||Issue No. 138||31 May 2002|
Interview: The Star Chamber
Politics: The Odd Couple
Media: Audiences Before Politics
International: The Off-Side Rule
Economics: The Fake Persuaders
History: Terror Tactics
Poetry: Food, Modified Food
Review: Spiderman Spins Out the US
Satire: England's World Cup Disaster: Star Hooligan Breaks Foot
The Locker Room
Week in Review
In Defence of Latham
Swans A Pathetic Con-Job
The Odd Couple
By Jim Marr
They say the camera doesn't lie but Labor Right operator Paul Howes and the Left's Amanda Tattersall locked in an embrace on the national news. Hang on just one minute!
Even at their tender years Howes, 21, and Tattersall, 25, carry the wounds and some of the baggage, from life in the no-holds-barred ring that is Labor's factional battleground.
Eighteen months earlier their respective families had been on opposite sides of a torrid tussle for Labor's federal candidacy in the must-win constituency of Richmond. Tattersall's sister-in-law was campaign manager for the candidate that rolled Howes' mother-in-law.
Factionalism, NSW-style, is tribalism.
That's what made the Tattersall-Howes success on immigration policy at last weekend's NSW Labor Party conference remarkable. For once, well twice if you recall the 1997 resolution on power privatisation, the tribes sublimated their desires for ritual clubbing to unite on policy.
Members beat the machine by breaking down factionalism, just as they had five years earlier.
Amongst other things, their successful resolution, called on the Party to:
- replace mandatory detention with mandatory identification followed by community accommodation
- open access to counselling, schools, TAFEs, language courses and health services to refugee applicants
- close regional detention centres such as Curtin, Woomera and Port Hedland
- reject the system of Temporary Protection Visas
Labor for Refugees emerged from rank and file embarrassment at the "me too" line on asylum seekers their party took to last year's election.
The movement began with branches at Paddington and Newtown and broadened when it became clear its aims were shared by the Labor Council, a traditional bulkwark of the NSW Right.
Council secretary John Robertson was an outspoken champion of Labor For Refugees, drawing personal fire from the likes of Right wing front bencher Mark Latham.
On January 22 the factions formalised their organisation, giving Tattersall and Howes as co-convenors, the task of developing policy all could sign off on.
The reactions of the pair, back then, reflected opinions and prejudices formed before they were.
"I only knew her to yell at during Young Labor Conferences. I didn't really think I would get on with her," Howes admitted.
She, on the other hand, found his manner off-putting.
"I just remember him, from five years earlier, as a Trot, standing up and ranting at meetings. When it came to that, he was up there with the best."
Their dealings, in the beginning, were businesslike but as conference drew nearer, so did they.
In the final two weeks, their original, agreed resolution underwent change after change as federal politicians, unions and factional heavyweights weighed in with this objection or that.
More than once they sailed close to disaster.
"Paul just wanted a resolution that would go through. I was more precious about the language because I wanted a clear statement of principle" - Tattersall.
"There was a lot of patience and a lot of biting of tongues," - Howes.
During working hours, Tattersall virtually moved out of Upper House president Meredith Burgmann's office to the Labor Council where the odd couple re-tooled the form but clung to the substance.
For a time, on the Friday afternoon, it seemed the whole exercise had been for nought. The Left reckoned the Right was selling out while the Right suspected the Left wanted a blue so it could demonstrate its purity, once again.
Howes and Tattersall insist both suspicions were ill-founded. Around 9pm they got the nod from every powerbroker they could think of.
Imagine their shock at 4.30 on Saturday afternoon when they learned that, despite their best efforts, the powerful International Relations Committee had rejected their amendment.
Tattersall rushed from her seat at the back of the Town Hall auditorium to join Howes in front of the stage. What the hell was happening?
Powerbrokers met out the back and proceded, metaphorically-speaking, to crack skulls.
When the issue returned to the floor Robertson was as good as his word, delivering a powerful plea which Tattersall matched in tone and substance.
Two more speakers then delegates spoke, overwhelmingly.
That night, euphoric delegates dined and drank across factional lines. Tattersall got back from her grandmother's birthday dinner to join Left comrades drinking with Robertson and Howes in a Chinatown hotel.
But, when hangovers cleared, had anything changed?
Both are inititally defensive. This was an issue that went across factions, or as Tattersall would have it "the best people and the worst people were in both factions".
"I believe in the Right faction because it is the best group to govern the state," Howes says, "the Right has a head as well as a heart."
"The whole history of Labor Party conferences," according to Tattersall, "is one of the Left putting up brilliant motions but not having them supported."
Hmm... then the experiences of the past five months appear to kick in.
Howes believes trade unionists will lead an inevitable loosening of the factional straitjacket. Already, he argues, they are finding more in common with each other, across the divide, than with machine people from their own factions.
It's not something Tattersall, who tossed in a Young Labor leadership position out of "disgust" with rampant factionalism, is about to disagree with.
"Honestly, I have faith in the Labor Council because it played an impressive role on this issue. It delivered on everything it said it would," she says.
"John Robertson has committed himself personally to breaking down factionalism and, on my experience, I'm willing to work with him on that basis.
"The ALP is vulnerable at the moment because its policies are poll driven rather than membership driven. This exercise was promising because it showed how members, and important party institutions, could come together to demand better policy."
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