National Conference Report from a non-aligned delegate

By Chris Quilkey, non-aligned delegate to National Conference

Day 1:

  • PM’s speech: clearly, there is no Graham Freudenberg or Don Watson writing speeches today. I was seated immediately behind the NSW heavies (Sam Dastyari, John Graham who is the Left NSW Assistant Secretary, and Paul Howes); and they spent the entire speech giggling and chatting to each other, showing the PM no respect, which is one of the reasons why the NSW Party is where it is. Sam Dastyari only clapped once, when the PM mentioned community pre-selections.
  • Wayne Swan spoke more naturally than the PM. The Finance debate was a clear left v right stoush, very entertaining – sometimes really so (Doug Cameron) and sometimes embarrasingly so (Eric Ripper). The Right won on the voices.
  • Bill Shorten has terrible taste in ties!
  • The welcome to the Norwegian Young Labor President and Secretary was very well done, but has received no publicity.
  • The Education, Clean Energy and IR “debates” were all predictable and boring, except for the one vote in the Energy debate, which went to the Right by 202 votes to 190, which was closer than expected. However, the Right got the message and their whips were more disciplined and ready for subsequent major votes.

Day 2:

  • Disability debate – PM’s address was OK but wooden; Jenny Macklin was surprisingly good. Bill Shorten spoke extremely well, but every speech he makes is a leadership pitch.
  • Marriage equality – all the cameras focussed on Wong, Garrett and Plibersek sitting together. Ironic that those advocating a conscience vote were the most rigid in enforcing their own line – they only respect their own right to a conscience. (And subsequently, some Sydney MPs have said they would not vote for marriage equality because their electorates were not ready for it – it was supposed to be a conscience vote for those whose conscience truly would not support marriage equality, not a convenience vote for electoral cop-out).
  • Marriage equality – loudest cheer for Penny Wong, but John Faulkner not far behind. Andrew Barr very well received. de Bruyn was awful – asked rhetorical questions and got the ‘wrong’ answers. (Only ask rhetorical questions to your own audience!) Far more enthusiasm from the rainbow supporters. The Chair was much quicker to wind up the Right’s speakers. The Gillard amendment (conscience vote) was carried 208/184; the Barr/Wong amendment (to change the platform) was carried on the voices.
  • Lunchtime – reported 8,000 pro-equality protesters outside in very colourful protest.
  • Asylum seeker debate – those in favour of off-shore processing provided nothing but spin. Carried 206/179.
  • Thank heavens Tony SHeldon did not win the Presidency – his chairing of debates was very poor, and if he chaired the whole conference we’d still be there.
  • Rules debate – during the rules debate, Kevin Rudd spent the whole session sitting next to Faulkner, Carr and Bracks. John Graham (NSW Left) referred to NSW ALP as Tammany Hall without any irony, and wasn’t challenged. Doug Cameron was entertaining, but not as much as the delegate who followed him and imitated him, to a standing ovation. Vote for President and VPs to have vote on National Executive lost 174/206. (If the Right had 2 of the 3 instead of the Left, would it be different? You bet).

Day 3:

  • Started on time at 8.30 (Saturday finished at 7.10pm!)
  • Ageing debate – boring but eminently worthy and important. One good motion carried, to oppose privatisation of public hospitals, which is a big issue in WA and could become big in newly elected Liberal states such as NSW and Vic.
  • Building Australia’s Future – Albanese mentioned uranium, and drew sustained heckling (which continued thru Simon Crean’s address) and the gallery was eventually cleared of about 20 people, the process taking about 10 minutes. Turned out this mention was “bait” to draw out the hecklers, and it worked: when the PM introduced the Uranium to India debate, there were no protesters/hecklers, and therefore she wasn’t on the news being heckled.
  • Uranium debate – PM spoke well, her best speech of the conference. To her credit, she has been visible for the whole conference. Marn Ferson mumbled as usual – called terrorism ‘tourism’ (‘fighting tourism’!). Stephen Smith explained what has changed (India’s international oversight undertakings) – considered, measured address. Peter Garrett spoke passionately to a standing ovation, giving his best speech since he entered politics. Notable that Paul Howes attacked Doug Cameron’s speech, but didn’t mention Garrett’s. Vote carried 206/185.
  • Lunchtime (drizzle) – small demonstration of Liberal nutters too stupid to come in out of the rain; served them right.
  • Foreign Affairs – Kevin Rudd very strident, actually a harangue. Spoke as if he expected the mike to be turned off at any second, racing thru his text. Stephen Smith was dour but solid. Rudd waited for the TV cameras to be in place before greeting the most photogenic person within range, or before leaving the conference.


  • National Conference does not have the argy-bargy of State Conference, where people come into more frequent contact with each other. Heckling was largely state-based except on the big issues.
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2 Responses to National Conference Report from a non-aligned delegate

  1. Pete says:

    The biggest question is how on earth you get elected to conference being unaligned?

  2. Ben Aveling says:

    Hi Pete,
    I don’t know as much about the other states. In NSW two independent candidates stood, and on our back-of-the-envelope numbers, we expected one or perhaps both of them to get up. It’s a complicated calculation, because although there is a sizeable non-aligned vote, a lot of it tends to end up with the factions anyway, for a range of reasons – you get some votes simply by not being factional, but only some – a lot of people still figure ‘better the devil they know’. In the end, there wasn’t a ballot. Magically, despite the entry of two independents, there were exactly 108 candidates for 108 positions (or however many it was). We figure that the Left and Right agreed to give up one position each in order to avoid a ballot.
    Regards, Ben

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