“There is … a great deal wrong with a situation where a Russian doll of nested caucuses sees a tiny minority of MPs exercising a controlling interest over the majority,”
It’s not possible to understand the ALP without understanding the word caucus.
The word is commonly used, especially in the media, to mean the Parliamentary Labor Party, those members of the Australian Labor Party who have been elected to parliament.
But the word caucus also has a wider meaning.
The Parliamentary Labor Party (PLP) votes as a block in parliament, even when some members of the PLP disagree with the rest. Before issues come to parliament, they are discussed in the caucus, and even if the caucus divides 51/49, they still vote as a block in parliament. This is called caucusing; this is why the Caucus is called the Caucus.
The PLP caucus because if one party votes as a block while the other party splits, the party that votes as a block will always decide the outcome, because they only need a few people to cross the floor in order to have a majority.
Of course, it’s not just the PLP that caucuses. Before the PLP caucuses, each faction will caucus, to decide how it will vote when the PLP caucuses. And before the factions caucus, their sub-factions will caucus.
The best known sub-faction are the Terrigals – Eddie Obeid’s sub-faction. Although not a majority of the Right, the Terrigals come close – when they vote as a block it requires almost the whole of the rest of the Right to vote as a block if the Terrigals are to be defeated.
That means that if a majority of the Terrigals hold a position on an issue, even if a minority of the Terrigals, much of the rest of the Right and all of the Left hold the opposite position, the Terrigals will be able to decide the outcome.
What happens inside the Terrigals is not often made public, but safe to say that it has its own sub-sub-factions, and so on. And this is how, via “a Russian doll of nested caucuses”, a few ‘rotten apples’ can ‘spoil the whole barrel’.