Shorten tested in back­room fights

Ahead of La­bor’s na­tional con­fer­ence, fac­tional splits are ap­pear­ing over ma­jor poli­cies, in­clud­ing the ap­proval of the Adani coalmine, refugee in­take, free trade and New­start. Karen Mid­dle­ton re­ports.

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page -

The fed­eral La­bor Party ap­pears set to aban­don any prom­ise to block In­dian conglomerate Adani from min­ing coal in Queens­land’s Galilee Basin, fear­ing it could ex­pose a La­bor gov­ern­ment to a mas­sive com­pen­sa­tion bill.

As left-wing del­e­gates to next week’s Aus­tralian La­bor Party na­tional con­fer­ence gear up for a fight on a range of is­sues, in­clud­ing refugee pol­icy, free trade and the level of the New­start al­lowance, se­nior mem­bers of the fac­tion are dis­tanc­ing them­selves from pre­vi­ous sug­ges­tions a La­bor gov­ern­ment could seek to block the con­tro­ver­sial Adani min­ing pro­posal.

At the same time, a larger than usual cross­bench of non-aligned del­e­gates at the con­fer­ence means nei­ther of the two main fac­tions com­mand an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity, forc­ing a greater de­gree of early ne­go­ti­a­tion – partly to avoid the pub­lic brawl­ing over pol­icy that marked the 2015 con­fer­ence.

The Satur­day Pa­per has been told the party has ad­vice that adds to con­cerns about both sovereign risk – the risk that Aus­tralia’s in­ter­na­tional credit rat­ing could be jeop­ar­dised – and the like­li­hood that Adani could sue suc­cess­fully if an in­com­ing La­bor gov­ern­ment moved to block the mine.

But other se­nior La­bor MPs cast doubt on the ex­is­tence of such ad­vice, say­ing they were un­aware of it, or that any for­mal po­si­tion had been taken on the is­sue.

In­di­ca­tions of a shift on Adani fol­low ear­lier sug­ges­tions that La­bor could seek to use en­vi­ron­men­tal law to block or re­voke ap­provals for the mine on the grounds of its im­pact on the Great Bar­rier Reef.

Some in the wider La­bor Party – and be­yond it – are likely to see any shift cit­ing le­gal ad­vice as a con­ve­nient means by which those in the Right fac­tion, in­clud­ing leader Bill Shorten, can walk away from the anti-Adani rhetoric they adopted in the shadow of the Bat­man by­elec­tion in in­ner Melbourne early this year.

Oth­ers in­sist the le­gal and mon­e­tary im­pli­ca­tions are gen­uine, es­pe­cially given the costs the Vic­to­rian

La­bor gov­ern­ment in­curred when it re­versed its Liberal pre­de­ces­sors’ plans to build the East West Link road pro­ject across Melbourne.

In Fe­bru­ary, Shorten en­dorsed the con­cerns of work­ers at coalmines else­where in Aus­tralia, af­ter they ex­pressed a fear that the Adani mine might jeop­ar­dise their jobs.

“We need to make sure that all sci­en­tific ap­provals have been dili­gently re­searched,” Shorten said at the time.

But last week he was down­play­ing any like­li­hood of re­view, as the com­pany made an­other an­nounce­ment promis­ing work on the mine was im­mi­nent.

“We don’t know what they’ll be up to by the time we get into gov­ern­ment, so we’ll deal with the facts of the sit­u­a­tion we’re pre­sented with, if we win the elec­tion,” Shorten said last Fri­day.

“… But suf­fice to say, we’ll make de­ci­sions at that point based in the na­tional in­ter­est. Of course we’re not in­ter­ested in sovereign risk or break­ing con­tracts. We’ll be guided by the best sci­ence and the na­tional in­ter­est.”

Two of the most se­nior left-wing mem­bers of La­bor’s shadow min­istry, deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and

La­bor se­nate leader and shadow for­eign minister Penny Wong, have ex­pressed sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments in the days since.

“Peo­ple shouldn’t think it’s easy to, first of all, ig­nore signed agree­ments, or tear up signed agree­ments that have been made,” Plibersek told ABC ra­dio’s AM pro­gram the same day.

“If we want a sys­tem where gov­ern­ments ig­nore the law, then just as peo­ple are ask­ing La­bor to ig­nore the law in this case, the Liberal gov­ern­ment could ig­nore the law if en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­provals were re­fused, they could over­ride those re­fusals. So I just think we need to be very care­ful when we are talk­ing about ig­nor­ing the law.”

Last Sun­day, Wong con­curred. “There is a thing called sovereign risk,” Wong told ABC TV’s In­sid­ers. “And we don’t want to be a coun­try which has any sker­rick of a rep­u­ta­tion that we’re pre­pared to en­gage in ac­tiv­ity af­ter the fact which could en­dan­ger any form of in­vest­ment or pro­ject. So it’s very dif­fi­cult and not sen­si­ble to stop things af­ter they are pro­ceeded with.”

Shorten, Plibersek and Wong all doubted Adani would ever ac­tu­ally mine coal in the Galilee, it hav­ing had re­peated false starts. The com­pany strug­gled with ob­tain­ing fi­nance and then faced an­other set­back when the Queens­land La­bor gov­ern­ment ve­toed its ap­pli­ca­tion for fed­eral funds to build a rail­way line.

While some del­e­gates may still de­mand a stronger po­si­tion against the Adani mine, other is­sues are ex­pected to at­tract greater op­po­si­tion at the

ALP’s na­tional con­fer­ence, now set for De­cem­ber 16-18 in Adelaide and hav­ing been resched­uled af­ter it clashed with the so-called Su­per Satur­day of un­ex­pected by­elec­tions in July.

