Labor’s ruling NSW Right faction is perilously close to losing control of the party’s largest branch, which it has dominated since the 1940s, as changing union allegiances put the Left faction in reach of power.
A detailed analysis of delegates undertaken by the Right faction, obtained by The Australian, shows its vote could sink as low as 51 per cent, down from 64 per cent three years ago, ahead of the party’s annual conference on Saturday.
It comes as Gerard Hayes, secretary of the Health Services Union – once a stalwart of the Right – said his union would remain independent and was open to supporting Left candidates for party officer positions, the governing administrative committee and on policy motions.
“We are not coming back to the Right,” Mr Hayes told The Australian. “I don’t think there has been the cultural change we need to see in the party that we have made in the HSU. I am open to supporting talent, no matter which faction they come from, and voting on policy that is in our members’ interests.
“If there is a vote on anything, we will consider our position. We will look at the candidates and assess their merits and capabilities, and we will decide. Any vote will be based on consultation with our membership and leadership. The HSU will not be affiliated with any faction or group.”
The Right faction is bitterly divided, with senior figures in the state and federal parliamentary parties, and the unions, highly critical of party secretary Bob Nanva, who is also faction convener. They say he does not consult widely enough, is almost invisible in party forums and the party is not prepared for a federal election to be held by May 2022.
The defection of the HSU from the Right comes after the Electrical Trades Union, under national secretary Allen Hicks, aligned the NSW branch of the ETU with the Left and the Right’s National Union of Workers amalgamated with the Left’s United Voice.
The Left-aligned Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union’s construction division withdrew from the conference after NSW secretary Darren Greenfield was charged for allegedly soliciting kickbacks from a construction company, which could save the Right losing crucial votes.
Senior Right figures accept they could lose votes at the conference, which is to be held online.
Senior Left figures told The Australian that if the HSU voted with the Left, they could lift their vote to the mid-to-high 40s at the conference. The HSU could support the Left’s candidate for secretary, Abha Devasia, a lawyer with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, rather than back Mr Nanva.
There are also concerns within the Right that country delegates could be persuaded to support the Left on some votes.
“The suspension of the CFMEU might be the only thing that saves the Right,” said a senior Labor figure. “Nanva has a leadership problem. He has little authority … not a good look for a party facing a federal election soon and a state election in 2023.”
The Right, under Mr Nanva’s leadership, could see its vote at conference fall to the lowest level since 1979, when it was cut to about 55 per cent. Mr Nanva was contacted for comment.