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Such forum is not a place for the genuine exchange of viewpoints, for dialogue and rational discussion. There is always a tacit understanding that the real decisions are made elsewhere. Nonetheless, for many ordinary members of the ALP, the annual conference is an important experience.

I had attended past conferences as a delegat from Harbord Branch, and later as an MP. Sitting int he crowd listening to the acrimonious debates had never been particularly to my liking. I had no inclincation to try and claim a turn at the microphone, feeling that any worthwhile ideas that I might have would be better expressed elsewhere.

My attitude was not shared by many of my parliamentary colleagues, who were spoiling for a fight with people from rival factions, many of whom were also MPs. The camaraderie of the Government benches was put aside for the duration of the conference.

This year I was feeling less inclined than ever to spend the weekend at the conference. Politics at the electorate and parliamentary level was fair enough. That was my job. But I was not paid to get involved in factional brawling, and I certainly did not want to do it for fun. My idea of recreation now involved escaping for a while from politics.

As an MP, I had been rostered to attend the conference on the Monday, to stand at the door and to

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