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ALP frontbencher joins Labor reform chorus -

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(generated from captions) In the stunning aftermath of Simon Crean's "sweetest victory of all" - a victory not over the Liberals, but over the real enemies - in his own party. Few in the front ranks of the Opposition are likely to admit it, but it looks like Mark Latham's passionate deconstruction of Labor's factional system in the intro to his diaries is now influencing public discourse within the party. Whether Kim Beazley will take up the challenge to reform Labor remains to be seen. But tonight , another of his frontbenchers has called on him to do so. I spoke to Kelvin Thomson, in our Melbourne studio, just a short time ago.

Kelvin Thomson, thanks for joining us? It's good to be with you, Tony. Is Julia Gillard right in saying that ALP factionalism is destructive and out of control? I think there are problems with Labor Party factionalism. We've always had factions of one kind or another and they are inevitable in political parties, but nevertheless from time to time they do become destructive and they do get out of control. Are they destructive and out of control at the moment and, indeed, were they destructive and out of control over this whole Simon Crean business? I think we've seen, on the one hand, the value of ordinary Labor Party members

being able to make up their own minds and cast their own votes as to who they think should be representing them in the electorate of Hotham. I think it's unfortunate we've had a climate in which that's occurred which was in the Labor Party's best interests of which I'm a member. Whose fault was that? I think there are a variety of people who could have conducted themselves better through the course of that preselection. Obviously, Tony, people have different views on the merits of this and there are people in various factions taking different views

about whether there ought to be change or whether we needed that balance of experience and new blood. I'll come back to some of the detail but let's go back to what Julia Gillard was saying. She also said before you can persuade Australians of your credentials to run the country, you have to show that you can run the political party. Now, do you agree with that? I do agree with that, Tony. I think it's always been the case that political parties seeking government, seeking public office, have to win the confidence of, in this case, the Australian people and part of that is presenting ourselves as a disciplined, loyal and united team. because, after all, It sounds like she's throwing out a challenge to Kim Beazley because, after all, he's the one who has to show these things to the Australian public? Well, I wouldn't interpret it that way, Tony, and when I've heard Julia speaking about these things she certainly hasn't projected it that way. Are you, however, surprised at the strong and independent agenda that Julia Gillard appears to be running at the moment? Well, Julia, like any frontbencher, is entitled to put forward proposals and proposals for reform. The Labor Party is a Democratic Party and I certainly encourage, and I think most people encourage people to speak their minds about the issues of the day, and sometimes those issues will include issues to do with the Labor Party. She's on a bit of a roll right now, isn't she? 'Australian Story', 'A Current Affair', colour spreads in women's magazines, tonight a speech to the Sydney Institute. You'd think she was having a tilt at something if there was something to have a tilt at? I think if you're in the fortunate position of having the media interested in what you've got to say, you should get out there and say it, and that's clearly what she's doing. Does she have what it takes to become a future Labor leader, do you think? Well, the answer to that question, in terms of the future, is clearly yes, but there are other people who have that capacity as well, Tony. I don't think it's appropriate for people to be saying, "Well this, person or "someone else is the right person to be leader". Kim Beazley is the leader of the Australian Labor Party. We all voted for him, we all supported him becoming leader. Everyone I've talked to around the caucus remains of that view. No-one says to me, "Listen, we need a change of leader." They all say we should support Kim Beazley and seek to win the next election with him as leader. Do you think Julia Gillard, I should say, could in fact be at some time in the future the first woman to lead the Federal Labor Party? There's no doubt that's possible.

That's not something that I or other people necessarily give a whole lot of thought to. What we are focussed on is the next election and putting forward our best foot,

putting forward our alternative policies,

putting forward ourselves as a credible alternative government for the next election. That's where our focus is. Simon Crean says his victory last night has smashed the factional warlords. Now he's openly challenged Kim Beazley to take on those factions nationally. Do you think that should happen and is there finally here a window of opportunity to take on these factions? What I believe, Tony, is that the Labor Party needs a structural reform which would strengthen the hand of the leader. I believe we need to move to a system where the leader of Federal Parliamentary Party chooses the frontbench, chooses the shadow ministers or when we're in government, chooses the ministers. I think if we were to do that, of the factional warlords. It wouldn't solve all of our problems. It wouldn't make factionalism go away.

