Labor member John Ryan gives an enthralling blow-by-blow account from a feisty and contentious Queensland ALP State Conference in Brisbane, Saturday 23 August.
We are at the Labor Party Queensland State Conference at the Mercure Hotel on North Quay in Brisbane City. I am sitting in the observers section, to the right of the auditorium. The delegates had seemingly been placed according to their affiliations.
This is promising to be a most interesting convention.
A delegate in the foyer was telling me that the left have a slight majority in the voting. There are furious attempts happening from the right to try and poach a few votes. A young member of the Labor Forum reckons that the excitement will begin about 1pm when rules for the selection of the parliamentary leader are voted on.
There is quite a hubbub happening. Quite a crackle in the air.
Queensland Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk begins with a talk about enduring Labor values. There is warm applause all around. Opportunity, fairness, respect and dignity for people at work. This is what Queensland Labor stands for, she says, a fair go, collective bargaining, regardless of background or circumstance. All should enjoy the quality they deserve in life. Equality of education, workplace safe and healthy. Restore these values in Government and we will do it come the next election.
Policy Coordination Committee chair Michael Clifford was next to second the motion on Labor values.
He said the platform needs to be concise. A document that party and non party members can view. It’s a work in progress. Values chapter, in this conference is crucial. Fair go is as synonymous with Labor as fairness of opportunity. November last year, the LNP made it harder for workers to organise. Consultation became no more than a briefing note from the employer. These developments are as bad as Work Choices. For example, cleaners can be contracted out at schools. This equals lower hourly rates for school cleaners. The lowest paid are attacked first.
School cleaner loses jobs, loses livelihood. Why appeal to self interest. ALP ‘gives a shit’ apt to make the effort to make a change in society. Policy must reflect our values. Alternative is less equality, less compassion, our belief lies in collectivism. ALP single biggest driver of equality.
[Applause all around]
Next up was one of the ALP’s truly great speakers, Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Pliberesk. She thanked a warm Queensland welcome and traditional owners. She talks about how Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had a bad week but a wonderful year. Better, though, than Abbott’s shortest political honeymoon.
[Cheers all round]
Tanya was getting warmed up. She reminded the crowd how Campbell Newman promised to act with ‘Humility Grace Dignity’.
It is his arrogance on top of all the cuts etc. There is a consistent pattern appearing with the LNP leaders:
- There is nothing to fear
- Bring in an audit
- Cut health and education services we can rely on.
[Jeers and laughter]
She brought a tear to a few eyes with stories of hard working grandparents and parents, who were happy to pay taxes if it meant that children could get an education.
Finished with a zinger:
[General hooting, whistling, and hollering all round]
At 1.30pm-ish, Councillor Milton Dick gave facts and figures on the decline of Brisbane City Council’s fortunes. The revenue from parking fines has been higher than the revenue from parking meters. He feels Brisbane has converted from being one of the most liveable cities to “Parking fine capital of Australia”. He implored the City to
"Keep your hands off our busses, and do not privitise them!"
City Cycles have cost us many millions of dollars.
Parking reform, accountable public transport, ALP Lord Mayor by 2016!
After State MP Curtis Pitt promised that Queensland Labor would not sell any assets, the Conference moved on to amendments needing to be voted on. The main one being the proposed changes to the voting of a parliamentary leader.
Former Beattie Government Whip Terry Sullivan introduced and proclaimed that the 50/50 (that’s 50% voting coming from branch members and 50% from caucus) amendment was appropriate.
If unionists, Terry Sullivan volunteered, have a problem with this amendment then union members should join the ALP.
[Whooping and hollering from all on the right hand side of the auditorium]
Bring more workplace ideas to branch meetings.
No agreement in unions how 30/30/30 (⅓ unions, ⅓members, ⅓ caucus ) should work. Great Britain has changed to 50/50! Urge members to support!
[Applause and booing (from the left). Vigorous stuff]
Former MP and Woodridge candidate Cameron Dick seconded the motion. Only through the reform can we deliver creation of a better society. That’s the genius of the ALP to change and reform. In 100 years, ALP is different to the one created under a tree. Queensland Labor Party should be at the vanguard of reform; Albo and Bill Shorten — great examples. Now is not the time to dilute vote of branch members.
