The new leader of Tasmania’s opposition, David O’Byrne, has appointed former unionist Grahame McCulloch to be his chief of staff despite concerns over the influence of left-leaning factions within Tasmanian Labor, which are believed to have driven voters away from the Party at the previous elections.
McCulloch, who was the National Tertiary Education Union leader for 25 years (from 1993 to 2018), will hold the most senior position in O’Byrne’s executive team staff.
“We know we’ve got a lot of work to do to rebuild the faith and trust with the Tasmanian community, to not only keep the Gutwein government to account … but also to build a vision and a platform that the Tasmanian community can support and vote for at the next election,” O’Byrne told reporters.
Well known for his tenure in the higher education field, McCulloch will join the newly appointed O’Bryne in trying to turn around the Tasmanian Labor Party’s fortunes following the Party’s defeat at the recent state election, which saw the Tasmanian Labor’s primary vote dropped 4.43 percent compared to the last election.
This makes it the third time the Tasmanian Labor has lost to the governing Liberal Party, and there is a growing concern in the party that voters are being turned away over the influence of left-leaning factions within Tasmanian Labor.
The left-right struggle in the Tasmanian Labor Party echoes similar concerns currently permeating the federal Australian Labor Party with the party struggling in recent years to balance the interests of traditional working-class or middle-class voters against its newer inner-city, left-leaning base, who are interested in progressive issues such as climate change and policies to address the issue, which many ALP voters are worried will affect their livelihoods.
A fact that was observable in the recent New South Wales byelection in the coal-mining electorate of Hunter, north of Sydney, where this dynamic played out with the state Labor Party losing seven percent of its primary vote.
The NSW Labor Party attempted to shore up support in the electorate by appointing former coal miner Jeff Drayton to stand as a candidate.
Federal Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon, who has been vocal on the issue, has repeatedly called for Labor to reconnect with its blue-collar base and avoid alienating existing voters. But he is worried that voters are still suspicious over whether or not the ALP still supports the industry.
“We have been at best whispering. We have tried to walk both sides of the fence on issues like work and, on the other side, the environment. They’re suspicious and sceptical,” he said.
But O’ Byrne and McCulloch may not be able to overcome these suspicions, given the new Labor leader himself hails from the left-leaning faction of the Party and has the backing of the Health and Community Services Union and United Workers Union.
While McCulloch is known for his left credentials after his long leadership of the University Education Union. He is also alleged by The Australian to have been a former member of the Communist Party of Australia after joining in the 1980s.