WHAT WAS LOST
Those in the NUW group who had worked so hard to seize a working majority in the former Labor Unity executive had achieved a prized goal: power.
For the best part of the last year, they waved their trophy around like a club captain on Grand Final Day, triumphantly singing Queen’s anthem “We are the Champions.”
They declared open season on the Labor Unity ALP State Secretary, universally regarded as a highly effective campaign strategist, Stephen Newnham, white-anting him with a series of press articles, some even on the record from folks like Jeff Jackson at the Health Services Union. They then worked hard on winning over some of the Premier’s own staff to their plotting, pitching that the campaign will continue unless action is taken. They said they didn’t mind who Newnham’s successor was, it could be anyone of the Premier’s choosing, just not his friend the incumbent. Some in the Premier’s crew, who didn’t like Newnham’s style or coveted his job for themselves, found it a very tempted proposition indeed.
They wanted to neck Newnham because he wasn’t part of their sub-group. Simple as that. He was aligned to Bill Shorten, the former national secretary of the AWU, and the man loved to be hated by the NUW. And unlike Bill he was an easy target, under the previous factional alignments.
They had a majority in the majority faction and they intended to use it.
Preselections beckoned. Careers would be started, enemies sorted and thwarted, vengeance delivered and the emergence of new go-to men in the state caucus that the Premier would have no choice but to show deference.
It all looked pretty good.
There were dangers. But they were quickly discounted. A deal with the Socialist Left with Labor Unity’s leaders was ruled out as being too difficult for them to pull off because Andrew Giles, the SL secretary, would never agree. Giles and Robin Scott were too close to allow it to happen.
THE DREADED DAY
And then suddenly Shorten and his team took decisive action.
They negotiated a deal to protect “party stability.”
But as much as anything Shorten and his team pursued it to snatch back control of the moderate faction in the ALP. There is not much doubt they will succeed.
Confronting that reality is clearly going to prompt a grieving process for those who’ve suffered considerable loss.
Keeping in mind that the loss is not about losing seats or whatever but losing one’s grip on the steering wheel of events in the ALP.
DENIAL IS A RIVER IN EGYPT
There are many mourners clearly now in denial. Initially shocked and appalled by their factional brothers pursuing a deal that excluded them, they are now talking up an increasingly bizarre set of circumstances where they say the deal could unravel.
Hopes seemed to be pinned on Socialist Left union bosses repudiating their own faction and voting with Senator David Feeney and the SDA, two delightfully conservative entities.
That’s not a plan, it’s a pipedream.
Yes it is true that cheeky, greedy and grasping Comrade Dargavel of the Metal Workers desires muchly to be returned to Club Fed and Chairman’s Lounge(where he was once an accidental MP for a while) rather than accept a gig in Spring Street. Fair enough that he’s trying to use the half-threat of ratting on the Left to get leverage for that position but seasoned observers say it’s purely about using the NUW group to get what he wants from under the warm but stinky blanket of the Socialist Left.
And even if this fantasy of gutting the SL and stealing its unions could be made real, it’s a terrible look. It’s one thing for Labor Unity’s leaders to do a cross-factional party peace deal, it’s another thing entirely for the NUW/SDA to seek out unlikely bed-partners in the form of trade union militants and frequent subjects of investigation by authorities, in the form of the construction division of the CFMEU.
One leading player in the NUW/SDA group told me winning over the hard Left’s unions was “not ideal” but emphatically asserted it was possible.
It disturbs their narrative that they opposed a deal with the Socialist Left. They clearly only oppose a deal with the Socialist Left that they’re not driving.
Their ideal outcome it seems is to wind back the clock to the Happy Days when they could have a majority on the LU executive and LU Admin caucus and rule the roost. It’s all part of denial because whatever happens now there’s no going back to the previous structure, as far as Shorten’s backers are concerned.
ANGRY FACES EVERYWHERE
It is not unreasonable to expect when the illusion of a possible deal with the world’s worst union leaders is ruled out that the next phase will be anger.
And that’s the problem. The NUW/SDA group contain some smart dudes who are just as capable of destroying all they see around them as the next man.
Problem is that their interim leader Senator Feeney is not a destructive type. He will be very keen to distance himself from such outbursts which could include public disharmony including continued press briefings and even a bit of HSU style direct action. Perhaps HSU operatives will be armed with a lemon meringue pie to “pie” Labor Unity convenor Bill Shorten in a public gathering. To quote Homer Simpson “Mmm, pie.”
If these public flare-ups continue though Feeney will be blamed for them, so that could provoke anger all round and set back his legitimate ministerial ambitions in Club Fed. He has mostly and not unreasonably previously been able to distance himself from some of the NUW Group’s worst excesses.
According to some, a looming battle emerges in the Health Services Union, an important part of Feeney’s base. Feeney supports his old friend, Secretary Jeff Jackson who enjoys the strong support of the union’s staff. Jackson’s opponent, branch President Pauline Fegan has a majority of the union’s Branch Committee of Management. Both sides claim popular support among the members.
Fegan is supported by a number of people within Labor Unity who have a beef with Jackson. The current feuding within the Right could well play out in the HSU as well with Fegan finding herself with many new allies from people who would be willing to support anyone but Jackson.
