Treasurer Wayne Swan, Prime Minister Julia Gillard and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill voting for the sale of uranium to India. Photo: Dean Sewell
LABOR'S national conference has done nothing to strengthen Julia Gillard's authority with the public and has highlighted the continuing leadership tensions in the government.
Kevin Rudd did not make an appearance in yesterday's key uranium debate - despite a central issue being Australia's relations with India, which is at the heart of his foreign affairs portfolio.
It looked like a payback for Gillard not involving him in her decision to prosecute the change to Labor's policy.
Later, moving the foreign affairs platform, Rudd gave a broad speech that had all the appearance of the former prime minister strutting his stuff to impress those worried about the government's future.
Gillard avoided disasters but shone at no point during the three-day conference, which started with her unimpressive address, notable for its ''we are us'' declaration - a speech many thought woeful.
She introduced the key debates on gay marriage, changes to party rules and uranium.
On the first, knowing that the numbers were there to rewrite the platform to support gay marriage - which she does not - she did not even argue the toss, simply saying people knew her views on the subject.
She got her conscience vote for MPs, which heads off any danger of a party split. That will allow her to vote against a backbench bill - highlighting that her stance on this issue is out of sync with that of her party.
Gillard's intervention on party reform kept alive - on life support - the ALP review's proposal that a portion of the national conference should be directly elected. But her knocking of heads had come so late that it was a salvage operation rather than a bold stand for party democracy.
It was done so messily that a special motion had to be moved at the very end of the conference to get the plan - to have the national executive devise a directly elected component for the 2014 conference - in line with party rules. Some other key proposals of the review, such as giving the national president a vote on the party executive, were rejected.
In the Labor Party, moves to advance democracy are seen as potentially dangerous medicine that must be taken in very small doses.
The one substantial clear-cut decision of the conference was to lift the party's ban on the export of uranium to India, predictably controversial among delegates. It is a sensible move for the party, although it is also, in political terms, something of a Labor gift to the Greens.
Despite the uranium policy change, this conference will be mainly remembered for its decision on gay marriage. That platform change is a worthwhile advance, although it won't lead to immediate legislative progress and so will disappoint many reformers. But more generally, a lot of ordinary voters will believe that Labor's conference, which happens only every three years, has been obsessed with an issue that is not at the top of most electors' priorities.
For Gillard this conference was a missed opportunity, despite the uranium policy. The delegates delivered to her the appearance of the noisy conference she had anticipated, although the factional control was (mostly) in place. She, however, could not seize the occasion to make the conference a convincing launch pad to start 2012 on a higher political plane.
Follow the National Times on Twitter: @NationalTimesAU