16/08/2005 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny:State Scene -Buswell’s bark way off beam

16/08/2005 - 22:00


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South-west Liberal MP Troy Buswell, who some see as a likely future Liberal leader, recently fired a broadside across Labor’s bow by naming several of its MPs with close union links in a press release.

South-west Liberal MP Troy Buswell, who some see as a likely future Liberal leader, recently fired a broadside across Labor’s bow by naming several of its MPs with close union links in a press release.

It was one of those ‘shock, horror’ statements fired off to prompt reporters to go scurrying for more evidence of union domination.

Mr Buswell said that: Labor MP Shelley Archer is wife of Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union identity Kevin Reynolds, and that Peel MLA Norma Marlborough was MC at the wedding; upper house MP Graham Giffard was a BLF official; Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich and Riverton MLA Tony McRae had links to the CFMEU; and Tourism Minister Bob Kucera’s son is the CFMEU’s industrial legal officer.

 “Ravlich and [State Development Minister] Alan Carpenter also have ministerial advisers with links to the BLF and CFMEU,” the press release said.

“The levels of influence go deep.”

No doubt they do, sometimes. Other times they’re quite shallow.

Then again, they’ve been deep since the union movement created Labor back in the 1890s, which probably explains why Mr Buswell’s statement wasn’t seen as newsworthy by Perth’s radio, TV, and newspaper newsrooms.

He elaborated in a follow-up release.

“The fact is that the militant unions own the Labor Party and they [Labor MPs] are completely powerless to pull them into line.”

Now, these are strong, unqualified claims, suggesting Mr Buswell is confident of his facts and interpretation.

State Scene wishes his contention was correct.

Unfortunately things are never so simple when assessing Labor.

Also unfortunately, absent from Mr Buswell’s confidently uttered judgement is reference to Labor’s rival factions, which are integral to the way Labor operates and eventually reaches collective and other decisions.

Put bluntly, anyone ignoring the factions when discussing Labor and its associated unions simply misses the pivotal, or determining, factor.

Discussing Labor without considering factional rivalries and differences is like doctors analysing the human body and ignoring blood flow and the role of the heart.

Mr Buswell’s simplistic view of Labor-union relations suggests he’s unaware of the crucial factional ingredient around which it all hinges, including which ministers will or won’t speak out on matters like the so-called ‘blue flu’.

Furthermore, he also seems unaware of a contrary view currently doing the rounds within Labor and union circles that alleges the latter not only doesn’t own Labor, but that too many Labor MPs and their advisers assume the unions are the party’s puppets, and can be taken for granted.

The best example of this was when former federal Labor leader Mark Latham announced a Peter Garrett Greens-style forests policy that prompted Tasmanian timber workers to clap, cheer and vote for John Howard at October’s federal election.

Anyone who still finds that difficult to comprehend should contact Trevor Smith, the national secretary of the Forestry & Furnishing Products Division of, wait for it Mr Buswell, the CFMEU.

Soon after that election, Trevor Smith commissioned an unnamed political expert to write a detailed report on why Labor MPs were so out of touch with unions and hard-working Aussies.

The outcome was a 45-page document called The Brompton Report, which is one of the most critical pieces of internal Labor movement political analysis State Scene has read in years.

It argues that the Labor Party has been commandeered by what it dubs the “Latte Set”, the trendy, capital city CBD coffee shop occupying elite.

These trendies, who sit about theorising and pontificating on Australia’s and the world’s problems, are generally younger inner-city dwellers who are drawing higher-than-average incomes, so are people out of touch with blue-collar workers, who, in the main, live in outer suburbs and regional Australia.

Trevor Smith's foreword opens thus: "In the aftermath of the 2004 Federal Election the FFPD of the CFMEU came under sustained criticism from sections of the ALP and union movement for doing what our members pay us to do – that is, look after their interests, first and foremost.

“This criticism, in our opinion, was not only wrong and misguided, but also reflects a wider and more fundamental problem on the Labor side of politics.

“There is a vast gulf between the beliefs and aspirations of working-class Australians – the type of workers our union represents, and the professional political class running the ALP.”

Now, Mr Buswell could note that these are the words of the national secretary of the CFMEU’s FFPD, Trevor Smith, not some biased Liberal Party critic.

“This report is not an attempt by the FFPD to justify itself, we don't need to do that,” Mr Smith continued.

“Rather, it is an honest and genuine attempt to explore the issues that led to a huge number of workers deciding their interests, at this last [federal] election, lay with the other side of politics rather than the party that supposedly best represents them.

“There was a time when our unambiguous defence of workers’ jobs and their livelihoods was seen as progressive, admired and respected.

“What has changed … is the people running the Labor Party machine – the appratchiks, advisers and politicians – are no longer attuned to the basic aspirations of honest working men and women but sing to a completely misguided (and electorally wrong) tune that seeks to appease the unappeasable.

“They place their faith, not only in the free market, but also in the shallow and cheap propaganda of a wealthy, inner-city elite, which has a barely concealed contempt for a bunch of workers from the bush or outer suburbs.

“They have fallen for Green propaganda, and, worst of all, they actually believe their policies are in the best interests of the country.”

And so on, and on. All uncomfortable reading for ‘Latte Set’ Laborites.

These few lines give the tenor of both Mr Smith’s views and those expressed by the even harder hitting unnamed compiler of The Brompton Report, which, page after page, criticises Labor MPs and their equally out-of-touch advisers, many of whom take union leaders for granted.

The fact that such sentiments come from within the ranks of the union that Mr Buswell highlighted as an owner of the Labor Party contradicts his assessment.

And let’s put this into some historical context.

One way of doing that is to quote an authority, like archaeologist Vere Gordon Childe (1892-1957), who, before rising to become one of the great theorists of that discipline in the 1930s to 1950s, was a deeply committed Labor man.

So much so that he wrote a book on Labor titled, How Labor Governs: A study of workers’ representation in Australia, which is regarded as something of a classic.

In it Childe wrote: “Heterogeneity of the elements within the Labor Party – the liquor trade versus the ‘temperance party’, nationalists against internationalists, the attitudes of the petit-bourgeoisie versus those of the industrial proletariat.”

He penned these words in 1923.

Interestingly, they are somewhat similar to what The Brompton Report and Trevor Smith’s foreword alleges about today’s Labor Party.

That is, that Labor’s ‘Latte Set’ – the petit-bourgeoise, to use Childe’s 1923 term – is seeking to dominate the unionised industrial and rural proletariat, not the other way around.


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