09/07/2008 - 22:00

Factional feuds alive and well

09/07/2008 - 22:00


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Labor's most recent factional fracas over who will contest the safe seat of Morley - former ministerial rising star John D'Orazio or TV reporter Reece Whitby - had several interesting twists before Mr D'Orazio rejoined the ALP and then resigned to contest

Labor's most recent factional fracas over who will contest the safe seat of Morley - former ministerial rising star John D'Orazio or TV reporter Reece Whitby - had several interesting twists before Mr D'Orazio rejoined the ALP and then resigned to contest it as an independent.

First and foremost was the fact that Labor's faithful - Morley's rank-and-file members - were treated like mushrooms.

It's no secret Labor's new right faction, to which Mr D'Orazio belonged, made every effort to gain endorsement for him, since without it his political career was set to vaporise.

Also no secret was the fact that the faction is heading for a drastic trimming of its power.

That's rather dramatic since it was the right - from where the new right sprang after a bitter split - that one-time Labor premier, Brian Burke, had so effectively steered it to power.

Not so long ago, the right was where most of Labor's moving and shaking started.

To appreciate Mr Burke's role as Labor's paramount post-war factional chief, it's worth recalling that not only did he ensure he became premier, but he also helped arrange the emergence of three, perhaps four, Labor premiers.

Some even contend he'll guide several more Laborites into that job before departing the state's political stage.

First came Peter Dowding. Without Mr Burke's all clear, he'd never have become premier in 1988.

Mr Burke interviewed and assessed several Labor frontbenchers during 1987 and decided the guernsey should go to Mr Dowding.

The fact that Mr Dowding bungled this opportunity of a lifetime was his fault and his alone.

He simply couldn't break his old habit of being overbearing, and thereby sparked a cabinet coup d'etat.

Then came his successor, Carmen Lawrence, a coup leader since she, like other Dowding ministers, had simply had enough.

Ask in-the-know Laborites and you'll be told Mr Burke played a key role in helping bankroll Dr Lawrence's inaugural campaign for Subiaco against Ross McLean, a former federal Liberal MP for Perth, which Mr Burke's father, Tom, held in the 1940s and 1950s.

After Dr Lawrence eventually came Geoff Gallop, a long-time admirer of Mr Burke's 1980s corporatism, though he's careful not to publicise that now.

Even those who may have known this have probably forgotten that, without Mr Burke's behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings, Dr Gallop wouldn't have gained pre-selection for the safe Labor seat of Victoria Park in 1986.

Dr Gallop came to Mr Burke's attention following a tip-off by a front-line minister. That tip-off prompted Mr Burke to pave the way for Dr Gallop to leave his job at Murdoch University for one in parliament.

One of Mr Burke's most loyal lieutenants, the late Ted Cunningham, who held Mr Burke's seat after he went to Dublin and the Vatican as ambassador, was eying-off Victoria Park as Dr Gallop was putting his hand up.

If Mr Burke had given Mr Cunningham the nod for Victoria Park, Dr Gallop would probably still be teaching political theory at Murdoch.

And many say Mr Burke was crucial in ensuring Alan Carpenter succeeded in his bid to replace Dr Gallop.

Why recall this list of Labor leaders?

Simply to show that Mr Carpenter's move to slot Mr Whitby into Morley and Rita Saffioti in West Swan isn't so novel a practice.

What normally happens when Labor premiers do this is that party factional chiefs loyally fall in with their wishes.

However, these aren't normal times for Labor, and most especially for its besieged rightists who are now without a skilful operator like Mr Burke.

Through a combination of good luck and perhaps a sprinkling of good management, leftist paramount chief Jim McGinty, who recruited Mr Carpenter from his ABC television job to become Willagee MLA, is well on the way to ensuring his faction is pre-eminent for decades to come.

And if ever there was a time to put the new right - which Mr McGinty has always opposed - out of political business, it's approaching.

What better way of helping this along than by ensuring an ousted Mr D'Orazio, didn't remain Morley's man.

By helping replace him, Mr McGinty's long-time factional rivals will be another MP down.

And those rivals know this.

Which explains why new rightist notables such as ministers Michelle Roberts, Margaret Quirk, and somewhat more guardedly, John Kobelke, are distinctly uncomfortable with Mr Carpenter's moves to slip buddies into parliament.

But just as all this began falling into place, along came Carpenter loyalist, Education Minister Mark McGowan, another Laborite who, insiders say, received financial support arranged by Mr Burke during his inaugural bid to enter parliament.

Mr McGowan opted to go on the attack, claiming that Mr D'Orazio was a serial branch stacker.

Many saw this as reviving the earlier "Godfather" attack upon Mr D'Orazio that had surfaced during public Corruption and Crime Commission hearings.

D'Orazio backers claim this was one of the most blatant cases ever of a pot calling the kettle black, since all politicians surround themselves with a coterie of friends, pals, relatives, even family members, to ensure they're immune from dis-endorsement by hostile individuals, groups, and factions.

It's standard practice, not only within the ALP but the Liberal Party. Anyone failing to do so is in permanent peril of being, as they say, "knocked-off"; meaning dis-endorsed.

It's the widespread and permanent fear of dis-endorsement that's helped ensure Labor formalised its Byzantine faction system.

Factions weren't created to make the party look pretty; far from it.

They're a crucial ingredient for winning endorsement and, equally importantly, retaining it.

Which brings us back to Mr Carpenter, someone who has, since entering parliament, highlighted that he's factionally unaligned - that is, belonging to neither the left, old or new right, or the centrists.

That's well and good, except he's now adopted the very tactic Labor's factions regard as standard practice by being out there quietly recruiting individuals - Mr Whitby, Ms Saffioti, and also journalist Karen Brown for Mt Lawley - from outside the party and handing safe Labor seats to them.

Why not let the rank and file - Labor's mushrooms - statewide find people to represent their respective areas?

Mr Carpenter has put out the word he's doing this to ensure a far higher standard of Labor MP emerges.

Only time will tell if that's realised.

Others view all this cronyism quite differently. They see it as the premier stacking parliamentary ranks to shore-up his position numerically.

In other words, he's doing the very thing that's been portrayed as terrible when done by Mr D'Orazio.

What's that old saying about things being good for the goose and the gander?

It won't be long before Mr Carpenter is being described as Labor's Godfather as well as a serial seat stacker.


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