Is anyone surprised …

… by Martin Ferguson’s emergence as an enemy of the Labor Party and the trade union movement? I’m certainly not. Ten years ago, reviewing Michael Thompson’s Labor without Class, to which Ferguson contributed a laudatory foreword, I wrote

The obvious inference from Thompson’s book is not that Labor should change its position but that he, and others who share his views, should join the Liberals.

In 2009, looking at political nepotism in general, I said,

People like Belinda Neal and Martin Ferguson would never have made it into Parliament on their own merits, and would probably have been on the other side if not for their family ties

In between, I noted Ferguson’s support for John Howard’s climate do-nothingism as an argument against the hereditary principle in politics.

My record as a political prognosticator is notoriously mixed, but I got this one right.

23 thoughts on “Is anyone surprised …

  1. Martin ‘Fossil’ Ferguson was the person who did the greatest damage in Labor ranks with the 2010 Gillard-Greens-Independant agreements.

    He spent the period of Govt disrupting and briefing against the carbon pricing package that eventually got passed. It was a miracle that anything at all was done.

  2. Belinda Neal was a contemporary of mine in student politics. AFAIK she had no prominent parental or extended family ties to Labor. She was also fully committed to the Labor Right (Centre Unity/Student Unity) faction at Sydney University and in AUS, which in the student movement had originally come together on a platform of anti-democratic social democracy in opposition to the alleged extremism and anti-democratic practices of the Left. Belinda Neal’s age meant that she first emerged in student politics in about 1981, and thus was something of an epigone vis-a-vis the great anti-AUS and anti-Left struggles that Michael Danby et al waged in the mid-late 1970s. By the early 1980s the Centre Unity/Student Unity faction in student politics was in transition from being something of a reform movement to being what it has been for the past 30+ years – a factional machine in its own right which has long ceased to provide any kind of good example of democratic student unionism, and a careerist conduit into the Young Labor Right and the ALP Right. In this respect it has mirrored the degeneration of the trade union and “senior” ALP Right that did at least have some kind of principled (if wrong) ideological basis in the salad days of Laurie Short and B A Santamaria in the 1950s, but which has since become the faction of Bill Ludwig, Joe De Bruyn, Reba Meagher, Eddie Obeid, Kathy Jackson, Joe Tripodi et al.

  3. It great to have the occasional class traitor to throw tomatos at. I cant remember who was the previous Labor incumbent. Peter Walsh? The entire cabinet who supported the Australia Card?

    Arguably there are a lot more class traitors these days on the other side (i.e. wet Liberals who still believe in rationality, caring and civilized behaviour even if some of their ideas are a bit flaky).

    Separately Labor itself isnt doing so well on the reverse score with Ferguson’s alter ego Mark Latham being pretty horrible too at the moment to judge by last night’s MediaWatch. Sadly “Conga Line of Suckholes” seems in retrospect the highpoint of his witicisms which have now just degenerated into one long string of @#$% !^&* &%^$ ##%^ ‘s.

    Still Latham’s jaring language may manage to remind people why ‘political correctness’ was in large part just about being reasonable and respectful to one’s fellow human being. Irony of Ironies.

  4. I have to agree with all points of J.Q.’s post.

    M.F. (appropriate initials are they not?) belongs in the category “With friends like these who needs enemies?”

  5. Caught the tail-end of 4 Corners (waiting for Mark Latham segment on MW) and caught Marn’s comments on the way factions have taken complete control of the ALP’s processes and esp’ly candidate selection. He seemed to be talking sense, leaving aside the class traitor sneers. As a bemused party member who does not belong to a faction I am astonished at (a) how factions treat non-factionalised members with contempt and (b) how little actual policy they seem to care about. Control, power, numbers seem to be the raison d’etre. It’s sad but instructive to watch young members with ability and ambition sign up to factional loyalty with the pay-offs of a staff job with an MP. Total loyalty to the power of factions is the trade-off. As one who took part in the 1980’s struggles to reform the ALP in Qld it’s instructive to see how union-based factions have swallowed and taken over the reforms. Almost 100% control of member-elected conference delegates by factions. Much was trumpeted about a recent reform in Qld to allow a member ballot for senate candidates. A farce as the factions carved up the slots, agreed to nominate the minimum number of candidates so a full ballot of membrs was not needed. Some reform that was. Of course, faction members got an internal faction vote to select their one candidate. And even then the order of candidates was imposed by head office which appears to be a breach of the rules. As John Faulkner noted, reforming the ALP involves asking union heavyweights to voluntarily give up some power in the name of democracy. Unlikely to happen. Given a choice between Marn and the HSU gang I believe I’d back Marn. And Mark L.

