Should Martin Ferguson be kicked out of the ALP?

The sad part is that we are even discussing this.

The WA state executive of the ALP has asked the national executive of the ALP to expel Martin Ferguson – longtime ALP MP, former Cabinet Minister, ex-President of the ACTU – from the Australian Labor Party. From my (limited) understanding, I don’t believe the national executive has to do anything with this motion. Regardless, this is a symbolic event for a party that lauds it history over its primary political opponent.

Notionally, the motion is because Mr Ferguson, it is argued, has broken a rule by becoming a lobbyist after leaving Parliament.

Let us be clear. This is not about the rules of the ALP. This is about policy, personality and politics.

Ferguson was a strong supporter of the Mining industry within the last Rudd and Gillard governments. In his other portfolios – Energy and Tourism – he supported industry positions, including on contentious issues such as some industrial relations matters and immigration policy. As a Cabinet minister with policy responsibility, he lined up against some traditional tenants of the ALP, including some major unions such as the Maritime Union of Australia and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. Notably, the WA motion was seconded by Carolyn Smith, the secretary of United Voice, a union covering much of the tourism industry.

Inevitably, these issues split over into personal animosities. In the article linked to above, Mr Ferguson is quoted by the Australian as saying “As far as I’m concerned Christy Cain and his ilk can go to hell”, Christy Cain being the State Secretary of Maritime Union of Australia. For his part, Mr Cain said of Mr Ferguson, “He’s with his right whack now, his right people – the bosses, the employers. I’m happy for that”. What presumably started (a long time ago) as a set of legitimate policy differences has transformed into something quite different. 

Behind it all is politics. Perhaps this is a ruse by the WA executive to move on from the Joe Bullock senate disaster. This might be too unkind. It may be a show of strength, signalling to those elsewhere to stay out of their business. It might even be aimed at voters, an attempt to show the ALP is moving in a new direction, away from the people and (some of the) policies of the Rudd and Gillard governments. I don’t know.

But whatever it is, I abhor it. Whatever you think of Martin Ferguson, you cannot take away his role in shaping the ALP over the past three decades. If you don’t like the result, playing the man instead of focusing on the here and now, only highlights how far backwards we in the ALP have really gone.

In the middle of a national discussion about the worst Budget from a progressive perspective in nearly two decades, the best thing the WA ALP could come up with was to fight yesterday’s war of personalities? Give me a break.

I understand many in the ALP do not agree with the policy positions Ferguson took. His position on Uranium for instance attracts many opponents. Yet look at the ALP’s policy position on uranium. Martin Ferguson did not win that battle. If he advocated for retainment of the ABCC within the Rudd/Gillard governments, he lost that battle also. Martin Ferguson’s opponents get there way more than he does in the ALP. We all have the right to oppose or support policies as we see fit. This right does not extend to attacking the people who promote such policies.

Expelling him from the ALP reeks of opportunistic, shallow symbolism. It ignores 30 years of service for a chance to make noise. It exacerbates tension within the party by acting recklessly, forcing people to choose sides. It reduces others’ commitment to the ALP, impacting how we treat each other. While dissimilar in nearly every manner to Mark Latham, this example again shows how the ALP is weaker without a diversity of voices. If this is how we treat members and representatives with such a record of commitment, I can see how a regular member who has concerns about a policy or party rule is easily perturbed.

Some might argue this is nothing more than a factional stoush being played out in the media. But its more than that. This might be someone’s first encounter with the ALP. A member might read the paper and think why bother. Dealing with the fallout with chew through time which should be spent elsewhere. It reinforces the meme some (read: particular News Limited publications) have that the ALP like talking about themselves over anything else.

Martin Ferguson should not be kicked out of the ALP. It shouldn’t even be a conversation.

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