OPINION: Factionally Speaking

Words by Shawna Marks

As a Labor voter, nothing frustrates me more than the murky waters of political factions, the ideological divisions that organise the party. However, factions are not specific to the Labor party and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is lying through their teeth. Take the recent by-election in Batman for instance, an election The Greens could have won, but lost due to (in part) to political in-fighting. Or instead focus on the Liberals, whose conservative wing has been warring with the moderates over key issues like marriage equality and climate change, consequently keeping our federal government from achieving anything. The sticking point is that factions dominate so much of political life, yet remain unintelligible to the public.

Acknowledging the existence of factions in a party is one thing though, clueing the public into who is aligned to which faction is another. Even within Labor, it is difficult to find out who is aligned to which faction. It took me an entire afternoon to discover the faction to which each Labor representative is aligned. I tried to find out which faction my local Labor candidate, Randall Wilson, was aligned with rather than give my vote to a Labor right candidate over a likely Liberal left, David Speirs. In the end, I had to cast my vote without being fully informed on an issue that could have swayed my vote.

We will constantly hear “you vote for the party, not the person”, but if recent politics are anything to go by, times are changing. Following the dual citizenship crisis in Federal politics, newly elected parliamentarians were defecting from their respective parties. Corey Bernardi caused a fuss by leaving the Liberals to create his Australian Conservatives party after being elected on the Liberal senate ticket. This state election, Liberal Duncan McFetridge and Labor’s Frances Bedford decided to run as independents after being passed over for preselection of their seats. The preselection battle, at least in Bedford’s case, was bitter due to factional infighting. Left-wing Frances Bedford was axed in favour of right-wing Jack Snelling, who resigned over the Oakden scandal. Bedford ran as an independent and looks to retain her seat, leaving Labor a seat down for their first term in opposition in 16 years. This is just one example in a long list where factions impact politics.

More transparency into factional membership could revolutionise the way we vote, which explains why voters are kept out of the loop. Would you have voted differently if you knew more about your local member’s political persuasions? Would the socially progressive residents of Croydon have voted for Peter Malinauskas if they knew that he opposed abortion and marriage equality in his time as SDA union boss? Or would they have given their votes to the Greens? If Rob Simms had run for the Greens in Croydon instead of in Adelaide against left-wing Jo Chapley, would the Greens have taken more of the vote? Conversely, Giles (Whyalla area) voters might have voted for SA Best if they knew that Eddie Hughes is Labor left.

There are so many questions for voters that factional transparency could help to answer. It is time that our politicians helped us to see through murky factional waters.

Shawna Marks is a PhD candidate in the College of Education, Psychology, and Social Work at Flinders University. Her thesis is about male amateur footballers and the way that their conceptualisation of masculinity impacts their sexual relationships with women. She wrote this article instead of going to a Body Attack class because exercise is the devil.

Image From: Print Graphic Designs