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  Issue No 6 Official Organ of LaborNet 26 March 1999  





Rats in the Ranks

By Peter Lewis

This Australian political masterpiece about the battle for power in an inner-city council is well worth going back to.

Bob Connolly's warts and all chronicle of the Leichhardt Council 1994 mayoral elections is a classic portrait of raw political power. While it's been run several times on television, the documentary's recent appearance on the video shelves gives a welcome opportunity for an encore viewing.

For those interested in new ways of thinking about politics and power, it shows how strong the tradition of Machiavelli still is today. Friends are enemies' enemies; alliances are constantly shifting; principles are cloaked in self interest and the greater good is a forgotten casualty.

A council split between Labor independents and independent Laborites; each faction split within. A mayor who knows his number is up unless he can split the Labor ticket.

While many have said this documentary was Larry Hand's undoing, I think he emerges as the hero; not because he eventually wins the mayoral election, but because it is he who is the most honest about his intentions. The camera follows Hand as he makes the calls, does the deals, drops the porkies and talks to reporters off the record.

Larry loves the camera; of all the players, it is Hand who least tries to ignore it. As the race tightens I reckon he knows he is making his little bit of political folklore. He hams it up at times, but he is after all a first-time actor. Or is there really so little difference between the two? The documentary becomes a study in the Deal as Hands turns his skills on the Party that taught, then expelled, him.

Meanwhile his deputy Kate Butler, is placing her party membership on the line, "following her conscience" to back Hand over her ALP colleague. There's something noble about her ignoble act; or is it personal animosity that's driving her? The dumping of the principle of Party endorsement for the number one candidate. Instead submitting to a draw from the hat. And the Old Guard candidate, Neil McIndoe, getting up with the backing (treachery?) of Evan Jones. Kate and her New Left Wave mate Trevor, feeling very done in by people they have only animosity for.

From a seemingly hopeless position, Hand connives to split the vote and sail through the middle to win; and as he leans back in the mayoral robes at the end of the vote you wonder what he could achieve with these skills if he were put them to some constructive use. Which is what you can't evaluate in Rats in the Ranks. The Deal scenes are so compelling that there's little focus on the constructive side of local government and so, I suspect, gives critics of this form of government unjustified ammunition.

The documentary works because Connolly is able to shrink the characters down to a very attainable level; showing that there is nothing particularly special about local government; apart from the universal rules of loyalty, conscience and treachery that permeate all levels of politics. In doing so, the film also raises profound questions about the way we govern ourselves at a local level.

Addendum: Where Are They Now?

Larry Hand and Kate Butler were both re-elected to Council at the 1996 election.

Neither ran for the positions they won in 1994, but both remain on Council. Hand is said to be retiring later this year.

McIndoe and Jones still sit on Council, but agreed to a draw from the hat that placed newcomer Chris Kruden in the mayoral robes.

Kate and Trevor were expelled from the Party and have not reapplied for membership.

And old Nick Origlass died last year. There's a biography of him floating around. Try Goulds.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 6 contents

In this issue
*  Interview: Jeff Shaw - Keeping the Peace in NSW
We talk to the Carr Government's best minister about his plans and aspirations for a second term.
*  Unions: Labor's IR Promises
Read the full ALP Industrial Relations policy. Only on Workers Online!
*  History: A History of Struggle on the Wharves
As the first anniversary of the Reith-Corrigan assault on the waterfront approaches, we remember that it was only the latest in a long line of attacks on the union.
*  Review: Rats in the Ranks
This Australian political masterpiece about the battle for power in an inner-city council is well worth going back to.
*  Campaign Diary: It's Time For a Real Labor Government
A returned Carr Government must use its increased majority to promote a genuine Labor agenda rather than just clinging to power for another four years.

»  '96 Revisited - Ditched Laws May Get Second Run
»  Opposition IR - A Dog’s Breakfast
»  Union Plan To Give Mobile Workers Security
»  Mergers Wave To Hit Insurance Industry
»  AAP Pushes To Create Virtual Reporters
»  Wharfies Help Out Aboriginal Kids
»  ACTU Asks Workers: How’s Life?
»  Bracks Gets Pallas Envoy
»  South Coast Labor Council Battle Heads for Court

»  Guest Report
»  Sport
»  Trades Hall
»  Piers Watch

Letters to the editor
»  I Can Out-amble Howard!
»  Independent Performers Register
»  Give Gen X a Job Share
»  Help a Law Student Pass

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