, the floor gives groups a chance to speak to or against the amendments.

Once again, most are saying that the real passion will be shown during debate on the rules amendments. Affirmative action for 50 per cent of winnable seats to go to women candidates seems close to people’s hearts. This appears to be unanimously supported, though, and will be carried unopposed. Much talk about trying to save TAFE. Word in the foyer was that it was very nearly eviscerated by Newman and the LNP. Off we go.

Dick Williams, the state president, kicks things off. He is to sprinkle the weekend with zingers, much to everyone’s delight. I would like to have a dollar for every time I heard “Everybody loves Dick”. Please note: every speaker over the course of the conference thanked and acknowledged the traditional owners, the Jagera and Turrbal tribes. Dick begins on a theme that will be oft repeated — namely that everybody expected Labor would be in the wilderness for two terms after the slaughter of 2012. Thank you, thank you, rank and file that put in when it really mattered. Labor won because the parliamentary, industrial, and membership arms were in lock step, united in core beliefs and values.

Annastacia, he went on to say, set the tone early in her leadership: no asset sales. Voters didn’t know what Labor stood for, we had to win back trust and increase membership. It was important that Labor won back the trust of the union movement. That happened.  Now membership stands at close to 10,000. In the next three years, Labor wants that to be 15,000.

First of all, the Redcliffe by-election victory, followed by Stafford with an even bigger swing, then the mighty victory of 31 January. Labor was returning accountability and trust back to Queensland. Now, we have a battle hardened membership ready to fight for Rod Harding in Brisbane and then Bill Shorten in Canberra. Everybody lapped it up with rousing cheers all around. Next up was Evan Moorhead, state secretary.

Evan moves straight onto the Brisbane Council elections, stating it’s important to change Brisbane's LNP Lord Mayor Graham Quirk as he has been around since 'I want to know what love is' by Foreigner was number 1. Kazing! Later Milton Dick, who is retiring from council, will tell how the council elections are still his greatest priority. He was glad to announce that his pet hate, the failed Brisbane Bike scheme, has now hit $20m. The only thing the LNP council was brilliant at was giving developers 100 per cent surety their projects would pass through.

Evan continued one of the other constant themes: we must be rid of Abbott and Hockey! The ALP in Queensland will not be such a secret army. More members, more doorknocking, more telemarketing (yay). There were moving tributes to the great Labor identity Wayne Goss, who sadly passed away in November last year. There were speeches from the heart by Wayne Swan and Matt Foley. There was also a showing of the spoof of “My Way” featuring Wayne Goss. 

Now for the main attraction, the premier herself. The first woman in Australian political history to be voted into power from opposition — Annastacia Palaszczuk. The introduction was by Jackie Trad, who spoke of Annastacia’s foresight and determination, not to just bring Labor back from seven seats to be a viable opposition, but to take government. Jackie spoke of the difficulties facing the fledgling Queensland Government, as Abbott and Hockey have ripped $18 billion out of health and education and how Annastacia has valiantly shown the way.

Annastacia Palaszczuk, like Jackie herself, came from a hard working family. Families like theirs were happy to be in Australia, because of things such as health care. Care that did not depend on the size of your wallet. The fact that people didn’t get sacked in the middle of night. Annastacia was willing to face the tough questions, confronting the scourge of violence against women, recommitting to skilling Queensland.

Annastacia enters the auditorium to a prolonged standing ovation. The Great Labor Party is back, she says. She will never forget the trust conferred to her by the people of Queensland that saw through the LNP spin. Labor will be working with Queenslanders not against them.

Jeff Seeney had said to her when she first took her seat as the opposition leader:

“Get used to sitting there, you’ll be there for 15 years!” 

The people of Queensland proved him wrong.

Together the LNP turned back the clock on Fitzgerald reforms, Annastacia told us. This is a point that has concerned me, the writer. Week after week, one would read how the LNP were slashing another Fitzgerald reform, sacking inspectors, and recruiting youth straight from school. All of this probably explains, to some degree, the five fatal shootings in a short period in 2014. With Annastacia’s introduction, I was hoping that debate around new policy would arise. That wasn’t to happen.

