Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Labor factionalism and renewal

By Rob Hamilton - posted Friday, 15 February 2002

Factional hacks will tell you that there is no essential difference between political parties and factions. Factional hacks will tell you that factions, like parties, are a mechanism for streamlining and promoting constituent representation—if we have political parties, they argue, why not internal parties as well?

This argument is both deceptive and misleading because unlike political parties, factions don’t campaign on platforms, they don’t promote policies and they’re not subject to any form of scrutiny from, or accountability to, their constituents ... even within the party. Furthermore, although factions generally use ideological labels to position themselves on a spectrum of sorts, the reality is that factional activities rarely extend much beyond simple number crunching.

As common sense will tell you, factions are a mechanism for disenfranchisement, not enfranchisement. The inevitable result of factionalism is a reductio ad absurdum. That is, if you reduce your constituent parts far enough you are left with a couple of people making all the decisions. Hence, one gets a city council controlled by nine members of the same political party, controlled by five members of a faction in turn controlled by a 3 member "leadership group" or caucus. In the end anyone not in the core group is only relevant to the extent that they contribute their vote to the numbers.


Factional wheeling and dealing forsakes common sense for empire building and undermines democratic processes in this country. Factional power promotes hacks and numbers men and marginalizes dedicated and intelligent people. Factional power stifles internal debate, runs roughshod over democratic processes and promotes disenfranchisement.

The Liberals have their own fair share of factional wrangling, but when it comes to factionalism the Libs are rank amateurs compared to the ALP. In the ALP, factionalism has turned into an art form to the extent that it is no longer sufficient to just stack within the party, but outside of it as well. Nowadays it is often more accurate to say that it is not the unions that control the ALP but the ALP that controls the unions. Both the SDA and AWU, for example, have notoriously poor records when it comes to promoting worker rights but spectacular records when it comes to training factional up-and-comers and finding them safe seats.

Given this context, one has to question where the current Labor Party fixation on union influence has come from. Certainly it wasn’t a vote loser on November 10. Aside from some tired Coalition rhetoric, union influence in the ALP was barely mentioned. Nor has it come up since as an issue in any qualitative analysis of the election result.

In reality, union influence hasn’t been an issue for the ALP for decades and remains on the agenda more as an ideological signpost trotted out by Liberals to remind supporters of the party’s raison detre. Factions, on the other hand, have resulted in widespread discontent among grassroots ALP members, disenfranchisement, a chronically small membership base and massive membership turnover yet the factions are so entrenched in the ALP that they have become unmentionable. Indeed, the only politician courageous enough to criticise the factions, Wayne Swan, the federal opposition's family services spokesman, saw his late-January comments disappear without a trace in an overwhelming wave of disinterest.

I received a party membership brochure in my local paper a few weeks ago touting the benefits of membership as including the opportunity to "develop policy" and "participate in policy making". One wonders if at this stage it might be worth pursuing an action under the Trade Practices Act for false and misleading conduct?

It is clear that Labor has a way to go in cleaning up the factions, and the first step is acknowledging that they’re actually a problem. It will be interesting to see over the next few months whether Labor has the maturity to acknowledge its failings and seriously take up renewal within the party, or whether this is just another meaningless round of Coalition inspired self-flagellation.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Rob Hamilton is a Councillor in the Shire of Yarra Ranges and member of the ALP. He is not a member of any faction.

Related Links
Australian Labor Party
Shire of Yarra Ranges
Photo of Rob Hamilton
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy