Federal Politics

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Labor factions keep the flame of failure burning brightly

TWO days after Labor's devastating 2011 election loss, the party's NSW general secretary, Sam Dastyari, publicly called for an end to the notorious factional system that had contributed to the defeat.

''Government office resembled a spoils system, not a high public duty,'' he said. ''Chopping and changing ministers and premiers showed a party dominated by internal factional politics. It was an ugly sight for the voters.''

Tuesday's evidence at the Independent Commission against Corruption showed how bad things had become under the previous government.

The former premiers Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees gave evidence that Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, as the then leaders of the dominant ''Terrigals'' subfaction of the Right, essentially ran the place.

Rees, of the Left faction, described being assured in front of the Labor caucus by the woman who had just knifed him as premier, Kristina Keneally, he would be kept in cabinet. He was called a couple of days later by a ''delegate'' of Keneally, the leading Right faction MP, Eric Roozendaal, to ''revise'' that.

Dastyari called for the ''defactionalisation'' of the parliamentary party and for the factions to stop holding separate caucus meetings. The unfortunate reality for Labor today is that Dastyari's plea has ultimately fallen on deaf ears.


It is an open secret the Right has met regularly under the guidance of its convener, the Wollongong MP, Noreen Hay.

The Left has met informally and irregularly. Until last month, that is, when the resignation of the then roads spokesman, Robert Furolo, a member of the Right, sparked a reshuffle of the Labor leader John Robertson's front bench.

The result was four new right-wing MPs and none from the Left were brought into the shadow cabinet. That the factional split had been tipped back to the one third-two thirds ratio in favour of the Right has not gone unremarked upon.

The decision, taken by Robertson as is his entitlement as leader, prompted the first formal meeting of the Left since Dastyari's edict. It led to some questioning whether Robertson, who is aligned with the Right but does not meet with them, is once again a leader being influenced by factional power. It's tempting to view this as less of a concern because Labor is in opposition and is likely to be there for some time.

But as the evidence of Iemma and Rees showed, the power of the factions relies on a gradual build up of influence by factional powerbrokers sponsoring new MPs into Parliament through preselections.

This is the culture that was so ruthlessly exploited by Obeid and Tripodi and what Dastyari has been trying to stamp out. If it is allowed to flourish this early in opposition, there is a real danger Labor will be back to the bad old days by the time it is ready to reclaim government.

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