Fac­tion lead­ers are try­ing to strike a bal­ance in favour of, as one MP puts it, “dis­ci­pline with a bit of dis­so­nance”.

With a fed­eral elec­tion due within months, they are con­scious of the need to prove to vot­ers that La­bor is ready to gov­ern and avoid any im­pres­sion of a di­vided rab­ble.

At the same time, they don’t want such a stage-man­aged af­fair that it ends up like a “Kevin 07-style coronation”.

On refugees and asy­lum seek­ers, sev­eral stick­ing points re­main, in­clud­ing over the size of the hu­man­i­tar­ian in­take un­der a La­bor gov­ern­ment, pro­posed changes to the re­view ar­range­ments for re­jected ap­pli­cants and the level of in­come sup­port avail­able to peo­ple await­ing de­ter­mi­na­tions.

The draft plat­form says La­bor “as­pires to pro­gres­sively in­crease” the num­ber of hu­man­i­tar­ian mi­grants to 27,000 a year. Some refugee ad­vo­cates want more than that.

The Satur­day Pa­per has been told the Left is likely to push for “a num­ber with a three in front”.

The Aus­tralian Coun­cil of Trade Unions congress en­dorsed closing down the off­shore de­ten­tion cen­tres on Manus Is­land and Nauru but the ALP’s draft na­tional plat­form is silent on that point.

La­bor for Refugees has the back­ing of some in the par­lia­men­tary Left to push for a ban on turn­ing back boats.

Oth­ers in the fac­tion are re­sist­ing re­open­ing that de­bate, how­ever, cit­ing ev­i­dence that the prac­tice has been in­stru­men­tal in thwart­ing the ef­forts of peo­ple smug­glers to send des­per­ate asy­lum seek­ers to Aus­tralia.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions on the refugee parts of the plat­form had been sched­uled be­tween a work­ing group of left-wing La­bor MPs and shadow im­mi­gra­tion minister Shayne Neu­mann for Wed­nes­day this week, but were post­poned as par­lia­ment wres­tled with cross­bench leg­is­la­tion seek­ing to bring to Aus­tralia chil­dren de­tained on Nauru and med­i­cally cer­ti­fied sick adults from both is­land lo­ca­tions.

La­bor backed the cross­bench push, in a move Shorten is ex­pected to use to demon­strate to the refugee ad­vo­cates in his party that he is se­ri­ous about im­prov­ing the plight of those in off­shore de­ten­tion. Ne­go­ti­a­tions by the work­ing group are now ex­pected to oc­cur next week.

Also in the mix, unions are driv­ing a push to strengthen pro­tec­tions within bi­lat­eral free trade agree­ments against im­port­ing for­eign labour be­yond what is al­ready in the draft plat­form.

They are also de­mand­ing a firm un­der­tak­ing on in­dus­try bar­gain­ing as part of the party’s in­dus­trial re­la­tions pol­icy.

And Shorten faces po­ten­tial pres­sure over the pol­icy on New­start, with the draft plat­form com­mit­ting only to “re­view the ad­e­quacy of New­start and re­lated pay­ments” along with other sup­ports and ser­vices for the un­em­ployed but not specif­i­cally to in­crease them. Some want a firm com­mit­ment to an in­crease in­cluded, with a fig­ure at­tached, while oth­ers have af­ford­abil­ity con­cerns.

On Adani, the com­pro­mise is be­ing sheeted home to bud­get-driven prag­ma­tism and con­cern about

Aus­tralia’s in­vest­ment rep­u­ta­tion.

Early this year, ahead of the Bat­man by­elec­tion, Shorten’s fear of los­ing the seat to the Greens prompted tougher anti-Adani rhetoric, set­ting him at odds with those in his party, par­tic­u­larly in Queens­land, where there is sup­port for the mine on its prom­ise of jobs.

La­bor re­tained the seat, with for­mer ACTU sec­re­tary Ged Kear­ney claim­ing vic­tory.

This week, anti-Adani cam­paign­ers, in­clud­ing the Greens, ramped up pres­sure over the is­sue.

Pro­test­ers caused the tem­po­rary clo­sure of Par­lia­ment House’s front en­trance on Wed­nes­day af­ter get­ting through se­cu­rity and into the foyer, where they un­furled ban­ners and made speeches be­fore be­ing re­moved.

In the se­nate, Queens­land Greens sen­a­tor Larissa Wa­ters sidestepped a ban on wear­ing slo­gans, sport­ing red-and­white stop-sign ear­rings large enough that their “Stop Adani” mes­sage could be read from across the cham­ber.

An­gry at Wa­ters’ cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the rules, Queens­land Liberal Ian Mac­don­ald de­manded se­nate pres­i­dent Scott Ryan out­law the of­fend­ing ac­ces­sories.

Ryan said he would con­sider the re­quest, as­sur­ing Mac­don­ald he was wel­come to wear his own ear­rings into the se­nate in the mean­time.

When Mac­don­ald ar­rived the next day with a head-sized red-and­white card­board disc at­tached to his ear, plas­tered with the words “You can’t #stop Adani”, Ryan swiftly added ear­ring slo­gans to the banned list.

La­bor’s par­lia­men­tary lead­ers weren’t parad­ing the sen­ti­ment quite as colour­fully as Mac­don­ald. But it seems

• they agree with him.


Op­po­si­tion Leader Bill Shorten in par­lia­ment this week.

KAREN MID­DLE­TON is The Satur­day Pa­per’s chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent.

KAREN MID­DLE­TON is The Satur­day Pa­per’s chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.