29/03/2016 - 11:35

Skirmishes behind the battlelines

29/03/2016 - 11:35

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SPECIAL REPORT: In order to fully understand where political power lies in Western Australia, it’s necessary to recognise the role of low-profile powerbrokers such as Carolyn Smith and Nick Goiran.

Skirmishes behind the battlelines
LOW PROFILE: Nick Goiran and Carolyn Smith are both influential behind the scenes.

In order to fully understand where political power lies in Western Australia, it’s necessary to recognise the role of low-profile powerbrokers such as Carolyn Smith and Nick Goiran.

Mr Goiran is an elected member of the Legislative Council, but more significantly has emerged over the past two years as the leader of what has been dubbed the ‘evangelical right’ in the Liberal Party WA.

He has built a strong power base in Perth’s southern suburbs, eroding some of the influence of ‘establishment’ powerbrokers and senior operatives, such as WA Education Minister Peter Collier and federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

On the Labor side, Ms Smith is state secretary of United Voice, the state’s largest trade union and a major influence on policy and pre-selections.

She is one of several union leaders considered key powerbrokers in the Labor Party.

Others include Maritime Union of Australia state secretary Christy Cain, a socialist firebrand who is regarded the leader of a loose alliance of blue collar, industrial unions in WA.

The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, led in WA by Mick Buchan, is part of this group.

The close ties between the MUA and the CFMEU were confirmed in October when the two unions announced plans for a national merger.

Another member of the blue collar alliance is the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, led by Steven James McCartney, who has taken a lead role in debate around issues like industry policy and local content.

The ascendancy of the blue collar unions was highlighted this month by the pre-selection of MUA nominee Chris Brown as Labor candidate for the federal seat of Fremantle.

That was despite Fremantle Deputy Mayor Josh Wilson gaining more support from local branch members.

An emerging force in the WA union movement is Peter O’Keeffe, who heads the right-wing Shop Distributive And Allied Employees’ Association, known these days as the SDA.

In terms of size and political influence in WA, the ‘shoppies’ has traditionally been second only to United Voice, which used to be known as the ‘missos’.

Mr O’Keeffe is reshaping and modernising the SDA, which experienced waning influence under the leadership of arch conservative, Joe Bullock.

The relationship between these and other unions is fluid, and tied to personalities as much as ideology and policy.

Labor’s pre-selection fight in Fremantle pales next to the Liberals’ fight over the newly redrawn seat of Bateman.

That has pitted Transport Minister Dean Nalder against backbencher Matt Taylor, with both claiming the new seat is rightfully theirs.

Ordinarily a backbencher would have no chance of winning such a contest, but this is different because Mr Taylor has the crucial backing of Mr Goiran.

The outcome in Bateman remains unclear, but it has been speculated it will involve a deal over the federal seat of Tangney, where incumbent Denis Jensen had been hoping to see off a challenge from former Liberal Party state director Ben Morton.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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