As we reported yesterday, the always charming Victorian branch of the ALP is enjoying some Christmas cheer this year with much Christmas party chatter about a planned ambush and garroting of its highly effective State Secretary Steve Newnham.
A PROXY WAR
The party of the workers is – as ever – faction ridden. And when it’s not faction ridden, it’s fraction ridden. In this case, patriot Newnham is seen by his internal opponents, from the powerful Shop Assistants union and the one-time Left ally National Union of Workers as being too close with their rivals in the form of Bill Shorten, formerly of the Australian Workers Union and Senator Steve Conroy, whose base includes the Transport Workers Union.
In the end, this war for control of the Right is the only reason why Newnham’s position is being attacked.
Newnham’s sub-factional critics say he can be undiplomatic at times when warning politicians of the errors of various latte-sipping policies devised by the suits of ministerial suites or politically correct but clueless bureaucracies. It is the job of every party secretary – regardless of who is in government – to save governments from themselves. That’s exactly Newnham is well known for doing, encouraging them to back off mad ideas and be focused on winning.
His defenders say that the pursuit of a proxy war and the complaints of advisers that Newnham tries to knock off their crazy left-wing ideas does not constitute any argument for his removal and that its constant discussion is indulgence of the most idiotic kind. A thumping election win in 2006, winning four potentially very tricky by-elections and today’s Newspoll showing the state Liberals are on their knees. So much so they’ll probably make a change some time very soon, to a much difficult and probably rural based leader who will test the vast reservoir of knowledge held by Brumby and Newnham.
Beyond that, many Labor moderate observers express great frustration this morning that just after their magnificent 53% victory in the election for the Public Office Selection Committee, the wheels are already threatening to fall off their chariot of freedom.
“The faction has split,” one troubled participant observed to VEXNEWS, “the NUW and co. have proved they are unfit to lead the party in any shape or form.”
Beyond the National Union of Workers, leading the charge against Newnham is his long-time foe, the MLA for Preston and numbers-man Robin Scott. Newnham, his wife former ALP Right faction secretary Fiona Richardson, Scott and Scott’s former employer Michael Leighton were/are all battlers for influence in the Batman FEA which must have a higher level of ALP membership per capita than anywhere else in the nation. Party membership – particularly in the middle of multiple recruitment wars – probably approached Cold War Albanian Communist Party levels.
Scott – and his chum Adem Somyurek – were reputedly part of encouraging some in his group in the Right to visit the Premier and speak ill of their State Secretary. Premier’s staff attended these meetings, VEXNEWS understands.
In recent weeks, ministerial staff, particularly some of the well-tailored Premier’s crew at 1 Treasury, have been speculating about the possible departure of the State Secretary. Possibly this was prompted from their impressions gained at these meetings with Brumby. Or perhaps from wishful thinking that they themselves could score the job.
SUCCESSORS IN THE WINGS
The NUW say Rob Hulls COS Mark Madden would make an excellent successor.
Madden is a former business partner of the NUW shrewd operator James McGarvie. He is not in the Labor Unity faction though and his hobbies of refugee rights activism and role in attempting to stop a conscience vote on very sensitive social issues lead VEXNEWS to reach the conclusion that half the Labor Right have decided to install a leftist as their party secretary. Yet another case of VEXNEWS truth being stranger than fiction.
There are many other names thrown around too. But all this speculation about successors has seemed a little previous because it now appears Mr Newnham won’t be going anywhere.
The highly regarded David Feeney – outrageously cut down in his State Secretary prime after the NUW’s Greg Sword spat the dummy about Feeney’s lack of sucking up – once observed that he was appointed State Secretary “because he had the numbers” and he had no issue with no longer being State Secretary if he lost the numbers.
GIVE ME THE NUMBERS, YOU CAN HAVE THE ARGUMENTS
But Newnham could very well have the numbers it seems. We’ll spare the detailed analysis for another time, if it becomes relevant, but the constant speculation over the course of a year about his position has done much to solidify support behind him, both within his Right faction and among those in other factions who might not agree with his every political view but regard him as a key strategic thinker who is reasonably even-handed on internal questions.
As much as anything the strength of this support is because no one has seriously questioned whether the State Secretary has been doing a good job (a traditional measure of whether one should continue), directing a fiercely successful 2006 re-election effort and meeting four by-election challenges with formidable campaigns that left opponents like the Greens party and Les Twentyman cowering from their force. Today’s Newspoll is further vindication. 57:43
Newnhan – as he amply and repeatedly demonstrates – is a street-fighter. An unlikely looking one perhaps, but no less effective for it.
