Fight over CFMEU’s ability to preselect candidates threatens to split NSW Labor left

Attempt to stop union from voting has prompted the soft left to threaten to divide the faction

An ugly preselection brawl within the New South Wales Labor left has threatened to split the faction ahead of the next state election, amid accusations of “rorts”, legal threats and ongoing criminal charges over allegations of union officials accepting bribes.

At the centre of the intra-factional fight is a bid by the hard left to block the powerful CFMEU and its allies from installing the prominent barrister Cameron Murphy into a winnable spot on the party’s upper house ticket ahead of the March election.

That move would come at the expense of the sitting MP Mick Veitch, one of Labor’s few regional representatives in the upper house.

The attempt to stop the CFMEU from voting in the preselection has prompted the soft or “Ferguson” left to threaten to split the faction at NSW Labor’s next state conference in October.

It would set the stage for a damaging floor fight as the party seeks to convince voters it is ready for government after 12 years in opposition.

The secretary of the NSW CFMEU, Darren Greenfield, wrote an incensed letter to the left faction earlier this month, accusing Labor’s hard left of unfairly blocking its delegates from voting at this weekend’s left-faction delegates conference.

“We along with many rank and file members of the Left are sick of rorts to the rules and declaratory processes being used to deny a fair vote taking place for positions,” Greenfield wrote.

“The exclusion of members by the Left leadership and in the party itself through executive decision making and fixes must end and we will challenge this to ensure a fair ballot.”

Greenfield wrote the union intends to “explore all our rights at law in relation to this matter”, saying Murphy, who was also touted as a potential candidate at the federal election, had a “decade’s long history” of “fighting for human rights such as the right to protest”.

“In this way he reflects the values that the CFMEU Construction and General Division wants represented in the NSW Parliament,” he wrote.

“We are not against the current MLC’s that are seeking re-election but believe there is no right for them to be protected in their position and that there should be a fair ballot for the left to choose our team.”

Tensions within the faction have been simmering since before the last election, with soft left figures incensed that the former Labor assistant secretary Rose Jackson secured the upper house position vacated by Lynda Voltz when she moved into the lower house.

It means the three left spots up for grabs at the next election are all held by members of the hard left – Jackson, Veitch and the shadow special minister for state, John Graham.

But the union’s opponents in the hard left accuse the CFMEU of seeking to “game the rules” to install Murphy, a two-time candidate in the western Sydney seat of East Hills who has since taken up a rental property in Goulburn, at Veitch’s expense.

“It’s pure, rank opportunism,” one member of the hard left told the Guardian.

“The Fergs can see we’re in with a shot [at winning government] in March and they’re threatening to blow us up if we don’t give them what they want.”

The move to block the CFMEU from voting at the delegate’s conference dates back to charges laid against Greenfield and his son Michael, a CFMEU assistant secretary, over allegations they accepted bribes in return for preferential treatment on building sites.

The charges remain before the courts, and the pair have strongly denied the claims.

They were suspended from the party at the urging of NSW Labor leader, Chris Minns, leading the union to withdraw from the last state conference.

The hard left says that absence disqualifies the union from participating.

But the union – and its allies in the Ferguson left, named after party powerbroker and former federal MP Laurie Ferguson – say those rules don’t apply to union delegates.

“If they deny us our democratic right, we’ll split the left,” one union-aligned source said.


Michael McGowan

The GuardianTramp

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