  6. Ferguson, however, does represent an interesting shift in one respect.

    There was a time when people made a progression from (anti-communist and then anti-socialist and anti-union) anti-leftism to anti-environmentalism and anti-feminism because environmental and gender issues were seen as having been placed on the agenda by TEH LEFT. Ferguson has begun his decline by being intemperately anti-environmentalist and anti-feminist while still being part of the union and ALP Left, and has subsequently gone over to being a Liberal and corporate shill all the way down the line.

  7. @Clive Newton
    “Marn’s comments on the way factions have taken complete control of the ALP’s processes and esp’ly candidate selection”

    Well, he would know wouldn’t he? If it was not so he would never have had a career.

  8. Both Belinda and Martin Ferguson made into parliament basically on ‘merit’ (as defined by the ALP) although Belinda’s spouse obviously helped her. Martin Ferguson was leftist ALP but like other prominent ALP members who got close to the resources industry ingested something in the water which turned him into a harsh right winger (Liberal not ALP).

  9. agree with DD.
    Marn totally agreed with rank and file votes for pre-selection except in his seat.
    didn’t hear a word about union influence when he was in Parliament.

    Now has a a full time job and a pension. Double dipping hypocrite.

  10. @Pete Moran
    Agreed. As others have pointed out, he is quite opposed to dealing with AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming) in any meaningful way, citing job losses as the terrible price to pay should we act. Mining jobs, that is. He supports mining companies and that’s that. He is consistent on that score.

  11. @Paul Norton

    My best guess (although it’s no more than that) is that the ‘family ties’ of Belinda Neal that John Quiggin had in mind were the marital ones with John Della Bosca. You’re right, of course, that her party and factional affiliations go back before that; it was more that her political alignment brought her to John Della Bosca than the other way around. There may possibly, however, be a stronger case that without those ties she wouldn’t have got into Parliament.

  12. “Marn the Rat” would be a good character for a gangster movie. Shame he’s in real life.

  13. Its pretty sexist to say that Belinda would not have made it into Parliament without John Della Bosca. She was and is obviously of independent political talent, as people who have dealt with her know. Frankly (as Martin would say) similar comments would not be made if she was an ALP left winger..

  14. @Historyintime

    If that’s addressed to me, I would like to emphasise that I was careful not to write that Belinda Neal would not have made it into Parliament without John Della Bosca. That’s not my position. It does seem relevant to point out, however, that there are many people with political talent who strive to get into Parliament, and not all of them succeed, and that one of the things that distinguishes those who succeed (or some of them) from those who don’t is the kind of support they receive. Although, having made that point, it seems only fair to point out that John Della Bosca might possibly have given Belinda Neal the same support, or possibly even stronger support, if they had not been intimately involved. I simply don’t know. What I do know is that if (as I guess, but it’s only a guess) John Quiggin was referring to their marriage, it’s something which purely in point of time came after she was in the ALP and on the Right but not after she got into Parliament. If John Quiggin meant to say that she would not have got into Parliament without her marriage, I have no particular reason to think it’s true, but it’s not a chronological impossibility; whereas if he meant to say that she would not have been in the ALP and on the Right without her marriage, it is a chronological impossibility. Apart from that I have no personal evaluation of Belinda Neal to offer and don’t want to be taken as having done so.

  15. Not keen on this discussion. Disagreed with Ferguson’s climate views but his views on the trade union inquiry are spot on. I notice that one discussant lumps Peter Walsh in with the list of “class traitors”. That Stalinist/Maoist sounding view is particularly unfair – Walsh had a lot of talent and was a good senator.

    Convergence in views between the major parties is inevitable. Socialism is not a serious political stance any longer and there will inevitably be common ground between thinkers on both sides of politics on the pursuit of non-market equity objectives and market regulation. We want more thinkers and fewer ideologues.

  16. @hc

    ” Socialism is not a serious political stance any longer ”

    It may not be a serious political stance but if you can understand socialism simply as “from each according to their ability and to each according to their need” then it is a stance that is increasingly appreciated as a common sense way to go about organising our society and economy by people like my formerly right wing voting neighbours.

