The Ferguson Left was a political tendency within the Australian Labor Party. It was founded by Martin Ferguson, a former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). The Ferguson Left only existed in the New South Wales and Victorian branches of the party.
In New South Wales the Ferguson Left, commonly known as the Soft Left, was a minority sub-faction within the New South Wales Socialist Left faction. It was led by Martin Ferguson's brother, Laurie Ferguson. It commanded the allegiance of the construction and general division of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the small Plumbing Trades Employees Union. Its membership base was in south-west Sydney, including the federal electorates of Parramatta, Banks, Werriwa, Fowler and Reid.
The Soft Left was the dominant group on the Labor Left Steering Committee in New South Wales until March 1989, when the Soft Left's Jan Burnswoods was defeated by the Hard Left's Anthony Albanese in an internal faction ballot for the leading position of Assistant General Secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party. The new Hard Left majority changed the name of the faction to the Socialist Left in November 1989, and in response the Soft Left split and formed a short-lived faction aligned with the Labor Right until it was forced to dissolve eight months later. The large union United Voice supported the Soft Left until 2010, when it joined the Hard Left after a change of leadership and this most likely contributed to its declining influence.
In Victoria the Ferguson Left was a small sub-faction within the Victorian Socialist Left.
In the Australian Labor Party leadership spill, October 2013 the support of the Ferguson Left and the Soft Left for the Labor Right's Bill Shorten proved crucial to his victory over the National Left's candidate Anthony Albanese.
The Ferguson Left shifted votes in caucus to Labor Right's Bill Shorten to have him elected leader in the 2013 Australian Labor Party leadership election over Anthony Albanese. The slim majority Bill Shorten received in caucus, as a result of the small number of Ferguson Left votes, overpowered the rank-and-file who voted 60% for Anthony Albanese.
The Ferguson Left, along with the Soft Left, is now defunct having reunified at a Victorian and national level with the Socialist Left, after the retirement of both its key powerbrokers Martin Ferguson and Laurie Ferguson and its diminishing size and influence.
At the 2015 Australian Labor Party National Conference former Ferguson Left powerbroker Martin Ferguson was roundly condemned by the labour movement and a motion was carried condemning him for comments he'd made that they believe had damaged the party and activities with sectional interests, such as oil and gas and the tourism lobby, since retiring from parliament.
That motion moved by the Maritime Union of Australia read:
"Martin Ferguson has repeatedly spoken publicly against ALP policy and in the case of the NSW election, his actions damaged the party's chances of success.
Martin Ferguson does not deserve to be considered a Labor elder and must be condemned as a disgraced former Labor politician.
Debate and disagreement is critical in any political party, but that debate must occur at the appropriate Labor forums not in the public domain."
- Davis, Mark (21 September 2009). "Labor's Left and Right distinctions erased". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 20 July 2011.