There's factionalism in the Liberal Party as well, but it would be a significant strengthening of the hand of the leader and, in this case, Kim Beazley would be able to use that to ensure that the best interests of the party, rather than the best interests of factional warlords, were what were projected. So is this, as Simon Crean said, an opportunity for this sort of reform now and, perhaps even broader than that, one reform you are talking about because Simon Crean is saying we don't have to change the leadership, we have to change the way Kim Beazley behaves as a leader. Well, we don't have to change the leadership, Tony, but the point I'm making is if we were to make that structural reform, if we were to give the leader the power to choose the frontbench then that would by itself have a dramatic effect on conduct within the Labor Party. I've been in the Labor Party for some 30 years and I've always welcomed the fact that we were different from the Liberal Party in the way that we chose our frontbench, but, increasingly over the years, I've become aware of the down side of that flowering of democracy and that is that the leader simply cannot exercise control over the frontbenches because he or she does not have the power to choose them. If we were to move to that system

where the leader were able to choose the frontbench, it would mean that frontbenchers would be rewarded for loyalty, rather than as happens from time to time, at present, rewarded for disloyalty. Who are the factional warlords exactly, the one whose power you want to diminish? Tony, I think they're pretty well-known. I've been in Federal Parliament -- Not generally to the Australian public they're not. Mostly they operate behind the scenes. So who are they? I've been in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party for 10 years and I've spent that entire time attacking Liberal and National Party personnel. I haven't spent it attacking Labor Party personnel and I don't intend, with all due respect, to start now. What I'm prepared to say to you, though,

is that we do have problems with factionalism and factional accesses and we need some reforms in order to address those issues to address those problems and the single greatest reform we could embark on is to give the leader of the parliamentary party the power to choose Labor's frontbench. Senator Stephen Conroy is the one in Simon Crean's sights. You've acknowledged yourself he made a dreadful mistake over the way he's behaved in this whole issue with Simon Crean. Should he step aside now from his leadership position? I don't think it's a question of people stepping aside. I've agreed that Stephen made a serious miscalculation in relation to Hotham. I think he'd probably concede as much himself. I think what we need is a system where people are able to seek and obtain pre-election on their merits, rather than on the basis of factional deals and people cutting deals that "I'll support your candidate in this electorate "in exchange for you supporting my candidate in another electorate"

when people are able to win on their merits. Is Stephen Conroy one of these factional warlords,

as far as you can see? There's no doubt people would regard Stephen as a factional warlord. He would regard himself as a factional warlord? So you want to diminish his power? We need change which diminishes the power of all factional warlords,

whether it is Stephen or whether it is somebody else. We need a change which gives the leader of our party greater power and in so doing helps enfranchise ordinary Labor Party members and, indeed, for that member, ultimately the caucus members. Is the party about to put yet another factional warlord, Bill Shorten, into Parliament? Well, Bill Shorten is about to enter the Parliament as member for Maribyrnong and Bill has a very distinguished background and I'm sure he'll make a first-class contribution to the Parliament as a Labor Party representative. Is he a factional warlord, though? He's been involved in factional matters, no doubt about that, no denying that. He and many others have been involved in factional matters. What I'm saying is that we need to enhance the power of ordinary Labor Party members and to ensure that our federal caucus and, indeed, for that matter, in due course, I don't see any reason why state caucuses wouldn't want to move the same way to enhance their power to work together and to reward loyalty and team work and discipline. I think we've got to acknowledge that over the past 10 years John Howard's team has been more loyal and disciplined and shown greater team work not because its members are intrinsically more loyal or better disciplined or anything like that, but because the system locks it in and that's the thing that we need to adopt. Kelvin Thomson, we thank you very much for coming in to share your thoughts with us tonight.

Good to talk with you, Tony.