The ayes have it – ALP conference flashpoints fizz out

by Zacharias Szumer | Aug 18, 2023 | Comment & Analysis, Latest Posts

The first day of ALP’s national conference in Brisbane was a routine affair, with every motion expected to draw controversy watered down and passed without challenge. Zacharias Szumer reports.

The ayes surely had it on the first day of the ALP national conference. Over several hours of sessions containing an absolute barrage of motions, amendments and resolutions, there was nary a nay to be heard.

In the lead-up to the conference, several motions were flagged as having the potential to cause controversy and debate on the conference floor.

It turned out, this wasn’t the case, with motions on native forestry, agricultural methane emissions and a super-profits tax all being watered down and passed without contest.

Native forest logging and a plan for methane

As MWM reported yesterday, the Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN) led a push for the party to halve agricultural methane emissions by 2030 and end native forest logging.

In the end, the motion on methane that eventually made it to the floor was significantly watered down, and only committed the party to support “research, development and deployment of methane-reducing livestock technologies” and to “meaningfully reduce methane emissions from agriculture”.

And on logging, the motion put to conference only committed to a set of non-specific principles about the “management and restoration of native forests” and “recognising and rewarding carbon and biodiversity values”.

More significantly, though, it promised to update the 1992 National Forest Policy Statement to “ensure it is contemporary and fit for purpose”.

The 1992 statement set up the Regional Forest Agreement system that gave state governments the power to bypass national environmental laws – a system that has long been criticised by opponents of native forest logging.

Court rulings in Victoria that found the state wasn’t exempt from federal laws on endangered species were crucial to bringing native forest logging to an end in Victoria earlier this year.

Native forest logging may be near the end thanks to historic court decisions, ‘Precautionary Principle’

Felicity Wade, national co-convenor of LEAN, told MWM that “a commitment to update the national forest policy statement, 31 years later” was a good result, and said she didn’t regret making compromises.

“We do support the process approach … that’s what sets Labor apart. We need to take everyone with us.”

Speaking about the people who had worked to get the motion to conference, including over 350 branches who had backed the motion, she said, “We didn’t get what they asked for, but are confident we have a pathway.”

Asren Pugh, a Byron Shire councillor and delegate who supported LEAN’s motion, concurred with Wade.

“The outcome of today’s vote is not what branches asked for … but the outcome we have got … is a really good outcome.”

“This is not the end of the campaign, but just one more step. He added:

Native forest logging is not consistent with Labor’s commitment to net zero by 2050. Native forest logging is not consistent with Labor’s commitment to end extinctions.

He also said Labor needed to have an honest conversation about the future of the industry now, “so that workers aren’t left in the lurch like they were in Victoria when the industry was just shut overnight.”

Earlier in the day, Greens forestry spokesperson Janet Rice slammed the result of today’s conference:

Labor has buried their heads in the sand again, to the detriment of the environment, the climate, and the forestry workers who are being robbed of a just and fair transition out of a dying industry.

Super-profits tax for housing

In recent weeks, the Construction, Forestry Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) has campaigned for a super-profits tax that would fund a massive investment in social and affordable housing.

Speaking to the conference floor, CFMMEU secretary Zach Smith said, “We believe a super-profits tax is the clearest way to raise the money necessary to build the homes we need … A carefully calibrated super-profits tax would raise $290 billion in the first decade.”

However, the wording of the motion that he was speaking in support of was far vaguer: “Labor will increase government investment in social and affordable housing with funding from a progressive and sustainable tax system, including corporate tax reform.”

That motion was passed without opposition.

Speaking to MWM after the voting, Smith said “the words that we got in the platform today were very significant, probably more significant than I thought would be achievable a week ago.

“Such a big economic idea like this, we were realistic in the sense that the government isn’t just going to roll over.”

“We had to make a decision, whether we … run up a more rigid position that we know will get defeated, or take a position which shifts the dial on corporate tax. Now that’s not an easy decision.”

Pressed on whether what was passed was too vague to hold the government to account, Smith said, “That’s possibly true, but that’s the role of the union … We’re not going to let them walk away.”

AUKUS debate awaits

Tomorrow morning is the foreign policy and defence session and all attention is on whether AUKUS debates will be publicly aired or smoothed over in backrooms beforehand.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his allies are reportedly seeking to appease elements of the party hostile to the security pact.

On Monday, partly leaders broadcast the idea of an AUKUS a ‘statement in detail’ on AUKUS, which would ensure the nuclear submarines promised under the deal would be constructed in Australia by a well-paid unionised workforce.

Whether this will be enough to quell grassroots party groups who want to wholly remove AUKUS from the party platform, and those who have longstanding opposition to nuclear power, remains to be seen.

Albanese has hinted that he might make another appearance at the conference on Friday to speak in support of AUKUS.

Too Quiet on AUKUS

Zacharias Szumer is a freelance writer from Melbourne. In addition to Michael West Media, he has written for The Monthly, Overland, Jacobin, The Quietus, The South China Morning Post and other outlets.

He was also responsible for our War Power Reforms series.

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