[Again, cheering from the right and booing from the left]
Now for the speakers against the motion.
Nicole, a delegate from Griffith. The working group, from the 2013 state conference, stipulated how serious it was how leaders elected. Support of caucus, membership and union was needed. The parliamentary leader should never lose touch. Branch and union members must have a say. Union and branch members need to be together.
[Now it was the left hand sides turn to stand and applaud with the right side booing]
Then it's Bundamba MP Jo Anne Miller’s turn and she’s against the amendment. She’s been a member 43 years and in the state caucus 15 years. Supports 30/30/30.
She starts with a jibe against Cameron Dick:
“He knows what self interest is!” –
[Raucous applause from left]
If we had a third unions we wouldn’t have privitised!
[Standing ovation from left “Order, order” from the chair, boos from the right]
“I thought we got rid of verballing” added Dick Williams to laughter across the room.
Back to the supporters. Elliot from Labor Forum. Greater percentage of votes for branch members equals a greater say in the party. There needs to be a vision of a modern united Labor.
[Applause from right]
Forum wants membership in the party. Out in the branches, asking what they want. More power out of the backrooms – here is your chance left – if you don’t blame on you! Standing applause right boos left.
[Shouts of Shame. Conference becoming feisty]
Owen Doogan, Secretary of the RTBU. He’s proud to be hear that votes are moving away from the parliamentary members and 33% should be enough for them. Not about reducing peoples say. All of a sudden, Forum has found new principles. Inconsistent.
[Applause and jeers]
Where would the party be if not for the Unions? The funds available, the people power. Queensland ALP is moving to the point that we can nearly win the next election.
[Cheers and boos]
2012 South Brisbane by-election victor Jackie Trad is up, calling out, about the right:
“Here comes the self interest!”
Here’s an historical account , there’s nothing we can’t achieve if we work together. Your Rights at Work, Redcliffe, Stafford. Every single improvement has been made when 30/30/30 worked together. Best leader is the one that has support that speaks to every constituent part of the party. Ironic, she feels, that she is debating today with members that have argued for democratisation of party and now Forum who has been arguing against rank and file participation. Proud to make contribution as parliamentary member, branch member and member of the AMWU!
[Standing ovation left, boos and jeers right]
Now the voting takes place. Dick Williams declares that the amendment has lost.
[Boos from the right and cries of Shame!]
Dick Williams states the original resolution ought to be voted on... count?
Delegates from the right ask that a show of hands be counted. Procedure requires 2 people to count. The result …….. a resounding Yes!
[Cries of shame from the right]
I endeavoured to get reactions on the vote from both sides of the party.
From Labor Forum, a fellow gave me the opinion that the other states have the 50/50 approach. The 30/30/30 system is problematic as the unions have a lot of ways to influence the conference. He was also worried that the elected parliamentary leader may be labelled a union "stooge". He also felt it was difficult to say to other members that there influence in the party was effectively voted against.
A member of CFMEU told me that the 50/50 amendment was intended to shore up the influence of AWU, SDA, and TWU at the conference. The original resolution had taken branch members say from zero to 33%. The right had failed to back a similar resolution to that last year when it was a question of Senate representation.
Back to the remaining amendments to be voted on. They were still important, but much of the passion had dissipated as the numbers were clearly falling to one side.
Former MP and candidate for Sandgate, Stirling Hinchliffe, introduced a motion for amendments that he believed would give members greater say in the preselection process. It involved changes to the wording of items 33 and 61.
The vote on the amendment was lost.
[Jibes crossed the floor of the auditorium]
The amendment was carried.
The involvement of the ALP members on Saturday was heartfelt and robust — but never, at any time, was there a suggestion that things would spill over and become uncivilised.
It was good to see democracy in action.
Yvette D'Ath addresses the Conference, flanked (L-R) by Tim Mulherin, Milton Dick, Annastacia Palaszczuk, Dick Williams and another.
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