Annastacia continued, Curtis Pitt’s first budget emphasised jobs for now and for the future. (The budget did stay in the media cycle for only a short time, a good sign, and received few criticisms). This budget put to bed the myth that Labor can’t achieve surpluses. The LNP spent $100 million on the Strong Choices ad campaign (cries of “shame” from the auditorium). We will, instead, spend that money on protecting our greatest asset the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). Opportunity must match ambition and the Smart State legacy will live on. Biofuel is the backbone of regional employment Queensland. We are looking to create thousands of jobs over the next few years in technology.

Annastacia’s introduction to the weekend ended to cheers reminding the faithful that Labor listens. Listens to complaints such as the closure of the Barrett centre which led to three suicides. Listens to the need to reform education, with STEM leading the way to smart jobs in the future.

Okay, now off for some lunch. Here it got a little interesting. The ALP is a broad church and I know there is a strong push for green policies. I also know that the Acland coalmine Stage 3 is a hot topic for environmentalists, it was also a favourite point for broadcaster Alan Jones, who helped Labor win with his constant attack on the LNP.

With this background, I popped into the foyer to be met with CFMEU members, replete with kids holding signs saying “Save my dad’s job”. The attendant flyer stated that at risk were 400 permanent full time jobs at the mine, and 1,000 indirect jobs across our region. Food for thought and a theme that would occur over the weekend. A theme of progressive environmental objectives at odds with workers and their unions.

There were fringe events, including a talk by the AMWU, ETU and the CFMEU on free trade agreements: What is at stake for Australia. The basic theme was one that was aired earlier, that Labor isn’t against free trade per se, but is against free trade that worsens the lot for Australian workers. The ChFTA is a case in point. It was argued that the rise in employment figures would only be about 8,000 and that most of these jobs would be in fringe areas such as viticulture and Chinese medicine. investor state dispute resolution (ISDR) clauses were brought up — by way of example, the fact that Phillip Morris Asia is suing Australia over plain cigarette packaging legislation, due to a clause in the HKFTA.

The other key points for concern were the facts that workers could be allowed into Australia without a necessary skill level assessment. There is a problem that there is no requirement to first look for Australian workers seeking jobs. ABC Fact Check says this checks out. These are points that Federal Labor basically agrees on, but it appears that opposition to the idea is on the rise from Labor state premiers. Once again, Labor is a broad church. The speakers urged us to visit chinaftafacts.com .

Back to the auditorium to hear Rod Harding talk for the first time. Rod is the Labor candidate for Brisbane Lord Mayor in the 2016 BCC election. He’s one of eight kids, that included five lawyers, so tough to win arguments. His family owned the Corones Hotel in Charleville. He went to work for Macquarie Bank, now he wants to run Brisbane. He has a big plan for roads, including a $650 million dollar suburban busting package. The first project will be $200 million for a rail overpass at Coopers Plains. This will be paid for from the gold-plated $650 million Kingsford Smith Drive upgrade. Rod wants the people of Brisbane to decide on Kingsford Smith Drive at the ballot box.

Moving to the rules committee stage of the conference. This is where the lively debates occur, as it involves who has the most say at future conferences. First up, though, is a popular move for Queensland Labor to implement the reforms outlined at the National Labor conference, namely that there will be 50 per cent representation by women by 2025. There were several speakers to the motion, Julie Ann Campbell who spoke of her mother’s travails, Grace Grace and Shannon Fentiman. Big cheers and the change is carried unanimously.

Shannon jokes that she is a minister for women who is a woman. Laughs. We are glad that the target is now implemented at state level.

Now we move onto a more vexed area that not all see eye to eye on. Jacqueline King gets the ball rolling talking about changes to branch representation. This is the second year that the Left has held the floor and the Right are not happy about some changes. Basically the amendments involve requiring the ten largest FECs to elect a young person into their state delegates.

