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Is the ACT branch of the Labor Party about to implode?

July 31st, 2006 at 09:27am

Well that depends on who you ask…the messages from within the Labor party are very mixed.

A couple months ago I had a couple people from the ACT Labor Party tell me that they didn’t think Jon Stanhope would face the next election as party leader, at the time I more or less discounted this as a speculative rumour of little significance, but the events of the weekend have shown that there is more to this than I thought.

Over the weekend the ACT Labor Party held their (Annual?/Monthly?/Sporadic?) party conference, and the internal squabbles and rifts were apparent…a Labor backbencher joined a protest against school closures outside the conference, and almost half of the 196 party members who could be bothered turning up (a quote from one of my Labor Party insiders “I was going to go…but then I didn’t) voted against the school closures, including five MLAs (two of which were cabinet members).

According to RiotACT, the MLAs who voted against the school closures (or more accurately, voted to not close any schools this year and also extend the consultation period) were Katy Gallagher, Simon Corbell, Wayne Berry, and Karin Macdonald. The fifth MLA is either Mary Porter or Mick Gentleman…not that it really matters, as the real surprise is that Katy and Simon voted against the wishes of the Chief Turnip.

Katy and Simon have, up until now, been virtual mouthpieces for the Chief Turnip, and if I remember correctly Katy is also Deputy Chief Minister (The turnip title is reserved for Stanhope for now). With the opposition now calling for a full inquiry into education in the ACT, it looks like the next round of sittings of the Legislative Assembly will be most amusing and entertaining.

It was also interesting the way the Chief Turnip and his subordinates deflected the internal criticism of his “unpopular magic safety fairy” stance. The Chief Turnip was quoted on the ABC news website as saying:

We, of course, have always been aware of the range of views and the fact that this is a very emotional and difficult debate…It was a difficult decision and the issue is significant and it affects each of us as Canberrans, and certainly members of the party have a view.

Pity he doesn’t actually care about the party members’ views.

The Canberra Times had a very interesting article about the meeting:

REVOLT FAILS School closure plan survives narrow ALP conference vote
Markus Mannheim
Sunday, 30 July 2006

CHIEF Minister Jon Stanhope narrowly avoided a humiliating defeat at yesterday’s annual Labor conference when party members attempted to block his controversial plan to close 39 public schools.

The party’s dominant left faction led the revolt, which would have prevented any school from being closed before 2008.

Deputy Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and fellow left frontbencher Simon Corbell broke cabinet solidarity to vote with their faction against Government policy.

The motion was defeated by just four votes – 96 to 100 – after a bitter debate during which MLAs hurled abuse at each other.

Legislative Assembly Speaker Wayne Berry said he was embarrassed by what he described as the “shock and awe” policy of school closures, saying it left party supporters confused and upset.

“If there was one thing that rocketed Labor into office in 2001, it was education,” he said.

Brindabella MLA Karin MacDonald said that her fellow backbenchers had only been told of the policy on the morning of the June 6 budget.

She said she had still not received a full and substantial briefing to allay her concerns.

“I do not believe that this process … could have been handled any worse than this minister [Andrew Barr] has done,” she told delegates.

In response, Territory and Municipal Services Minister John Hargreaves said he found her speech disgusting.

“To find that one of our elected representatives has the temerity to stand up here and criticise the minister in such a personal attack is something that I have never experienced in all my time with the Labor Party in the ACT,” he said.

The motion had been expected to pass, but was blocked at the last minute when most of Ms MacDonald’s right-wing Unity faction decided to support the Government.

Mr Stanhope acknowledged the vote was close, but said he was pleased to have the party’s formal support.

“The issues were aired, views within the party were expressed and, at the end of the day, the branch conference has supported the Government in its school closure program,” he said afterwards.

Opposition education spokeswoman Vicki Dunne said it was now up to the five Labor MLAs who voted against the closures to do the same in the Assembly next month.

“Cabinet solidarity went out the door today,” she said.

“It shows that the Labor Party knows what it is doing is wrong, and that most caucus members know that it is wrong.”

An earlier motion criticising the Government’s funding of private schools was also narrowly defeated by a margin of five votes.

With the current state of affairs it would appear that there are enough people against Stanhope in the parliament to have an effective no-confidence motion…now that would be interesting. Perhaps that is what my sources inside the Labor Party were hinting at.

Samuel

Entry Filed under: Canberra Stories,Samuel's Editorials

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