Two things are clear.
Bill Shorten has enough goodwill and party support to remain Labor leader to the next election.
And the ALP believes it got the big calls right in government, with no radical overhaul of policies taken to the past two elections.
If there is one thing Mr Shorten knows it’s the numbers game. His faction numbers have been pivotal to his political career – from his 2006 preselection to the toppling of Kevin Rudd and the eventual knifing of Julia Gillard.
As a result of internal party politicking, Labor will go to the next federal election supporting asylum seeker boat turn-backs and an emissions trading scheme, as it seeks to neutralise issues that damaged it in government.
Mr Shorten used his Right faction’s numbers at the ALP national conference, and gained the support of some Left unions, to reject a push by the Left to explicitly ban boat turnbacks in the party’s platform.
A second Left motion, which was also defeated, called for the closure of offshore detention facilities if they don’t meet “humane and safe conditions”.
Even though it was the first Labor conference in recent memory not subject to a factional majority, Mr Shorten and his cohorts forged enough coalitions of factions-within-factions to avoid any seriously messy battles. Mr Shorten himself portrayed the meeting as a test of the strength of his leadership.
Talking about the turnback issue, he noted people had urged him not to raise it.
“But I formed the view after leading this party for just under two years that we cannot avoid this debate and this discussion,” he said at the Melbourne gathering.
“I would not be the leader I seek to be of this nation if I ignored my own personal conviction and conscience on this matter.”
Modest changes to Labor’s policy platform indicates party strategists looking to the 2016 federal election are generally happy with the basic direction since the 2010 and 2013 campaigns.
Adopting a tougher approach to people smuggling, including turnbacks, went some way to neutralising a key attack point for the Liberal-National coalition government, which lags Labor in the opinion polls.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Labor’s lacks conviction on issues such as “stopping the boats”.
“As we know, to make these policies work, you can’t just say you support them, you’ve got to actually believe it in your heart and soul and I’m not sure too many people in Labor do,” he says.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton went further, describing Shorten as a “fraud”.
However, Labor is set to refight the carbon battle after the conference backed an emissions trading scheme and ambitious new target of 50 per cent renewable energy output by 2030.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the coalition is happy to fight an election on “a new carbon tax and higher electricity prices”.
Mr Shorten’s 2013 leadership rival Anthony Albanese, a Left faction hero who received several rounds of applause for his speeches, says despite the backroom meetings and debate the end result of the conference is a united team with a solid policy platform.
“We walk away with a platform that has the endorsement of the entire Australian Labor Party and … we are in a very strong position now to move forward with a plan for the next Shorten Labor government after the next election.”
Mr Shorten’s factional cohort Sam Dastyari was more blunt.
“There is no doubt about it … Bill Shorten has stamped his authority on the Labor party.”
ACTU readies for election
The ACTU believes Mr Abbott will call an early election before the May budget and is ramping up its grassroots campaign.
The peak union body plans to repeat the strategy employed during the recent Victorian and Queensland elections targeting key marginal seats.
ACTU president Ged Kearney says there’s a real possibility Mr Abbott will call an early election.
“We don’t think he’ll go to another budget,” Ms Kearney told an event on the sidelines of the ALP national conference in Melbourne on Sunday.
“The budget in May had all the hallmarks of an election budget with a basket of tax cuts and other sweeteners for key Liberal Party constituencies and smaller voters, such as small business.”
Mr Abbott’s election strategy would probably be focused on national security.
“It’s a cynical political strategy that not only treats voters as mugs but totally ignores the serious issues facing workers and their families around the country.”
The Coalition government maintains the next election will be held when it is due, around September next year.