The arguments on either side run thus. Those in favour of the change argue that the new system will encourage the young members to engage with the branches and the party at large. It is easy for youth to get caught up in student and Queensland Young Labor (QYL) politics and forget that the ALP is a broad organisation. There is also the giving of a voice to Rainbow Labor and to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders representatives, who have been hitherto neglected at conference. The move is to also help enfranchise new groups such as Labor Environmental Action Network (LEAN).

Importantly these new delegates have to come from somewhere.

The counter argument is that these changes are in fact disempowering the youth of the party. It is a furphy that there will be greater representation of young people through the FECs as there already are 12 such delegates through the branch system. There will be a loss of autonomy for young people as they lose the chance to vote for themselves. There will also be a loss for regional QYL as they will not get a chance to vote and there will also be a loss of opportunity for transient students and other youth who need to travel. Travelling in early career stages makes it more difficult to represent an FEC.

With that in mind let the fireworks begin. Jacqueline, speaking to the motion, there should be 212 branch delegates to match 212 union. We need representation for RLQ and ATSIRC now. The positives are we will have more young people. Some jeers from the Right. You can make some noise but you may not have the numbers though. Cheers from the Left. Chris Moore, the new QYL president tells us he is democratically elected. The reforms are the first to empower those left out.

The speaker against the amendment rises to huge cheers from the Right. Dick Williams drolly states:

“Delegates to the right, I understand it will be profound, but wait 'til it’s said."

Mitchell speaking against. One of three QYL members elected, I may be the last. There will be less autonomy for young Labor, it is just taking a voice away. Labor Forum is the only ones who will stand up for a safer young Labor! Huge ovation from the Right side of the room.

Jacki speaks against. Party rules are not playthings for one group to increase their power. Labor Forum has never tried to manipulate the rules of the party. This line has both sides of the auditorium in a sustained fit of belly laughter, the speaker tranquilly keeping a straight face. More arguments for and against, but the Left holds the floor so it was passed.

Affiliation of Unions. Elliot Stein, a star performer from last year, brings a motion that affiliated Unions be held to the same standards as members. You can feel the air start to crackle. The party doesn’t need to keep one eye on the Tories and another behind their backs watching if affiliated unions are helping Labor’s enemies! Raucous hoots and hollers from the Right. Katter Party, Australian Greens, $125k to the Katter Party! Anyone is welcome as long as it is working against Labor. Sustained cheer from the Right.

Evan in response. What a nonsense motion. This is just the politics of opposition. The ALP has never interfered with the day to day running of the unions. Important to note, the unions against this motion donate $2.96 for every $1 by the unions for it. The performance today by Elliot was good, but I’ve seen it before. Ronan Lee earlier made a similar delivery. Huge cheers from Left. Elliot has a great career as the next Ronan Lee in the party! More sustained cheering from the Left. The motion is of course defeated.

Fringe event: Going Down the Road of American Inequality. Wayne Swan, Jackie Trad, and the very cool Linda Tirado, author of Hand to Mouth

In conjunction with the forum was a copy of 'Inclusive Prosperity: Australia’s record and the road ahead', it is the first discussion paper released by the Chifley Research Centre on the subject. Essentially, it addresses the growing inequality that is emerging in Australia and the threat to our future economic growth.

Wayne Swan urges that we must pursue policies designed to achieve wealth creation and economic growth in a globalised system characterised by profound technological change. Jackie concurs that digital disruption is a major hurdle facing Australian governments and how to help workers benefit from the increased productivity that technology brings. Linda Tirado is naturally funny, she lends a human face to the situation in the USA where inequality is entrenched and the working poor is a stark reality. Linda regales us with stories such as how she, as a manager of a McDonalds in Utah had to use part of her meagre $20,000 p.a wage to buy the oven mitts so workers wouldn’t burn their hands on the ovens.

DAY TWO

It began with, building connected communities. Jackie Trad – Labor moved to have people at the centre of planning. Improving accessibility for people with disability. State infrastructure plan – not just selling assets. Rigorous infrastructure development. Take on Abbot about not funding any public transport infrastructure. It’s unacceptable that the federal government has no place ensuring proper public transport.

