All that guff about Emily’s List and having half of all Labor parliamentarians women within a decade – and Bill Shorten has a chance to step up to the plate and he trips over. This is what happens when you are running a wholly owned subsidiary of the trade union movement – the trade union bosses call the shots and you just suck it up.
So here is the story: Tasmanian Labor Senator, Lisa Singh, has been dropped to an unwinnable spot on the ticket because AMWU official, John Short, requires a retirement job in the Senate and the unions dominate the voting.
We should not think that this is the only example of jobs for males dictated by the union bosses. We had the unseemly arrangement whereby David Feeney – aligned with the HSU (pause for laughter) – had to be found a safe seat after his Senate position looked perilous. And so he was given one – Batman, Marn Ferguson’s old seat (a bit of irony there).
And then we had Conroy’s man imposed on the good burghers of Gellibrand, Tim Watts, replacing Nanny Roxon. That makes sense – a man replacing a woman. That really helps make up the 50 per cent.
And then Penny Wong was dropped down the Senate list – by a man, no less (remember the Godfather, Don Farrell of the Shoppies), but there was such a hullabaloo that there was a last minute switcheroo.
And then there was Joe Bullock, also of Shoppies fame, who made Senator Louise Pratt shove over (and lose her position) – because the unions said so. Woman replaced by man. That makes sense.
And we should not forget the unseemly unseating of sitting members by Bill Shorten himself and Richard Marles, with union backing.
What’s good for the goose is clearly not good for the gander when it comes to handing out the jobs for the (mainly) boys.
Here’s the story:
Dumped Labor senator Lisa Singh was the preferred choice of her party’s rank and file in a pre-selection race but lost her spot on the Senate ticket in a factional power-play to a little-known union official.
The Tasmanian result, which has some within Labor calling for federal intervention to protect a sitting female senator, is another example of how union and factional bosses are able to use their superior voting strength to overwhelm party members’ preferences in the allocation of prized parliamentary positions within the ALP.
A tally of the votes cast in the June Senate pre-selection race obtained by Fairfax Media reveals, Ms Singh received the strong backing of ordinary Tasmanian ALP branch members, and would have been retained at the winnable third spot were it not for a weighted union component of the ballot.
This part of the vote saw the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union secretary, John Short, leapfrog Senator Singh into the third place behind the two other incumbent senators, the left’s Ann Urquhart and the right’s Helen Polley.
Of the 542 votes cast by members, senators Urquhart and Polley received 221 and 123 respectively, with the unaligned Senator Singh close behind on 110. Mr Short was some way back with 74 votes, with the remaining 14 going to others.
However, that tally made up only half of the final result because under state ALP rules the 100 union votes are then combined with another 100 conference delegates – both of which are factionally organised – and their combined total of 200 is weighted to make them equivalent to the 542 rank-and-file votes.
Based on a loading formula in which each union-conference vote is worth 2.72 rank-and-file votes, the two halves resulted in Mr Short jumping ahead by a wafer-thin four votes, on 158 to Senator Singh on 154.
That meant he won the third and final winnable position, relegating her to the unelectable fourth spot.
Disquiet within the party over the outcome continues as Labor MPs note the inconsistency of the leader Bill Shorten pledging half of Labor’s parliamentarians will be made up by women within a decade, while union power continues to be deployed to find sinecures for officials – most of whom are male.
Last week Fairfax Media reported that the former Hawke government minister Margaret Reynolds backed intervention to rectify the situation by the party’s powerful National Executive.
“When factions just divide up the spoils between themselves, to the detriment of the image of the party and the potential for government and the potential for maintaining numbers in the Senate, it becomes a federal responsibility,” she had said.
Attending the Apple Isle’s state Labor conference last weekend, Mr Shorten appeared impervious to the grievance, telling reporters, the rank and file had “spoken”.
“It is inevitable in any engagement that not everyone is successful in being able to get the spots they want to do to be able to represent Labor,” he said.
“Lisa Singh has served Labor well in the Senate and our new Senate team will also do the same thing.
“Labor’s had its processes, the rank and file have spoken. It is always a difficult matter but the rank and file have spoken, according to the rules of the Tasmanian branch.”
However sources in the Tasmanian party and within the federal parliamentary sphere, say the problem is that the rank and file had spoken and then been ignored.
Last week, former ACTU boss and Rudd government minister, Martin Ferguson, said union power within the ALP was now so excessive that individual MPs could not act without union say-so.