Interview: Trading in Principle
Unions: While We Were Away
Politics: Follow the Leader
Bad Boss: Safety Recidivist Fingered
Economics: Casualisation Shrouded In Myths
History: Worker Control Harco Style
Review: Other Side Of The Harbour
All The Way With FTA?
State Of Confusion
Give Them A Medal
Follow the Leader
The great gathering of the ALP tribes at the end of January featured everyone from Kevin Rudd to Kevin Reynolds discussing everything from the Western Sahara to Western Sydney.
Despite paranoia about shifting the show back to the mainland there weren't many demonstrators. A few greenies, the refugee advocates, some civil libertarians and bookshop owner Bob Gould. Thankfully the Right to Life people stayed at home.
There were more bemused tourists in the environs of Sydney's Darling Harbour Convention Centre than protesters, and most of the latter were ignored by the participants at any rate.
Inside, it's like a school re-union. The ALP hasn't held a real National Conference for three years so it is an opportunity for a lot of old hands to catch up. Many Hawke/Keating era ministers are there, looking old and gray.
Robert Ray has lost weight and Johnno Johnson is still buying his own ties, but there's little else of substance in the foyer. The atmosphere is akin to being at the interval of a theatre production (which isn't that far off the mark), still, it's a change from the claustrophobia of the last Hobart conference.
The theme is set by the federal leader's opening address. After all, this is the Mark Latham and Labor national conference. For a brief period your correspondent is transported back to the Blacktown Civic Centre in the 70s with talk of Australian independence, free books, ladders and teeth sounding very much like a campaign speech.
The Sydney Convention Centre is a cavernous place that must hold two or three thousand people - leaving a conference of 400 odd delegates and an equal number of Rabbit's friends and relations with a lot of empty space in the hall. This takes something away from the atmosphere and leaves affair a little flat at times.
With the mainstream media focusing on the big ticket items such as Latham's campaign speech, each other, speech drafts, shopping and anything else central to the lives of the out-of-touch, a lot of interesting ideas drift into the information ether.
Did you know that Howard got the money for his fridge magnets from funds earmarked for domestic violence prevention?
Highlights that go unreported include contributions from a handful of members that put Indigenous concerns at the centre of policies rather, instead of corralling them off to the side. For this we can primarily thank NSW MP Linda Burnley and her colleague from the Northern Territory, Marian Scrymgour.
At times we skirt the fringes of strange, as when Western Australian delegate Nuala Keating speaks during the culture debate of the disturbing effect Holly Valance has had on her child. Any party that's prepared to legislate against Holly Vallance has my vote.
This was always going to be a ceremonial love in with the real discussions done and dusted before delegates entered the hall. A number of speakers, mainly from the left, pointed out that the positions they were advocating on the floor of conference were far from their ideal. As Victorian delegate Peter Holding put it: "the left will settle for what it can get".
Naturally, it was most interesting when love went out the door. The Trade debate was the most obvious. Doug Cameron's swashbuckling speech prompted Bob Carr to suggest that he, and the ACTU by implication, were spouting the thoughts of some beloved leader from just north of Soeul. Carr, straight-faced, also argued that trade reform had been handled sensitively. Luckily this piece of tripe was followed by a great off the cuff speech from Sharan Burrow who called for a position that "talks about real people with a fair policy". Even so, Cameron's amendment never went to a show of hands, saving many from embarrassment.
The Refugee debate got a lot of media, but Labor For Refugees did themselves no favours by getting bogged in party process. It was revealing that the only speakers for the adopted policy were either premiers or shadow cabinet ministers.
The concept of a Conference Fringe was a GOOD IDEA, and allowed something like a debate to occur on some important issues. As usual these went largely unreported, but the LHMU put together an informative session on low paid workers; there was an interesting canvass of mental health; the defence industry had it's own function; young people doomed to spend their days in nursing homes had a platform. Hopefully, this facet will grow at future conferences.
By Saturday there was only so much that a non-player could put up with, and the conference fizzled out after a commitment for the Latham government to buy from union friendly firms.
Which is probably the best that the unions were ever going to get.
But, in the end, it was an election year conference and all the stage managed palaver couldn't dampen a genuinely upbeat mood. It was the public face of a united ALP that is committed to playing Follow The Leader as it was never much good at Simon Says.
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