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  Issue No 64 Official Organ of LaborNet 28 July 2000  

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Interview

Greg Sword Unsheathed

Interview with Peter Lewis

The NUW national secretary is set to be endorsed as ALP Federal president next week. He talks about the relationship between the two wings of the labour movement.

 
 

What will you bring to the ALP Presidency if, as expected, you are voted in next week?

Well, there is a long way to go and I am a candidate, and I suppose I'm the favourite at this stage but I think the President of the Labor Party has a number of roles to play. They need to be some person that's positive so I think it is preferable if they have good management skills and an understanding of a broad range of the Labor movement, whether it be business, the trade union movement or a political party. I think that I probably have experience in all of those areas.

My focus will be - as the whole of the Party's focus should be in the next period of time - on winning government. I think I have played a reasonable role in Victoria helping the Victorian branch of the Labor Party overcome Jeff Kennett. I played a management role throughout the past seven years in Victoria helping to bring about that result, so I think I can make a positive contribution to the Party at a national level in the strategy and campaigning details and into management generally.

Speaking of Victoria, what do you see as the similarities between the situation that Labor's facing nationally now and that which faced Bracks 12 months ago?

I think they are entirely different. I think that the Labor Party in Victoria since '93 - certainly in '93 was really discredited publicly and it had to fight its way back from a really very, very difficult position.

Labor nationally is certainly not in that position. I think Labor nationally has a very strong, positive image, and the polling says that Labor nationally has a real chance of winning the next election.

Before John Della Bosca withdrew from the race the talk was that he would play a very hands on role during the election campaign and that would be the focus of the Federal President's job. Do you see that as a role that you will now step into?

I probably wouldn't put it that way. I think John Della Bosca has got an extremely important, continuing role to play. He has a great grasp and sense of campaigning and strategies and I would think that the Labor Party would want to continue to have John make a contribution, so I think that will continue.

I think that if the President of the Party has those additional skills it helps. I mean, I have got some of those skills, but I think that we would want to continue to use John as well.

Do you think that his comments on the GST has made it harder for Labor to win the next election?

I don't think that is an area that I would like to comment on. I think all that has been said about that has been said and I think that it is better for the matter to be put behind us.

Since your name has been raised, the mass media has run a lot of rhetoric from Reith and Howard about union hacks running the ALP. What is your take on the relationship between unions and the ALP in the 21st Century?

I think of the labour movement really as a family that has two parts, which is the Labor Party (the political party) and the trade union movement. If we just think about it historically the trade union movement recognised a long, long time ago that there were certain things that could be achieved by industrial action and campaigning with the employer, either at a local level or at a general level, but that if you really wanted to make fundamental changes and make laws regarding the social objectives of the trade union movement, i.e. into the economy, education, health, equity, and all the social issues, then trade unions decided a long time ago that you had to actually win government to do some of those things.

The relationship between the trade union movement and the Labor Party is always one that is like a family and that is where blood is thicker than water. But from time to time there will be disagreements that occur. The most important thing about the relationship is not necessarily that you have disagreements, but that you have the capacity to work them out, and I think that is the track record of the labour movement. I think at the moment the relationship between the Party and the trade union movement is a good one.

No one is really talking about an Accord in government, but would you say that looking back the eighties, that the relationship is either closer or more distant than back then?

I think it is different but I think that the Accord was the appropriate thing to do at an appropriate time in history. People will argue about what its benefits were or weren't but my feeling is that the Accord was something that worked well for working people.

The circumstances are different. I think an Accord isn't something that is necessarily called for at the moment. I think the relationship between the industrial wing and the political wing of the movement is probably a little more sophisticated, and I don't think anyone on either side particularly wants to have a formal document recording the relationship, but the relationship is a good one and I think we work things through together well.

Do you think the continuing slide in percentage union membership in the country affects that relationship at all?

I don't think it has. I think that this is an issue for the trade union movement really that it has to address - and I know is addressing, and we have done a lot of work to identify precisely what are our problems and what we need to do to overcome them. And there is a report that the trade union movement put together and has issued: "Unions at Work" and we are all now busily trying to implement the recommendations and the strategies which come out of that.

So I think that the union movement's future is in its own hands - and I'm talking as a trade unionist. We have to deliver the goods and we have to turn things around. I think our problem will be that if we don't do that - our future is as much about the relationship with the ALP but if we slide to a percentage level that for example exists in the United States or some of the other countries, then we'll have problems with being taken credibly in the community in general.

I guess conversely the other question is, do you think the ALP needs a strong union movement to keep its bearings?

I have always been, and am still, a strong supporter of the relationship between the trade union movement and the ALP and I think it is a beneficial one both ways.

Finally, it is a week before Conference at the moment. If things go smoothly, what do you hope to see at the end of next week?

The ALP National Conference is a unique meeting. It provides a bit of transparency about the way in which the Labor Party develops its policy and debates it and makes decisions. The Liberal Party doesn't have such a showcase.

But when you hold a conference which is public and transparent, there is always the opportunity for arguments to be held publicly. I think what everybody will hope for from this conference is that the platform that will be endorsed will be a positive one - and that the experience of the conference will be a positive one and will form another plank or another foundation for the Party to go forward to the next election.


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*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 64 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Greg Sword Unsheathed
The NUW national secretary is set to be endorsed as ALP Federal president next week. He talks about the relationship between the two wings of the labour movement.
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*  Unions: Phone Rage, Headaches and Stress
A comprehensive survey of the call centre industry conducted by the ASU has revealed an industry workplace culture dominated by excessive monitoring and stress.
*
*  Economics: And the Winner Is .... Sydney?
Austrade chief economist Tim Harcourt looks at the export impact of the Sydney Olympics and asks if we'll win gold.
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*  International: Western Sahara: Referendum Or War?
A June UN referendum in Western Sahara could have provided the people of Western Sahara a chance to exercise their right to self-determination and independence. It didn't.
*
*  History: The Union's Roots in Song
We look at some of the songs that kept working people going through their darkest hours.
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*  Media: Unchaining the ABC
The ALP needs to rethink our public institutions to determine how they might better deliver the ends for which they were originally established.
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*  Environment: Motorways Fail the Pollie Test
Our daily grind of congested roads, polluted air, and frustrated motorists is putting all and sundry to the test, and not least Liberal and Labor politicians.
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*  Satire: Murdoch Launches Bid for Under-9s Netball Team
Sydney's lucrative junior league netball broadcasting market has been shaken by a bid by one of the world's most predatory entrepreneurs, Rupert Murdoch, to secure ownership of the most successful team in the league.
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*  Review: Espionage a Trois
The Whitlams' brass section his teamed with some of the hippest cats in Sydney to make the sort of music you'll want to shoot baddies to.
*

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»  Doing It For The Love Of It
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»  Deadline to Vote in ARM Poll Approaches
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»  Grief Support for Workplace Tragedies
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»  Workers Invited to Mark Federation
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Columns
»  The Soapbox
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»  Sport
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Tool Shed
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Letters to the editor
»  Viva Eavesdropping Jonesy
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»  Globalisation and Maintaining Our Lifestyle
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»  Crappiest Music Feedback
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