Mark Bailey offers a big hand to everyone that campaigned for Labor in Queensland election. Yipee! We are restoring frontline services and repairing integrity. Spiralling costs have put strain on working families. Water bills are now lower than projected in 2013. We are the solar state and Queensland leads the world in solar adoption rates, only Labor is committed to one million solar panels by 2020. Annastacia is investing in Queensland based renewable energy, thereby cutting network costs. Batteries save 35% on pole and wire costs. Cutting edge technology. Sunverge Energy, a Californian electricity storage developer, is working in Queensland in conjunction with Ergon, doing a real world trial of battery storage. ARENA  also have a positive relationship with them.

Annastacia back on centre stage. Great to be a Queenslander! All lap it up. Friends, colleagues, true believers. As an intro to Bill Shorten: a great friend of Queensland, in the January election we had no greater supporter than Bill – we must help him topple Abbott – Warren Truss warned us that Queensland would be punished for not selling our assets. Abbott has given the money to WA and NT. Hockey tells us poor people don’t drive. There will be an increase in GST. Workchoices looms. Contrast this with Bill, who cares about everyday Australians – that Queenslanders are treated fairly – thrive in rewarding workplaces. Drum roll – here is Bill Shorten. Obligatory standing ovation.

Bills starts with NDIS. It gives people with disadvantage control of their own lives. Impairment happens to anyone and in Australia there are different rules in different states, effectively making second class citizens out of millions of Australians. Abbott is still not implementing NDIS (*in fact this week he is actively mitigating against it!). Moving on, unemployment is too high, confidence is too low and now inequality is at a 70 year high.

Young people can’t dream of getting a job, saving for a deposit and building a house. Australia can push through the door, we can grow our economy, extend our national fairness. Australia deserves a government as ambitious and as brave as its people. We must invest in drivers of technology and innovation. We need an industrial system that unites us, not divides us. Universal healthcare is a driver of efficiency. Renewable energy will create tens of thousands of new jobs.

Now Bill moves onto some more controversial topics. Australia deserves a mature approach to national security not "border farce".

I must digress here. Bill delivered this without a hint of irony. Labor has acquiesced on every piece of heinous national security legislation from metadata retention to, yes, the Border Force Act. I know many in the Party who have vehemently opposed this stance. Most entreaties were treated with something akin to derision. This wasn’t covered at the State Conference, and many told me that it was a federal issue and was covered at the national conference.

Anyway, on with the show. Bill continues to inform us all Abbott’s tactics, including Operation Fortitude, do is make people cynical of national security. (Ahem.)

A huge percentage of unemployment is in Queensland regional areas. One out of three Queenslanders out of work in these areas are between 15 and 24. Kids need to be able to reskill but the pendulum has swung too far to shoddy private providers. This is good stuff, Bill. ALP will fund TAFEs.

Onto free trade. Open markets are the best way to create economic growth and that equals jobs. If the ChFTA is right, everyone will prosper. We need a deal that does the right thing by workers. No disagreement from me here. We do not need a race to the bottom. High skills, high quality, and good conditions. Labor is opposed to FIFO workers without labour market testing and mandatory skills assessments. Big cheers.

One third of Queensland renewable energy jobs lost because of the Federal Government’s attacks. The time to act on climate change is now. If we listen to the anti-science lobby, we will all suffer. Sixty kilometres of coastline houses are in danger. Labor is committed to keeping the GBR off the World Heritage endangered list; committed to banning all dredging spill. It’s a duty we owe our children.

Like Annastacia Palaszczuk since 2012, Federal Labor is not building to be a better opposition, we are in it to win it. Huge cheers. We want to build a better Australia for 2030. Make the multinationals pay! That one sends everyone into paroxysms of cheering. Medicare is not a credit card; good old age pensions; real action on climate change and no Australian left behind. We will achieve together. Fairness for all is how we will advance Australia! Standing ovation.

I must say, if this version of Bill Shorten got out in the open, the polls would be even better.

Nearing the latter part of the conference.

