30/05/2014 - 05:40

Slow burn could engulf WA Labor

30/05/2014 - 05:40


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The problems keep mounting for federal Labor in WA, with former colleagues speaking out against each other in a very public stoush.

Slow burn could engulf WA Labor
ON THE OUTSIDE: Martin Ferguson isn’t exactly flavour of the month with WA Labor.

When the Labor Party polled a dismal 21.5 per cent of the vote in Western Australia's April Senate by-election, the general view was that the party's stocks had reached a low point; the only way to go was up.

One seasoned observer and Labor insider disagreed, however. He believed the party's stocks in WA were likely to sink even lower before constructive remedial action occurred.

And there are signs that he could be right.

Just 22 per cent of WA respondents to an Australia-wide survey of federal voting intentions held in mid May said they would give Labor their primary vote.

Support for the Greens jumped to 23 per cent, with the Liberal and National parties combined vote at 34 per cent.

By way of comparison, the same Fairfax/Nielsen poll found Labor's support was 45 per cent in Victoria and 43 per cent in NSW. Labor will hope these federal figures translate to the state polls, to be held on November 29 in Victoria and next year in NSW.

A Newspoll earlier this year on state issues was much better for Labor in WA. Support stood at 33 per cent, compared with 44 per cent for the coalition. And Labor leader Mark McGowan had a six-point lead over Colin Barnett as preferred premier.

But the observer's gloomy prediction about WA Labor's overall standing was based on his assessment that the party's local hardheads still hadn't identified the problem.

Political parties are champions when it comes to the blame game, and the Labor Party had a readymade scapegoat in the form of Joe Bullock, who led the Senate ticket.

It became painfully obvious that Mr Bullock, the long-term secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, had little in common with his running mate, Senator Louise Pratt, apart from the Labor colours. He was from the 'conservative' side and she was a 'progressive'.

Many Labor insiders blamed Mr Bullock for the failure to win enough votes to ensure Senator Pratt's re-election. Consequently, when Mr Bullock gets to sit on the red Senate seats from July 1, Senator Pratt gets the boot.

But two events since the Senate election have been pointers that Labor still has some way to go to get its house in order and re-emerge as a party to be taken seriously.

The first involved the WA Parliament's economic and industry standing committee report on the impact of floating LNG on WA. The report followed the controversial decision by then federal resources minister, Gary Gray, to permit Woodside and its partners to use off shore processing for the Browse gas fields.

The committee said Mr Gray's decision – which could cost hundreds of onshore jobs – was made "without fair and reasonable consideration of Western Australia's position", did "not follow established working arrangements", and had abrogated "its responsibility as a decision-maker on behalf of Australian citizens".

Former state Labor resources minister Fran Logan – a member of the committee – reportedly said Mr Gray had failed to consider the negative impact of the decision on WA, called on Mr Barnett to urge the Commonwealth to review the decision, while also expressing regret there was no Commonwealth equivalent of the Corruption and Crime Commission

Not surprisingly Mr Gray, the member for Brand and a former national secretary of the ALP, was furious. He insisted proper procedures had been followed and was disappointed he had not been invited to appear before the committee.

The blue between two senior Labor MPs from WA ended in the national media, with Mr Logan making it clear he did not intend "to assert Mr Gray is corrupt or acted corruptly in his decision-making on the Browse retention leases". Not a good look.

The second example involved the party's state executive endorsing a motion from the Maritime Union calling on the national executive to expel Mr Gray's predecessor as resources minister – the Melbourne-based Martin Ferguson.

Mr Ferguson had allegedly breached Labor guidelines by taking a post linked with his old ministerial responsibilities within 18 months of leaving politics. The motion was seconded by the United Voice union, which Mr Ferguson led before becoming president of the ACTU and then entering parliament.

Responding on ABC Radio, Mr Ferguson got a few things off his chest, saying he would never be silenced or intimidated from saying what he thought was appropriate.

Referring to WA Labor, he noted: "You are a national disgrace, you let the Labor Party down at the recent half Senate election and frankly, it's about time the Labor Party and the broad union movement took on rogue unions such as the WA branch of the MUA."

"The Labor Party in WA is irrelevant at the moment because of its narrow trade union base," he added

Labor can continue to pursue Mr Ferguson (my tip is the national executive will not act on the issue) or take his advice.

The ball is in Labor's court.


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