How has ALP factional influence changed since the 1980s?

In previous posts I have outlined the factional composition of the ALP at a state and national conference level. Those posts have focused on the previous decade. It is, however, worth understanding that the level of factional influence has changed significantly since the days of the early Hawke Government.

While there is a long history of factionalism in NSW, it was not until a series of interventions into state branches between 1970 and 1980 and the imposition of proportional representation that formalised factions truly started to emerge right across the country. In fact branches such as Western Australia and South Australia were largely unfactionalised until the 1980s.

Though the ALP Left had a rudimentary national organisation since the 1950s, there were no self-declared national factions until the 1984 ALP Conference when the National Centre-Left formed. The Labor Right had never organised beyond the state level and did not even have a formalised integrated national strategy by the end of 1986.

The following tables and charts illustrate my point. The first three tables are from a 1987 journal article National Factions and the ALP by Clem Lloyd and Wayne Swan. They provide an estimate of factional voting power at a national and state levels in 1986. Chart 1 is a compilation of publicly available figures from the 1984, 1986, 2002, 2004 and 2011 ALP National Conferences.

Table 1 – ALP National Factions (Voting Power expressed as a percentage)

National Right National Centre Left National Socialist Left National Non-aligned
National Executive before 1986 National Conference 39 28 33
National Executive after 1986 National Conference 43 21 36
National Conference 1984 30 28 41
National Conference 1986 41 19 39
National Parliamentary Labor Party (total) 41 24 27 7
Senate 29 29 38 4
House of Representatives 45 24 23 8

Table 2 – State and Territory Factions (Voting power expressed as a percentage

Centre Unity/Labor Unity Centre Left Socialist Left Centre (Qld) Non-aligned
Queensland 25

[Old Guard]

6 45 29

[AWU]

5
New South Wales 66 34
Victoria 43 7

[Vic Independents]

50
Tasmania 22 16 49 13
South Australia 15 40 45
Western Australia 30 30

[Centre Coalition]

36 4
Northern Territory 45 24 23 15
Australian Capital Territory 40 10 47

Table 3 – ALP Ministers (Factional voting power expressed as a percentage)

Centre Unity/Labor Unity Centre Left/Vic Independents Socialist Left Non-aligned
National (Cabinet) 47 41 12
National (Ministry) 41 37 15 7
New South Wales 70 25 5
Victoria 32 21 32 15
South Australia 54 15 31
Western Australia 22 33 11 34


Chart 1 – Breakdown of ALP National Conference delegates by faction (factional voting power expressed as a percentage)

alpconfchart

There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from these tables.

Firstly, since the 1980s there has been a massive shift in factional voting power, particularly since the Centre-Left has ceased to exist. The Left has improved its position in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Tasmania. The Left has lost ground while the Right has gained ground in South Australia and Victoria. Though the Left has gained considerably, the Right gained enough to get an outright majority in the mid-2000s at a national level. The base of that majority has been its control of New South Wales.

Secondly, the sidelining of unaligned party members by factions is not a recent phenomenon at all. Arguably the Centre-Left swallowed up much of what was the unaligned vote in becoming a faction, which in turn has been swallowed up by the Left and Right. Swan and Lloyd (1987) noted that:

At the national level, the unaligned component, which was quite important even five years ago, has diminished in influence. Non-aligned delegates have disappeared from the National Conference and the National Executive.

Since the rise of national factions in the early 1980s, the level of influence by various factions has changed dramatically. Factionalisation and polarisation has spread to the rest of the country from the eastern states. The level of influence each faction will continue to change over the coming years.

The move towards greater direct elections is likely to mean less factional stability as greater contestability is introduced and increased levels of proportionality associated with these direct elections could result in the creation of new groupings. This will all depend on what occurs at the ALP National Conference in July where party reform will be debated.

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