Member for Port Adelaide and key player in Labor’s National Executive as well as the party's five-man ‘super’ committee since
Home Town: Canberra
Mark Butler is a smart, up-and-coming ALP powerbroker with amazing political bloodlines.
His great grandfather and great-great grandfather were premiers of South Australia on the conservative side of politics. But the 41-year-old former union leader may well outdo them at a federal level.
Butler's seat of Port Adelaide is one of the safest in the country, so he won't ever be kicked out by his electorate, and he's already a junior minister — for Mental Health and Ageing — after just four years in Canberra.
The post was a reward for throwing his weight behind Julia Gillard in the 2010 coup against Kevin Rudd. But he's proving to be good at the job.
Butler's biggest disadvantage is he comes from the Left in a party ruled by the Right. But he already wields power as co-leader of the national Left faction. And he clearly commands respect.
Butler doesn't fit the profile of a typical factional boss. He's a genuinely nice guy with few enemies; his ego is under control; and he's not into power for its own sake. He's also shy and avoids publicity.
"He's not widely known by the public, even in his own constituency," says one former South Australian MP. "They've never seen him, never met him, don't know who he is. He's disconnected from his electorate."
Nevertheless, Butler is a power within the party. "He's influential because he's intelligent and constructive," says Tanya Plibersek, who is also on the Left. "And you can trust his word, which is always good in politics. He gets on well with people in other factions and he gets on well with people in his own faction, which is sometimes harder."
Butler runs the soft Left, while Plibersek belongs to the hard Left, run by Anthony Albanese. But she says the two factional leaders happily manage the faction in concert.
"He and Albo sort out most issues between them," says Plibersek.
"We work very closely," Butler agrees.
In the next 12 months, Butler is likely to play a more leading role. "Albo's likely to step back after Labor's national conference at the end of 2011," one of his fellow factional bosses told The Power Index. "I think he's had enough of machine politics after 15 years."
Butler holds a seat on Labor's national executive and its immensely powerful, five-person "super committee", which runs the party, guides campaign strategy and decides which seats will have candidates imposed on them by ALP headquarters. He has occupied the chair since 2000. So how did he get such a key position so young?
The short answer is union muscle. That's where almost all power in the ALP ultimately resides. But talent and chance also came into it.
In 1996, his predecessor at the Liquor Hospitality & Miscellaneous Workers Union in South Australia made a mess of himself at a dinner in the presence of Jennie George (then ACTU president). After the boss's hurried departure, Butler, aged 26, was persuaded to take charge of the union, instead of entering state parliament, where he had already lined up a safe seat.
A year later he was installed as the youngest-ever state president of the Labor Party, (the Missos were SA's second-largest union). And before long, he was taking South Australia's spot on the party's national executive and the soft Left's seat on the so-called "super committee".
In getting ahead, it helped that Butler was articulate, likeable and bright: he has a first-class honours degree in law, plus two other degrees, in arts and international relations. But it also helped that he had planned a career in politics since leaving Adelaide University.
Butler's friends from that time to have gone on to glittering careers include Penny Wong and Jay Weatherill, South Australia's premier-in-waiting, who co-starred with him in student politics.
But his closest political ally in South Australia is the Right's Don Farrell, aka "The Pope". In the mid-1990s, the two men set up what is known as "The Machine", which commands 65 per cent of the votes at Labor's state conference.
"The South Australian party was in an awful state," Butler told The Power Index. "We had been defeated in the 1993 election and were down to 10 state MPs. So the two biggest unions felt it was up to us to fix it. We decided to build consensus, not indulge in infighting, and get back into office."
And so they did: Labor regained government in 2002 and has been running the state ever since.