    OMG more anecdotes, but you would not believe how intersting my neigbours are. One woman in her late ’70’s says to me in response to my question about how come she votes against her interests since she loves the ABC and yet knows that the LNP want to shut it down, that she doesn’t know why or when she became ‘right’, because her whole family used to be ‘left’ when she was young.

    We are setting up a co-op in the local PO that is run by a man who subsides this business for some reason that has to do with being his own boss. Whatever the govt is doing or not doing about these regional post offices really shows what fckwits they are.

    Anyway another anecdote that may give you some insight into how the ordinary people who once voted for capitalism without reservation are thinking. I had to explain to one woman – a once shouted at me when I asked her before the last election why she would vote for Abbott when she hated everything he stood for, that she was not going to vote for bloody Labor – how a co-op works.

    She looked at me for a while and then said “Oh is that how it works”, alright.”

    A year later, she seems to be enjoying the way we now progress the quality and integrity of all the craft work – that is sold in the co-operative – rather than each individual concentrates on selling their own her stuff at the expense of other stuff.

    People are not naturally competitive; if you believe that it is because you have never experienced how rich life can be when you live in a community in which you can trust your neighbours to not take advantage of you and as far as we poor people can see, taking advantage of us is the fundamental message about how to behave toward your neighbour in capitalism.

  17. @Julie Thomas

    Some varieties of socialist choose to emphasise how socialism means much more than cooperativism; some varieties of socialist choose to emphasise the importance of cooperativism to socialism.

    Human nature includes both cooperation and competition; whether people are more cooperative or more competitive depends on their individual experiences, not on universal human nature. A competitive society will make people more competitive; a cooperative society will make people more cooperative.

  18. @J-D

    Thanks so much for your thoughts but I’m not sure what I am supposed to do with this advice? is it advice or what?

    Do you think I need to be educated about socialism or human nature? Or have I made an inaccurate and sweeping statement?

    My variety of ‘socialism’ in the context of my anecdotes – which can be summarised in that saying that I already said – is specifically constructed to inform and create in my neighbours who are not naturally competitive people, a sense of what happened to the community spirit that they imagined we used to have in Australia. Is there something wrong with that? Is it not proper socialism?

    It surprises me no end to hear that people are influenced by the values that their society advocates – I would not have known that – but I am pretty sure that my neighbours are not naturally competitive people because they are poor people and since even I can see that they are very much not stupid and lazy – lots have health problems though – the conclusion is that there must be something wrong with them if they haven’t succeeded in this capitalist system that we have been having.

    I assume it is the competitive spirit that they lack, and that makes them leaners in this competitive society and so they, like me will probably function better and be more happy in a more co-operative environment.

    I had hoped my anecdotes would explain to hc that there are ways that socialism is not dead. You could provide hc with some information about how other socialists do their socialism thing, maybe?

  19. @Julie Thomas

    It’s not advice. Although it’s not important, I find myself a little puzzled by the idea that anybody could think it was supposed to be advice.

    It was a collection of observations. You’re not supposed to do anything with it. You can do what you like with it: agree with it, disagree with it, ignore it completely, expand on it, use it as a jumping-off point, summarise it, comment on it, or anything else you can think of.

    You referred to both socialism and cooperatives; I used that as a jumping-off point for a further observation of my own.

    You observed that ‘People are not naturally competitive’; I expanded on that observation.

    If you feel that my observations had no possible value as a contribution to the discussion you are at liberty to say so (and the same applies to anybody else who might feel that way).

  20. @J-D

    “I find myself a little puzzled by the idea that anybody could think it was supposed to be advice.”

    I didn’t think it was supposed to be advice; I have no idea why people tell me things but my priors lead me to believe mistakenly for sure, that everyone wants me to be like they want me to be and not like I like to me. Poor me. I’ll get over it.

    But seriously and not snarkily, I probably thought that you ‘should’ know that *I* might have already known these things and that hc is the one who needs to hear more about how socialism is the real deal and not dead at all.

  21. To digress slightly from the OP, this is something I do find surprising: WA Treasurer Mike Nahan, a doctrinaire libertarian and from Director of the IPA, now thinks that the way to reduce electricity prices is to close down coal and gas fired power stations and promote renewable energy. Is reality starting to sink in?

    http :// www .abc. net. au /news/2015-08-26/mike-nahan-tips-solar-power-to-take-over-wa-power-generation/6727558 .

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