The Labor Right, or Labor Unity in some State branches, or Centre Unity in NSW, is the organised right-wing faction of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) that tends to be more economically liberal and socially conservative than Labor Left.
Nationally, the Right is a broad alliance of the various Right state groupings. Each state may have one or two different sub-factions, generally the right and centre leaning factions of each state branch. State-based factions (national sub-factions) which make up the National Right include:
New South Wales
- Centre Unity
- Labor Forum (AWU Right)
Australian Capital Territory
- Centre Coalition
- Labor Unity
- Labor Unity (SDA)
- Labor Unity (ShortCons) [recently severed]
- National Union of Workers (The Network)
- WA Labor Centre
- WA Labor Right
- NT Labor Unity
- Labor Unity SA
Factional power usually finds expression in the percentage vote of aligned delegates at party conferences. The power of the Labor Right varies from state to state, but it usually relies on certain trade unions, such as the Australian Workers' Union, National Union of Workers and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association which send factionally aligned delegates to conference and also from ordinary party members with right wing alliance.
The Right is currently the dominant faction in the Labor party. The Labor Right faction also holds a majority on the party's National Executive. The usual arrangement is that the federal leader of the party is from the Right, while the deputy leader is from the Left, although former federal Labor leader and Prime Minister Julia Gillard was from the Left with support of the Right. Most of the Labor state Premiers are associated with the Right; there are some exceptions, such as former Queensland Premier Anna Bligh, former Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings and South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill.
In a 2005 speech prominent Left Faction member, John Faulkner described the factional system in Australian Labor as being less about ideology and more about patronage. Faulkner pointed out that Unions did not control the ALP but rather the factions which control the party also control the Unions. Furthermore, he described the typical career path for aspiring political apparatchiks "a university degree in law or industrial relations, a paid job in a union, leadership in a union, various positions in the ALP (including paid positions) culminating in a State Secretaryship or the like, nomination to the Senate or to a safe House of Representatives seat." Unions retain 50% of the votes at ALP conferences, and the majority of union secretaries are from the Labor Right.
An overriding stated theme of Labor right wing governance is of balance between progressive social change and the need for sound economic management as the pathway to community development and growth. For Labor right, there is a time for change and a time to maintain the status quo and that time is measured by what Labor right thinks to be community expectations and needs rather than "political correctness".
Many Roman Catholics have been prominent and influential in the Labor Party, both inside and outside the auspices of the Labor Right faction. Labor socialists and Protestant conservatives alike have historically criticized the faction as beholden to papal authority. However, this has decreased since the 1970s with the gradual erosion of sectarianism in Australian politics.
The Right views itself as the more mainstream and fiscally responsible faction within the ALP. In an address to the Australian Fabian Society, Right faction luminary Robert Ray warned that not "every candidate needs an Honours Degree in Apparatchikism". In the same speech he described factionalism gone wrong, criticising "the suffocating collaboration of factional Daleks – such as Conroy and Carr.
The Right is most famous for its support of Third Way policies over Labor's traditional social democratic/democratic socialist policies, such as the economic rationalist policies of the Hawke and Keating governments, like floating the Australian Dollar in 1983, reductions in trade tariffs, taxation reforms, changing from centralised wage-fixing to enterprise bargaining, the privatisation of Qantas and Commonwealth Bank, and deregulating the banking system.
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While the Right has dominated federally since the 1950s, the gradual shift of the paradigm of economic policy within Australia towards the Right, particularly since the 1970s, has led to the situation where past leaders of the Right, such as Ben Chifley, would now be considered in the Socialist Left; especially in comparison to more recent Right leaders such as Paul Keating and Kim Beazley.
The underlining criticism of the dominance of the Right in the ALP is that, while incorporating a Realpolitik philosophy, it has led to the erosion of its traditional support to the Greens, particularly on some serious issues of policy, such as Economic Management, Immigration & Refugees, Tax Policy, Industrial Relations and National Security. However, the Right emphasises that the only way to enact policy would be to win and maintain Government. To this end, they stress the need to build and maintain a broad constituent base, especially one that incorporates the swinging, 'aspirational' voters of Middle Australia.
The Right's chief objective is to ensure the ALP remains an electable, credible and, above all, superior alternative to the Coalition, if need be at the expense of the Socialist Left. Internal ballots are often vigorously contested between Left and Right candidates and, in the past, allegations of unscrupulous conduct in regard to balloting processes (e.g. branch stacking) have been a feature of such contests.
While the senior faction is broken into various state and union based groupings the Young Labor Right is organised around the various parliamentarian factional leaders and power brokers. The major Victorian Right Faction Youth Wing is Young Labor Unity. The NSW Young Labor Right known as Young Centre Unity or simply the NSW Right is by far the largest Labor right youth faction.
Cumming, Fia (1991) Mates : five champions of the Labor right. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. ISBN 1-86373-021-4. Library catalogue summary: Paul Keating, Graham Richardson, Laurie Brereton, Bob Carr and Leo McLeay recount events which shaped the Australian labour movement from the 1960s to the 1980s.
- "Factionalism in Australian Political Parties, especially the ALP". Humanities Faculty, Macquarie University. 2005-10-26. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
- "The Hollowmen" (59). The Monthly. 2010-08-05. pp. 22–28. Retrieved 2010-08-05.
- "ARE FACTIONS KILLING THE LABOR PARTY?". Address to The Fabian Society Sydney. 2006-09-20. Retrieved 2008-05-24.