Labor protects MPs opposing Iemma
Andrew West and Andrew Clennell, smh
April 26, 2008
Latest related coverage:
There's a price to pay for power sell-off
THE president of the NSW Labor Party has confirmed he will protect any Labor MP who votes against the privatisation of the state's electricity industry, setting the stage for a split in the Iemma Government.
Bernie Riordan, secretary of the Electrical Trades Union, and chairman of the ALP's powerful administrative committee, has told the Herald that MPs who uphold party policy by defying the Premier will not be expelled or lose their endorsement.
His statement - before next weekend's ALP conference, which is now almost certain to reject a privatisation push by Morris Iemma and the Treasurer, Michael Costa - could license up to 20 Labor MPs who have publicly opposed privatisation to cross the floor.
If the Coalition also rejects the privatisation, the bills will be defeated, inflicting the worst blow on a Labor premier since William Holman was expelled from his own party in 1916. "I expect every Labor MP to follow the policy that our party democratically resolves next weekend, and that includes the Premier," Mr Riordan said.
"Any MP who follows party policy by opposing privatisation in the parliament will certainly have my support in any disciplinary matter that comes before the administrative committee."
Mr Riordan's stand is backed by all the left-wing members of the administrative committee, and most of the right-wing members.
The unions are unlikely to use the blunt instrument of expelling Mr Iemma and Mr Costa because they do not want to bully a premier but to support MPs loyal to the party platform.
The right-wingers on the administrative committee also plan to make pro-privatisation MPs endorsed before the last election without the support of local branches face rank and file preselections before 2011. This would mean the defeat of at least eight MPs, including Jodi McKay in Newcastle, Lylea McMahon from the Illawarra, Tanya Gadiel in Parramatta and David Harris on the Central Coast.
Last night a spokeswoman for Mr Iemma said only: "The cabinet and the caucus have already voted in favour of doing what is necessary for the future of NSW."
The Premier is so concerned about a likely loss by 650 votes to 150 that he has enlisted the backroom powerbroker Eddie Obeid to lobby union secretaries and backbench MPs.
Another controversial Labor figure, the former senator Graham Richardson, has publicly acknowledged the privatisation plan is doomed, and privately counselled Mr Costa against defying the party and proceeding with the sell-off.
The Herald has learned that Mr Obeid has lobbied several right-wing union leaders, including the influential secretary of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union, Nick Lewocki, asking them to "talk round" Mr Riordan. The Premier's spokesman would not comment on Mr Obeid's role in the negotiations. Mr Obeid could not be reached for comment.
Mr Richardson confirmed meeting Mr Costa two months ago and discussing privatisation but would not give details. He also conceded to a Labor branch leader that the Premier would be trounced at the conference.
The secretary of the Darlington branch, Trevor Davies, said that when he encountered Mr Richardson last week "Graham … grinned, like he always does, and told me he expected a massive victory for our side of the debate".