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9The Independent Weekly
July 30 - August 5, 2010
They don t call him "The Don"
The 56-year-old senator is as
polite and mild-mannered as they
come, but inside the Labor Party,
Don Farrell engenders a genuine
respect -- even fear.
frighten people," he tells me. "If I
have a point of view, I try to express
it clearly, but people don t always
agree with you and they re entitled
to their own point of view."
But his view matters more than
just about anyone else s within the
South Australian branch of the
ALP. Don Farrell is the Godfather
of Labor s dominant Right faction,
Labor Unity. And they don t call it
Labor Unity for nothing. Farrell
runs a tight ship.
Mike Rann has enjoyed a stable
premiership largely because Farrell
is happy for him to remain there.
Kevin Rudd is no longer prime
minister because Farrell joined
other Right-wing powerbrokers to
bring about his demise.
The swiftness of his disposal says
something about the way Rudd was
viewed within the party. It also says
something about the power wielded
by the party s factional leaders.
Not that Farrell s keen to talk
"Look, I think the change is
behind us now," he says. "I think,
certainly from my own point of
view, I m looking forward. Or,
what s the word? Moving forward."
His Senate career is still young.
But Don Farrell s influence within
the Labor movement stretches back
decades. For 32 years he steered
the Shop Assistants Union, which
during his reign has become the
breeding ground for the Labor
"I see myself very much as
Churchill described Attlee: as
a humble man with much to be
humble about," he says.
And he sees his mission as
helping those of humble origins.
"It s a sense of being able to
achieve something for ordinary
Australians. I did that in the union
role and you actually have a much
greater ability to do it in a political
His political opponents are not
convinced. To the Liberals, and
some within his party, Farrell
embodies everything that s wrong
with modern Labor. He s seen as a
factional warlord who ruthlessly
exercises his power.
"I think that s a gross exag-
geration, to be perfectly honest," he
says. " Look, I ve been a member of
the Labor Party since 1976, so I want
it to do well. I think it does best
when it works co-operatively."
Labor Unity certainly works
smoothly. Its parliamentary
members form a solid voting bloc,
which in the past four years has
grown in strength.
Farrell is unapologetic. "There
are factions in tennis clubs, bowling
clubs; all sorts of organisations
have factions. They re a mechanism
to run an organisation and I think,
on balance, the Labor Party does it
as well as it can be done.
"I think it s a case of trying to
ensure everybody sees themselves
as having a role in the party, a
mechanism for putting their point
of view. And you hope that s enough
to hold the party together. And so
far I think that s generally been
Not all within his party share this
During the pre-selection process
for the 2007 election, Don Farrell
ousted a sitting senator, former
Shop, Distributive and Allied
Employees Association (SDA)
industrial officer Linda Kirk.
At the time, Kirk lashed out
at Farrell and other members of
the union. She claimed deeply
Catholic elements within the SDA
instructed her to vote against stem
cell research. She also claimed
Farrell instructed her to vote for
the then-Opposition leader Kim
Beazley over up-and-comer Kevin
Rudd. She did neither.
This time, Transport Workers
Union boss Alex Gallacher sits
first on the ticket, ahead of two
incumbent senators. It s not just
coincidence that he has the backing
"Ultimately, the electors make a
decision who is and isn t going to be
in Parliament," says Farrell.
But there s little doubt he has a
significant say in who leads Labor.
For now, the South Australian
Senator seems genuinely pleased
with his latest selection -- Julia
"I think she s sort of seen as
almost the home-town girl, and
I think that s working well for
Labor," Farrell says.
"She obviously has a sense of
what the issues are in the state and
I think people are rewarding her
with their support."
Should she win the right to
remain as prime minister, his
support will be crucial to Ms Gillard
remaining in the top job.
Nick Harmsen is the ABC s state
political reporter. Tom Richardson is
The Godfather of Unity
I don t go out of
my way to frighten
-- Don Farrell
Framed photos of John F Kennedy line the wall behind Don Farrell's desk.
Photo: Kate Elmes
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