The Left comes in from the cold

by Chris Griffith
Published 3 March 1996 in The Sunday Mail


my face


Queensland Labor Party secretary Mike Kaiser should quit as party secretary and possibly stand for parliament, according to former ALP state president Ian McLean.

Mr McLean, the leader of Labor's socialist left faction, is the first senior Queensland factional leader to publicly criticise the party's performance following its recent loss of state government.

In an interview last week he requested not be published until after the federal election, Mr McLean said he expected the socialist left would bounce back and play a pivotal role in Labor's bid to regain power at state level.

He said he and other senior party officials had refrained from voicing all their concerns about the party's loss of state government so as not to undermine Labor's federal election chances.

With all elections now behind it, Queensland Labor faces a major sole-searching exercise on June 8-10 when it holds a state conference to discuss implementing reforms recommended by former ALP national president Mick Young.

Last year Mr Kaiser initiated a national executive inquiry which Mr Young conducted into the party's state election campaign last July.

The Young report concluded the Goss government had become alienated from the party's branches, and it noted party members believed the government was alienated from the community as well.

Mr McLean last week said he strongly believed Mr Kaiser should stand aside as party secretary -- and then possibly run for parliament.

Mr Kaiser's contract is not due to expire until October 1977, or a month after Labor's next regular state conference, should it be sooner.

"I would think that Mike would have an interest in moving on," he said.

"You can ask someone to do that job for a while, and they put their heart and soul in it, then they're entitled to be given favourable consideration for something else.

"At the same time there's going to be some vacancies around the place and, as we always do, former state secretaries are looked after."

Mr McLean said Peter Beattie, Terry Hampson, and Wayne Swann all contested seats after their periods as state secretary. Mr Beattie and Mr Swann are in parliament today; Mr Hampson narrowly missed winning Aspley for Labor in 1992.

Mr McLean said it was unfair to focus the blame on Mr Kaiser for Labor's poor performance last year and at Mundingburra.

"Some people would like to kill him, but that shouldn't happen ... he's not solely to blame.

"In this game the reputation that you build depends a lot on luck when you hold the position."

He believed Mr Kaiser had approached his job in much the same way as his predecessor, Wayne Swann.

"Swann did the work in the period of our ascendancy as a party and collected all the wins. Kaiser had the difficulty of a period when we were on a down.

"But their tactics and their attitude to politics are not much different.

"Neither of them really had a great interest in building the party as a political force and working with community groups and the party itself. Our party is a political force, not just an office that runs campaigns."

Mr McLean said that with Mr Beattie at the helm, his socialist left faction had "come in from the cold". It was now firmly back as an integral part of Labor's bid to return to the state's treasury benches, hopefully sooner rather than later.

"When we've been saying things and ignored, and the people making decisions have proven to be failures, we've got to be on the ascendancy.

"Now there's no option but to include us. But we don't get any joy from attaining that from being in opposition"

The socialist left is among four factions which make up Queensland Labor's internal tribal structure.

A decade ago the factions were the left, Bill Hayden's centre-left group, the Australian Workers' Union right, and the Old Guard Labor Unity right.

Today, the AWU faction and a modified parliamentarian's version of the Old Guard remain. The centre-left, the reform group which used to include Peter Beattie and David Hamill has dissolved. And the left has divided into two groupings, Mr McLeans' socialist left faction, and the Gibbs or Labor Left faction headed by current party president, Bob Gibbs.

All factions at one stage have formed albeit temporary alliances with each other to jointly control a majority of votes and hence the power to decide policy and positions within the party.

The most enduring in recent years was the so-called "unholy alliance" from 1986- 1993 between the two ideologically extreme groups -- the left and the Australian Workers' Union faction.

The alliance was formed in 1986 to thrust Wayne Goss into the state parliamentary leadership, but it began to dissolve shortly after Labor won government following the demise of AWU state secretary, Errol Hodder. By 1993, the alliance was in tatters after the party refused to re-endorse three sitting socialist-left councillors in the Brisbane City Council election.

In theory, the alliance placed the left in a powerful position during the first years of the Goss government. Here it was, controlling the numbers with the AWU, while Labor was in office. The reality was the left was marginalised and muted.

By 1993 the AWU faction had the numbers to dominate the party on its own, but not control the party's internal affairs. McLean reacted by seeking a federal executive inquiry into the AWU's alleged over-representation on the party's decision making bodies. McLean said the inquiry, which concluded nothing, was "a white wash".

Today he still believes the AWU is over-represented.

But worse was to come. In 1994 McLean was ousted as party president and replaced by former factional colleague and now rival Bob Gibbs, who formed a new Labor Left faction and took all of the left's Cabinet members with him.

Salt was rubbed into the wound when socialist left Senate aspirant Bernadette Callaghan was relegated to an unwinnable third position on yesterday's Senate ticket, while Mr Gibbs's wife Brenda was given the number two spot.

McLean has never forgiven the Gibbs faction for its so-called defection, a situation which indicates the two Left factions are unlikely to reunite in the near future even with Labor in opposition.

"We're going to have Brenda Gibbs for six years which is like Flo, it's a symbol of a past day hanging around ... she'll be around as a symbol of the division."

"I blame them [the Gibbs left] for a lot of the trouble.

"When the left was trying to put pressure on the [Goss] government and pull it into gear, they had to take a decision to go along with us and apply the pressure, or say - we're traitors, we're going to join forces with the right to protect the status quo.

"Their political judgment was wrong. They looked after themselves and they damaged us and what we were trying to do.

He still firmly opposed the continuation of Bob Gibbs as party president because he was a Cabinet minister.

Gibbs has indicated he will resign as party president at the special conference - a situation which might see the socialist left attempt to win back either the party presidency or the secretary's position.

Despite the bitterness and the treachery that characterises some Labor relationships, McLean is optimistic new parliamentary leader Peter Beattie will use his undoubted cross-factional skills to quell the tensions.

Already Beattie has included a larger proportion of socialist left MPs in his shadow cabinet.

Both left groups now hold three shadow cabinet positions each: Judy Spence, Steve Bredhauer, and Anna Bligh for the socialist left, and Bob Gibbs, Rod Welford, and Tom Barton from the Labor left.

"We've got the old relationships from the reform arrangements in the 1980s. We worked with Beattie and [late party president Dr Denis] Murphy right through that early period.

"With Beattie, we're likely to get a little more flair and some decisions that stimulate particularly young voters as to why the idealism and why a Labor government is better.

"He'll reach out to the community which used to support us and over a period of alienation deserted us."

But will civil liberties, green, and community groups which supported Labor fervently in the 1980s return to the Labor camp -- or will these groups deserted by Labor once in power think twice before enthusiastically embracing Labor again?

"I think the conservatives will drive them back just as the Goss crowd drove them away.

"I've got no doubt that we'll build a broad coalition against the National Party in the future and Beattie is the person who'll do it."

Mr McLean said he hoped the up-coming June conference will avoid a blood-bath, given that state Labor remains one seat away from government.

Labor has already been encouraged by the shaky performance of the Borbidge government in its first two weeks in office.

"I think there's more likely to be cooperation to find common solutions but that depends on the attitude of the people who have still got the numbers there.

"But if they still want to exercise the numbers and keep the left out, well, we're not going to wear that."