The increasingly ugly civil war raging within the Queensland Labor government over the Adani coal mine shows the current struggle for the ALP’s soul is not confined to Canberra.
Readers outside Queensland may not be aware the state is due for an election sometime over the next 12 months.
Queensland also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, with only the industrial wastelands of South Australia and Western Australia worse off.
So, it’s fair to say job-creation will be an unavoidable feature of the Queensland state election, whether it happens later this year or early next. Unfortunately for Labor, the party does not have a natural advantage on the issue.
Labor has been the workers’ party since it was established by unionists in 1891. But even then, the party included white-collar socialists who became the forebears of left-wing progressives that have recently become dominant in the ALP.
This created a long-standing tension within the party between those who believe in the primacy of job-creation and those who believe other higher-order concerns, such as protecting the environment, should be equally important.
Even though Labor is the party of workers, the capitalist Liberal party has been more successful in positioning itself as the party of job- creation. Admittedly, that reputation took a battering in Queensland when Campbell Newman’s Liberal government went on a sacking crusade in 2013.
When polling day finally arrives in Queensland, Anastasia Palaszczuk’s Labor government will have to compete with the Liberal National Party on jobs as well as dissuade disaffected Labor voters from defecting to One Nation, which originated in Queensland and has its strongest power base there.
This is a serious threat: according to a recent poll, 43 per cent of One Nation supporters had voted for Labor in a previous election over the past decade.
Labor is not only exposed on the right flank to the LNP and One Nation; it’s also exposed on the left flank, with the potential to lose disaffected, progressive supporters to the Greens.
Accordingly, the Palaszczuk government has neatly wedged itself between these opposing forces over the proposed Adani coal mine.
Putting aside the machinations within Queensland Labor, the debate over the Adani mine is principally one of economics over ethics. Should a job-hungry government provide taxpayer-funded incentives to a mine that will create jobs and economic growth, the common practice for decades?
Or should any government approval or assistance be rescinded on ethical and environmental grounds because the resource to be mined is coal, which the world needs to phase out to have any chance of winding back climate change?
This is the question to which Ms Palaszczuk is expected to bring the judgement of Solomon.
The decision is complicated even further by the dominant left faction within Queensland Labor, which is resisting any taxpayer-funded help for Adani’s mine, thereby putting Ms Palaszczuk’s leadership under pressure.
The rest of Labor is watching carefully to see how this tussle plays out, and what impact it may have on the state election. Labor parties in Victoria and NSW are likely to face elections before the next federal poll, which is not due until 2019.
As Labor knows only too well, voters don’t take kindly to parties that can’t keep their own houses in order.
If the Palaszczuk government falls at the poll and factional in-fighting is found to have been even partly responsible for the result, Labor’s left and right will have to decide whether losing government is an acceptable price for prevailing in the battle for the party’s soul.