Explainer: Labor Factions

Sub-groups exist in most major political parties, and the ALP is no exception. So, what are the factions? and what role do they play?

When the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was federally elected in May, many would have been happy to see the end of the factionalism that plagued the previous government. The fact is that in most major political parties, divides and groupings exist in some manner, and the ALP is no exception.  

So, what exactly are the factions? 

Factions are essentially sub-groups of MPs and officials of the same party, with shared socioeconomic and cultural values  that are different to the rest of the party,  and so work together to progress certain policies and interests. There are two major factions in the ALP (although sub-factions exist within each of these) – the Left (convened by Julian Hill, Tim Ayres and Sharon Claydon) and the Right (currently convened  by frontbenchers Don Farrell and Matt Thistlethwaite).

The Right has traditionally played a more socially and economically conservative role, inclined to a centrist position. The Left is more focussed on social issues, with greater support for market intervention. Factions usually have affiliations with  external groups, especially  unions, which may impact priorities and shape agendas.

What role do they play? 

Factions play a crucial role in determining the leadership of the ALP, in allocating frontbench portfolios, in choosing candidates to run for Parliament and deciding the party’s policy positions. They bring order and organisation to the caucus, managing internal policy fights (and sometimes egos and ambitions) and forming cohesive groups to advance policy positions. 

Does every member of the ALP pick a side?

Although some politicians choose a faction quite early in their political career, not every member of the ALP aligns with a side. Factions usually play a greater role when people want to run for Parliament or a party position (as they are influential in nominating candidates to put forward).

Although most MPs belong to factions, some members remain as independent – with a prominent example being former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

What implications do factions have on parliamentary decision-making?

The factions play an important role in getting delegates elected to state and national party conferences, where important policy platform decisions are made. They are able to pool resources and command power to control votes in caucus or at special meetings. 

Sub-factions can unite for or against particular policies, voting together to quash controversial policies or to take advantage of an opportunity to make change – as was seen in the 2010 coup against Kevin Rudd. Despite this very public example, most factional deals are made behind closed doors and alliances are often formed at Federal Conference – especially when a controversial motion is tabled that divides the Party.

Although the factional divisions allow a platform for a variety of opinions, perspectives and policies – as we saw with the previous Coalition government, when differences run too deep and the party is split, it’s that much harder to remain united and get things done. 

To help your team navigate the factional landscape, Advoc8 tracks Labor factions and union affiliations all in one easy to use platform. Contact us for a demo or to discuss how we can support your organisation. 

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