Fights over unions always provoke more anger in the ALP than anything else. Indeed the last time the NUW disgraced themselves was when its supreme leader Greg Sword sacked Feeney for his alleged involvement in helping the Jacksons win control of the union from forces aligned to Sword.
So assuming there isn’t a negotiation that leads to a peace settlement within the Right, there’ll be anger by the KFC bucket full.
CAN’T WE DO A DEAL WHERE YOU JUST FORGET ABOUT THE BAD SH*T WE PULLED?
Next stage they say is bargaining:
Bargaining, although it may seem like a strange stage, is something that a lot of us do and has its roots in â€œwhat could I do to reverse the lossâ€, â€œtake me insteadâ€, this is quite natural and is an observed stage of grieving.
What will this mean in the Right Fight? Who knows, perhaps a serious negotiation over how the moderates will relate to each other beyond pointless quests to win 50%+1, winning over one union secretary over another, scheming and plotting about how to lord it over people you won’t even speak with or look in the eye.
VEXNEWS is optimistic they can get there. We pray they do. Certainly the best and brightest of the Right in the form of Shorten, Richardson and Feeney are well equipped to resolve some differences by bargaining. Whether they really want to do so is the issue.
But how do those who were singing “We are the champions” a month ago now live with a new set of arrangements that so dramatically reduce their power and put Labor Unity’s Convenor Shorten so firmly in the driver’s seat in their group. Even writing those words is a provocation to these people who get very hot and sweaty at the mere mention of Shorten’s name and now insist it is Pope Feeney not Pope Shorten who is large and in charge of the faction.
But truth is truth. They were like bratty kids tormenting the purebreed horse Shorten’s Pride while it was being spelled in the top paddock. Jumping on it, pulling its tail, having a laugh until the thoroughbred gave them one swift kick in the private parts leaving them in the dirt reflecting that they perhaps ought not have provoked or underestimated the stallion in question.
Will that realisation equip them to cut a deal with people with whom they have much in common aside from personality clashes. Ask Shorten about Israel. Ask Feeney about Israel. Same view. Ask Shorten about crooked Evan Thornley. Ask Feeney about crooked Evan Thornley. Same view. Ask Shorten about the tossers in the Premier’s office who start factional bushfires in the midst of Total Fire Bans. Ask Feeney too. Same view.
They much in common. And much to work with should they want to do so.
But we suspect the temptation be a malicious micro-faction could be overwhelming. 30% doesn’t buy much but it is enough to cause trouble with.
OLD FASHIONED GUILT CAN HELP
Perhaps while all of that’s going down, some of the brethren will feel a little guilt and shame and stupidity. Guilt that their lack of caution prompted their majority faction to become divided.
In this case blaming themselves for their loss probably wouldn’t hurt. It is certain that the cautious and sensible people who signed up a cross-factional deal didn’t do so lightly or without not so much provocation as a need to combat the certainty that their group had been hijacked by folks who while moderate and righteous in their politics kept acting like extremists shooting their Kalashnikovs in the air.
SAD PATRIOTS SCRAMBLING TO SURVIVE
The next phase is depression. The NUW group are still a fair way off that phase. They play hard and for keeps and have been through a lot of battles in the past so the depression won’t be a big long term factor.
Many of their troops are glum and confused as they reflect on their own errors or errors made on their behalf.
Some – like Nazih Elasmar MLC – a good and gentle man who has pledged his support to Robin Scott in return for filling the supposed Theophanous #1 northern metropolitan vacancy – will do their best to opt out of the dispute. In Nazih’s case study, we are left to ponder whether the deal will be off if they can’t deliver the #1 position or whether he’ll settle for the marginal #3 spot he currently occupies and stick with Robin’s crew. Who knows what will happen. But we do know that the dilemma, the conflicts within, including within one’s own base of supporters in branches, will be the fuel depression in many parts of the divided Right.
ACCEPTANCE ISN’T SURRENDER, IT’S MOVING ON
The final phase of grief about loss is acceptance. That’s a long way off even the most pragmatic of players.
Our well-worn grief management book advises:
Acceptance of reality need not be synonymous with capitulation, humiliating defeat. There is a difference between accepting what is inescapable â€“ like death, when youâ€™re dying â€“ and cowardly surrendering when you could have fought more. And acceptance need not mean losing your integrity â€“ it can sometimes be quite the opposite. Acceptance is not betrayal.
Acceptance is about using the lessons we learned in life to come to terms with the realities of the world, on our own terms.
Sound advice for all those dealing with the troubles of the world.
We can only hope the silly aspects of the pre-acceptance phases are kept to a minimum. The former executive of Labor Unity – formally dissolved yesterday – purporting to act on behalf of anyone other than themselves would count as silly. We understand that Senator Feeney sought their formal backing but this probably ought to have done more diplomatically. They could have authorised him to act on their behalf without issuing fatwas like exiled Ayatollahs. It was a mistake, however unquestionably well-intentioned Feeney’s motives are.
It made them look like the indelicate, thundering extremists they are keen to deny they are. Every action, every word, everything will be closely scrutinised and considered carefully.
As this group, many of them firm friends of this publication in freedom who will always have our patriotic support, reach for acceptance, many mistakes will be made. Hopefully patriots will keep these errors to a bare minimum, realising that you don’t get to pick your enemies, that the only folks you need to negotiate peace with are foes, that what goes around comes around and that there’s no such thing as permanent friends just permanent interests.