Three of the nation’s biggest unions are preparing to vote against a crucial Labor motion supporting the AUKUS pact, while two others could abstain from the motion, in a sign of the government’s inability to unite its supporters behind the controversial nuclear submarine deal.
Unions are trying to remove all references to nuclear submarines from Labor’s policy platform in a rebuff to Prime Minister Anthony Albanese after he opened the party’s national conference in Brisbane with a pointed warning against moves that would hurt Labor at the next election.
“Our responsibility is to plan and build for what’s ahead,” he said in his opening speech on Thursday morning.
“That’s why it’s vital we leave this conference with a plan for progress over the next decade – and a platform for victory in 2025.”
After a day of tense negotiations between union chiefs, factional leaders and conference delegates, two resolutions on the nuclear submarine deal will be debated at Australian Labor’s top decision-making forum on Friday.
Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy will move to enshrine the AUKUS deal in Labor’s national platform as well as a crucial 32-paragraph statement in detail that spells out why the submarine pact with the US and UK is vital.
But the Electrical Trades Union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia will attempt to strip out all references to nuclear submarines.
Late on Thursday evening some conference delegates, who asked not to be named so they could speak freely, said two more powerful Left-aligned unions – the Community and Public Sector Union and the United Workers Union – had held discussions about abstaining on the vote.
Union officials cautioned on Thursday night that voting intentions remained fluid and a last-minute deal could be done on Friday morning, although they warned some blocs could split on the issue because of the strongly-held views on nuclear power.
Marles’ statement in detail commits the party to well-paid union jobs, support for local industry, and frames the submarine deal as about collective security in the region.
It also commits to the AUKUS submarines being built by Australian workers in South Australia, with a peak of 4000 workers employed to design and build the infrastructure at Osborne and a further 4000 to 5500 jobs created to build the submarines.
But that will not be enough to deter major Left faction unions including the Electrical Trades Union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia from putting an alternative motion that strips out references to nuclear submarines.
ETU national secretary Michael Wright is expected to lead the case against the policy on the conference floor by putting a resolution that would replace the motion from Marles and avoid any commitment to nuclear submarines.
Other union opponents of the AUKUS pact, including the CFMEU and MUA, are expected to then back Wright’s motion, which removes all references to nuclear-propelled submarines, but will in all other respects copy the motion from Marles.
In a “cognate debate” with the two motions put alongside each other, the national conference is expected to back the Right faction-aligned Marles – despite support on the left for Wright’s motion – because the Right faction will combine with the parliamentary wing of the party and the remaining Left-union aligned delegates to deliver the numbers.
Disquiet within Left-aligned unions and the Labor Party’s rank-and-file members runs deep, and underscoring this, the Left faction will not be bound to all vote the same way on Friday morning, as is usually the case.
Top Labor figures were also scrambling on Thursday to avoid a damaging fight over the Israel-Palestine situation.
Earlier on Thursday, a pro-Israel group within the Right proposed to remove from the party platform a commitment to recognise the state of Palestine, prompting outrage from the Left and some groups in the Right.
The Left wanted to add to the platform a set of words reflecting an announcement by Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who earlier this month pledged Labor would harden its language on Israel’s “illegal” settlements.
As a compromise, neither change will be put forward and two speakers deemed acceptable by government figures – Susan Templeman from the Left and Michael Easson from the Right – will speak about the issue on the conference floor on Friday.
A Right faction source claimed ministerial offices were exerting undue control in trying to engineer a controversy-free outcome.
But a senior Left source said the pro-Israel group never had the numbers and risked a divisive debate through its “provocative” move.
Source : The Age