Environment Minister Anthony Lynham fields a question from a LEAN member. How do we reconcile with Indigenous tribes that do not want the coal mines? Anthony replies that the majority of traditional owners do want them to go ahead. The mines in Queensland have the highest levels of mine safety and the cleanest methods of extraction, it makes sense that in the transition period to renewables that Queensland supplies the world energy need in this area. Segues nicely into the next chapter: Our environment our future.

Steven Miles is the first ever minister for the GBR. He lets us know that the LNP wanted to remove even the words climate change from the lexicon. Policy to save GBR is long term survival. Reef not being well managed. Need to limit dredging to four key ports. How best to invest $100 million? A long term sustainability plan. All of Labor commitments are embedded in core beliefs. It is a credit to the party that the CFMEU and LEAN can sit together and work on a coherent policy.

Don Brown – "beer loving bloke from Bowman" – fighting for the rights of Indigenous owners of Stradbroke Island. “It was theirs, now we’re gonna give it back!” Time for sand mining to end; we need to diversify the economy.

Things start to get a bit personal and passionate again. A trait of any political meeting where there are competing interests. An AWU official asserts that there is a paucity of detail about the transition plan. There were no public announcements and the group left out were the workers and their Union. He still feels that 2019 is too short a time for workers to adjust. The Stradbroke site won a 2008 sustainable industry award. The shearers under the Tree of Knowledge would be ashamed if they knew workers were being informed of their job loss by press release. If this was the CFMEU and Acland Stage 3 there would be howls of outrage!

There were howls right across the auditorium at that one. 

Of course, Don had to reply. The AWU were invited to consult! Not right from the floor in heated exchange. You were gutless, gutless! Don asserts. Motion carried with Left majority.

Parliamentary Trips to Israel. Wendy Turner, it’s just reasonable for people travelling to Israel that they should spend equal time in Palestine. Another 1,500 settlements destroyed in East Jerusalem. Obama has stated that Israel has deliberately obstructed the two state solution, which is our policy. Passed unanimously.

Things move onto the Queensland platform for sex and gender diversity.

Ashley Bonnell gave an impassioned speech about how manifestly unfair it is that transgender folk have to currently undergo surgery before being recognised. Queensland birth certificate states she is male. Being transgender means that one’s psychological sense of gender is incongruent with their physical body. There is further humiliation in having to explain why the gender on the birth certificate doesn’t match their gender when dealing with government departments and so on. Huge ground swell of support from the auditorium as Ashley explains that surgeries can cost up to $70,000 and that issues of gender identity should be up to the individual and them alone. Really, the best response all weekend. Hardly a dry eye in the house.

The last parts of the conference quickly covered looking at alternative solutions to the mental health crisis. Jacqueline King told how last year her very own son was one of the victims. Labor must look at community based systems where suicidal people can go to. SDA moves to have Easter Sunday declared a public holiday, in line with NSW and Victoria. Also moved to have Christmas and New Year’s Eve as part public holidays.

Federal MP Jim Chalmers moved for greater recognition of New Zealanders in Australia. 

The John Howard era saw more difficulties for all Pacific Island nations in general. Grace Grace alerted us to the fact that the LNP ripped out 85 per cent of the funding for HIV prevention in Queensland. This is in an area hugely felt by the LGBT community. Importantly, Peter Russo addresses the question of a charter of human rights in Queensland.

There exists a need to bring the community into having a charter of human rights. There will be a parliamentary inquiry in this term of this government.  Queensland’s unique single house parliamentary system leaves us exposed to the misuse of government power. A human rights act would protect Queenslanders and improve Queensland’s system of government. Victorians and residents of the ACT have enjoyed the protection of human rights laws for years. Their experience is one of improved government accountability, improved service delivery and more transparent decision-making.

All in all it was a very good conference, with many diverse areas covered. The very fact that the ALP is a broad church means that ideals in direct conflict have to be accommodated. As always, that accommodation was carried out in a spirited but fair manner.

I would like to see some areas of Federal importance debated, such as national security legislation. There are avenues which can be followed in pursuit of that.

Hope you enjoyed this summary and see you next year.

John Ryan is an ALP member. Images in this piece by Kara Burns (karaburns.com).

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