BRUMBY HEARTS NEWNHAM
He also has the strong backing of the Premier himself, who has enjoyed a close personal association with Newnham dating back to the early 1990s. Newnham worked for John Brumby as a ministerial adviser and in other capacities on and off since then. The confusion that was allowed to arise about this, from the speculation of some Treasury Place identities and Spring Street personalities, doesn’t appear to have changed anything in this respect.
So what is it all about? It’s partly an indulgence, a quest for a Yuletide sacrificial thrill kill,Â a settling of scores between old sparring partners, some of whom sniffed opportunity in the breeze. Whether they’ve read Premier Brumby correctly is of course central to whether they are helping implement his will or wrecking a Labor government with instability and chaos. From our cheap seats, it seems they have read him the wrong way. And also read the likely direction of the Administrative Committee quite incorrectly as well.
It’s easy to get wires crossed – even with the best of intentions. And our interpretation is as follows:
1) Some cunning players including the usually deep thinking and careful MLA for Preston Robin Scott advanced the notion that foes of Newnham had the numbers on Admin to bone him. They put this idea around far and wide, including to the Premier, arguing that “a shift” had occurred. This assertion, if published in book form, would certainly be classified as fiction, and possibly the kind that teen geeks enjoy involving vampires and minstaff zombies. Those who oppose Newnham always have done so for some time, there has been no recent shift of any kind.
2) They then carefully gauged and most probably misread the Premier’s reaction to that assertion and claims of caucus unhappiness with Head Office over, for example, attempts to shake them out of complacency about the next state election result. Some say the Premiers’ reaction was that he wouldn’t get involved. Some say he – in his masterfully cunning way – said nothing, waiting to see what everyone else was up to.
3) Either way, much like when the US Ambassador unwisely said to Saddam Hussein in 1990 that Kuwait was “outside the sphere of US interest”, some of the tricksters went quickly about spinning the Premier’s position as sanctioning or approving or even desiring his chum Newnham’s removal. It was an incorrect assessment, arrived at with good faith by some but perhaps not by others.
WHY PATRIOTS IN THE ALP MATTER AND WHY THEY SHOULD LOVE ONE ANOTHER
Patriots fighting in the ALP is horrifying to those like us who observe from a distance and wish them all well. They have enough of a fight most of the time to stop their party from embracing human rights bills that make judges legislators, cuddling up with the Greens party, arranging atheists to teach Religious Education in schools, test tube babies for all and a Court of Appeal stacked with Labor mates praised by Crikey’s Greg Barns recently as being the most radical civil liberties court in the nation.Â
But let’s make no mistake about it, the patriots involved in yet again advancing the cause of necking the ALP’s state secretary without good cause are doing the wrong thing. They ought to be ashamed of themselves.
And their timing is almost astoundingly stupid. Good for VEXNEWS, to be sure. Things are getting quiet as we wind down for Christmas. And we love to have things to write about. But notwithstanding our desire for copy, this does seem more than a little self-destructive. And sad.
The Labor Party’s appetite for self-destruction ruled its head for many years in Victoria. Good men and true like Bob Hawke and those who supported him (including those written about inaccurately by Shelley Hadfield nee Hodgson) sacrificed much and risked everything to defeat those driven by an insatiable hunger for carnage and crazy left policies.
The ultimate irony is that at Christmas time 2008, with usually sensible Labor moderate dominated governments in Victoria and in Canberra, some of the majority Labor Unity faction seem intent on embarking on an incredible exercise in destabilisation that could distract those elected to govern from doing so in the middle of a global financial crisis of the kind not seen in our life time.
HOW CAN THEY BE SOUND IN POLICY BUT NOT OF MIND?
This publication in patriotism has good friends among those who are up to no good right now. We’ll always wish them well and hope for the best for them anyway, and will always acknowledge their great service to the community and be heart-warmed at how sensible they can be about public policy, most of the time.
The last time the NUW sacked a State Secretary, it changed the internal dynamics of the ALP for a very long time.
It damaged personal relationships within their party for years. It took the forced retirement of one of the key players, Greg Sword, for a reuniting of the divided Right to occur. And within months of that occurring, to use the words of one outraged federal MP “they’re at it again!”
Those intending to show up to an Admin Committee and vote to sack their own State Secretary without consultation, without genuine debate, without any reference whatsoever to his actual performance, three days for Christmas, need to reflect very deeply not just on what they are doing to Steve Newnham but to themselves and the government they say they support.
If Ted Baillieu doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, he should now. This mess could well be so bad, it might even save him. For Labor, this is going to end in tears.