UNISONActive is an unofficial blog produced by UNISON activists for UNISON activists. Bringing news, briefings and events from a progressive left perspective.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Australian Unions silent on ALP leadership contest

A UNISONActive reader reports from Sydney on a Labour leadership contest in which affiliated unions had surprisingly little to say: Over the past week the Australian Labor Party (ALP) has resembled a soap opera. The ongoing saga of Julia Gillard v Kevin Rudd has continued and reached a level of intensity in recent weeks that culminated in Rudd resigning as Foreign Minister and Gillard calling for a ballot of the ALP (and in turn the Prime Ministership).

And so the public mud slinging began with various Government Ministers accusing Rudd of being 'unworkable', 'chaotic' and one backbench MP calling him a psychopath. For his part, Rudd did not miss the Prime Minister saying that the ALP could not win an election with her in charge and saying that she had lost the trust of the Australian people.

The Australian people sat back in astonishment as both sides of the battle accused each other of treachery and bastardry. This all lasted over the course of a week. Rudd never stood a chance in the ballot and blamed the 'faceless men' of the factions for his impending defeat. On Monday, Gillard won the ballot comprehensively and Rudd has agreed to go to the backbench.

In the aftermath of the ballot we are told that the Party is now 'united' and wants to unite against Tony Abbott and the Tories. Whether this is possible remains to be seen.

What do the unions make of all this? Well they seemed to stay out of this battle for fear of being labeled 'faceless' operators who control the machinations of the ALP and in turn the Government of the day. This contrasted with the previous ballot between Rudd and Gillard where union leaders like Paul Howes of the Australian Workers Union were very vocal in their support for the vote to bring down the sitting Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

This time they were silent although it was clear that vast majority of unions continued to support Julia Gillard. Some establishment (and anti union) commentators see Gillard’s victory as victory for the ALP’s ’industrial arm’: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/whoever-leads-the-party-must-define-its-purpose/story-e6frg71x-1226283269896

The big issue for debate in this whole process was whether a change in leader would actually change policy for the better? This is a tough one as neither candidate really outlined why they were different from the other. Rudd tried to say a few things about the need for a strong manufacturing base but other than that he did not really differentiate himself from Gillard.

Rudd has kept quiet for a day now. We shall see if it lasts and the ALP can retain Government going forward and not have such a public slanging match going on.