There is a battle for hearts and minds under way within the Australian Labor Party.

Two issues arising this week have shone a light on this battle.

One is the approval of Indian giant Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.

The other is the future of construction union boss John Setka.

Federal Labor tied itself in knots during the election campaign when questioned on whether it supports Adani’s mine.


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One prominent billboard in central Queensland quoted then leader Bill Shorten, from a Melbourne media conference in March 2018, as saying: “I don’t support the Adani project.”

However, a year on, Shorten’s standard campaign-trail answer became more nuanced – any decision on the mine needed to be based on the proper science and no federal taxpayers’ money should be used to help the company.

When the mining union asked Labor candidates to sign a campaign pledge in support of coal jobs, only two – Flynn’s Zac Beers and third-generation miner Russell Robertson who was running in Capricornia – agreed to it.

Robertson lost his fight for the seat, with the staunchly pro-coal LNP MP Michelle Landry being comfortably returned. The Greens polled just under five per cent.

Beers also lost his bid to unseat the LNP’s Ken O’Dowd.

Why? Blue-collar workers and their families turned on Labor, holding their noses as they endorsed – many for the first time in their voting life – the more job-friendly LNP.

Confusion reigned over whether Labor was prepared to sacrifice the resources industry in order to meet its climate targets and attract Greens preferences in inner-metropolitan seats.

Labor MPs such as Justine Elliot in NSW were publicly opposing Adani, saying she “shared the community’s concerns about the potential environmental harm that could follow to the Great Barrier Reef and other areas”.

The Greens polled over 20 per cent in her seat of Richmond, helping deliver the seat to Elliot.

Josh Burns, in the inner-Melbourne seat of Macnamara, was also blunt in his opposition not only to the Adani project but “any mines” in the Galilee Basin.

He picked up the seat on the back of preferences from Greens candidate Steph Hodgins-May, who scored more than 24 per cent of the primary vote.

With the Queensland Labor government approving the Carmichael mine this week, their federal colleagues must now reposition without it looking too much like rewriting history and enabling MPs like Burns and Elliot to save face.

Anne Aly, who hails from the resource-rich state of Western Australia, was one of the first Labor MPs to be asked about the approval when it was given on Thursday.

“We have always said that we would support it, as long as it stacks up both economically and environmentally,” she told the ABC.

“I must say, from the West Australian perspective, predominantly when people raised Adani with me it was more around concerns around climate change and concerns that the government has really done nothing to address issues around climate change.”

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese will need to ensure his team members are all on the same page when parliament opens on July 2.

He also faces pressure to deal with another issue which has been left to fester under Bill Shorten’s leadership – the future of rogue union leader John Setka.

The Victorian construction union boss reportedly criticised anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty, during a union meeting, for eroding men’s rights through her advocacy work – a claim he denies.

Albanese seized on the report as evidence Setka should be expelled from the ALP and will ask the Labor national executive to do so at its next meeting in July.

Just days later, ACTU secretary Sally McManus and others began to shift the goal posts on the reason for Setka to stand down as a union official.

It wasn’t the Batty comments, it was everything else Setka had done in his past and some of which he had yet to face court over.

Albanese backed up McManus on Friday saying Setka was being penalised for a “series of comments over a long period of time that have brought the Labor Party and the labour movement into disrepute”.

Setka has many friends in the union movement – and within the ALP – who are standing by him, ensuring a showdown with Albanese and McManus in coming weeks.

Add into the mix a fresh fight with the coalition over new laws to deal with union misconduct and you have a post-election stoush which will have deep consequences.