ALP Left ready to fight Costa
Andrew West, smh
February 29, 2008
IEMMA Government MPs are on the brink of rebellion after one of the Labor Party's most senior figures endorsed the right of ALP politicians to vote in Parliament against the planned privatisation of the state's electricity industry.
Luke Foley, the party's assistant general secretary who leads the Left faction, has told his MPs that if the Treasurer, Michael Costa, introduced privatisation bills before the issue is debated at the ALP conference in May, the Government would be breaching an agreement with unions.
Mr Foley declined to comment to the Herald, but three MPs, two union leaders and several delegates present at the Left's annual general meeting on Monday night have confirmed he made the statement.
Mr Foley reportedly told the meeting: "A commitment was given that no legislation would be introduced prior to the party conference. If privatisation legislation is introduced prior to the conference, then MPs would be within the their rights to tell caucus that they would not vote for it when it came before Parliament."
Mr Foley was responding to a question from the Sydney bookseller Bob Gould, one of 250 members at the gathering in the Haymarket auditorium of the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union. Another Left member, the Sydney solicitor James Shaw, said Mr Foley was even more explicit, arguing that loyalty to party policy, which opposes power privatisation, was more important than the rule demanding caucus members vote together in Parliament.
"Luke expressed the view that ALP rules on policy overrode the principal of caucus solidarity," Mr Shaw told the Herald.
"He said that he supported caucus solidarity in general but, because electricity privatisation was so obviously against party policy, Labor MPs were free to cross the floor - and everyone in the room totally supported Luke."
Mr Shaw said the delegates also passed a resolution unanimously opposing the privatisation.
Mr Foley's comments will embolden the 15 Labor politicians, including the right-wingers Paul Gibson and Grant McBride, who marched with 5000 unionists on Tuesday against the privatisation.
His statement also directly contradicts Wednesday's claim by the Energy Minister, Ian Macdonald, that no MP would cross the floor. Left MPs told the Herald they were only revealing the details of Mr Foley's comments to the meeting "because Macdonald has no influence and no support within the Left and is in no position to predict what will happen".
Mr Foley is walking a tightrope on the issue of privatisation. He and the party secretary, Karl Bitar, both confidants of the Premier, are trying to broker a compromise with the party members and unions before the issue reaches the conference. Mr Foley has already felt the heat from unions and activists, who elected him at the last ALP conference, for helping to thwart a special anti-privatisation conference.
The assistant secretary of the Public Service Association, Steve Turner, who also attended Monday's meeting, has vowed his union will support any Labor MP who crosses the floor to oppose power privatisation. "If any bill goes before Parliament before the conference it would violate written undertakings from the Premier and we would call on every MP to vote against it," Mr Turner said. "And we will support any MP who gets in trouble over the issue."
In December, the United Services Union leader, Ben Krause, pledged union resources for rebel MPs at the 2011 election.