A Submission from Mt Colah – Berowra

A SUBMISSION TO ADDRESS NONCOMPULSORY UNION MEMBERSHIP IN THE ALP AND BRANCH MEMBERS INVOLVEMENT IN UPPER HOUSE PRESELECTIONS

 Introduction

The massive defeat of the NSW Labor Government on 26 March is without doubt the worst result in the history of the NSW ALP. The defeat of the Unsworth Government cannot be remotely compared with what happened and there will no doubt be another investigation into the catastrophe. If the “new” review refuses to make recommendations that gives real democracy to all branch members and creates an organisation that reduces factional power and excessive union influence, then nothing will change and the event on 26th of March will have been in vain. But more importantly, the ALP will remain an organisation which will still be regarded by the Australian public as just another political party which considers Tammany Hall politics as normal business.

The 2010 National Review recently released by Steve Bracks, John Faulkner and Bob Carr hands down 31 recommendations. Recommendations three to seven discuss processes to increase Party membership but ignore the fact that an increase in membership cannot be achieved without changes to Party rules concerning mandatory trade union membership prior to joining the Party. It is a fact that most Australians do not agree with compulsory unionism. Therefore, unless the appropriate clauses in the ALP rules reflect today’s Australia people will not join the party. Recommendation eight may coax some ex-members to return, but unless real changes are made to the Party, many of these members will not return. The reason they left in the first place was that Head Office refused to introduce democratic reforms.

It is encouraging that recommendations 13, 14, 16, 17and 26 at least attempts to address some issues to improve democracy within the organisation. But recommendation 26, which suggests changes to lower house preselection, is an insult to Party members, particularly in NSW. Hence in NSW this recommendation reduces rank and file involvement in the preselection process by 40 percent and increases union influence by 20 percent in lower house preselections. The only advantage in this change is that at least it involves Labor supporters from the Australian community.

There is nothing in the recommendations which addresses the most contentious issue concerning branch members, and if introduced, will result in making the ALP a truly progressive party relatively free of factionalism and union patronage. It is essential that ALP rules are changed so that branch members are permitted to be involved in upper house preselections similar to the system now used in lower house preselections. There is no doubt that the current system is now outmoded and is the main driver of factions and trade union mateship.

This submission covers the two major issues of contention within the ALP: the removal of clauses in the rules regarding compulsory union membership and the introduction of real democracy within the ALP by involving all branch members in the process of upper house pre-selections for both the Legislative Council and Senate.

It is recognised that the changes under debate involve the State, Territories and National ALP. Hence even though this submission addresses the NSW ALP all the recommendations are relevant to the national ALP.

NONCOMPULSORY UNION MEMBERSHIP IN THE ALP

The amendment of ALP Rules on compulsory membership of trade unions for new members and for pre-selection of candidates for public office is covered in Sections A, I and N.

The rules on the admission of new members and pre-selection of candidates for public office are in need of revision with respect to trade union membership. Current ALP policy does not support compulsory trade union membership within the work force and the Australian public, although they may support trade unions, also is not in favour of compulsory membership of trade unions. Union membership levels released in August 2010 was 22% fulltime and 15% part time employees. Hence ALP rules with respect to compulsory union membership for new members and pre-selection candidates should be reviewed and amended accordingly because they are now outmoded.

It is expected that trade unions will resist these rule changes even thought they realise that union membership is no longer mandatory. This attitude shows that some in the trade union movement are not prepared to accept sensible and realistic changes. This resistance demonstrates that the industrial wing of the Labour movement is fearful of losing their political power within the Labor Party. Under the proposed amended rules some new members may not elect to join trade unions. These changes should be welcomed by the union movement if they believe in freedom of choice and believe in social democracy.

Regarding new members, the relative clauses are A.5, A.6, A.7, A.13 (b), A20 (a) and I.6. These clauses should be amended to remove all reference to compulsory union membership, and clarify that new members have the freedom of choice whether to join a trade union or not.

For example, Clause A.7, which states that “An employer can only join or remain in the Party if he/she makes a genuine effort to encourage employees to become and remain members of the relevant trade union covering their work and if he/she observes applicable industrial laws, awards and agreements” must be the most outmoded of all ALP rules and has no relevance to today’s Australian community. It is recommended that this rule be removed completely.

Rule I.6 (d) requesting proof of union membership should be deleted, and subclause (e) should be revised to delete all reference to trade unions and request only proof that the new member is unemployed for membership fees purposes.

The modification of these rules as far as membership of the Party is concerned not only relates to trade union membership but also democratic pre-selection. The relevant clauses are:

Clause N.11 (a): “Have been a Party member for at least 12 months prior to the call for nominations and, also, if eligible, be a paid-up member of a trade union”.

Revised Clause: “Have been a Party member for at least 12 months prior to the call for nominations”.

Clause N.11 (f): “Proof of a candidate’s union membership, if applicable, must be provided to the ALP Office prior to the close of nomination”.

This clause would be superfluous by removing reference to trade unions in Clause (a).

Clause N.17 (b) (i) to (v) refers to voting in the pre-selection. For example, Clause (i) states: “In order to vote in a selection ballot a Branch member must also be a paid up member of a union if there is a union which he/she can join”.

Sub-clauses (i) to (v) are superfluous regarding non-compulsory trade union membership apart from the words in (iii) “has paid the wrong Party membership fee”.

BRANCH MEMBERS INVOLVEMENT IN UPPER HOUSE PRESELECTIONS

As mentioned in the introduction, unless the ALP addresses the issue of branch members involvement in the pre-selection of candidates for upper houses (Legislative Councils and the Senate), the Party will continue to bleed membership and remain an organisation lacking real democratic principles within its ranks. Labor history in Australia is a story of the fight for democratic rights for all the people and we have always been ahead or the Conservatives for equal voting rights. But the fact is that the Party has failed to practice the same democratic principles within its own ranks by granting to branch members the full democratic representation enjoyed by the Australian community.

It is painfully obvious that Sussex Street, the current leaders of the trade union movement and some members of what remains of the NSW Labor caucus after the annihilation at the recent election are not interested in granting full democratic reforms to Party members. The motive for the continued procrastination is self interest and the preservation of the faction system. There is no doubt that if Party members had the vote in pre-selection of candidates for upper houses of parliament it would remove the current system of patronisation and open the Party to real democracy. Any member wishing to stand for pre-selection would then need to lobby all Party members and compete for a position on the pre-selection list prior to facing the Australian voter.

In response to the efforts of some Party members to force changes to the current system, the NSW branch hierarchy and the Administration Committee keep repeating the myth that State Conference delivers real democracy for all delegates, and that the branches have improved their positions since the 50:50 rule. But the facts are that conference is still totally managed by the trade union and Party factional chiefs and the voting system bears no resemblance to democracy whatsoever. All voting is along factional lines and there have been cases of coercing members during the voting process.

Recommendation 26 of Review 2010 suggests that a tiered system of Party primaries be introduced for the selection of candidates, but only for lower house pre-selections. If this process is introduced, particularly in NSW, branch members lose 40 percent of the vote to trade unions and the Australian public. In NSW branch members already vote in pre-selections for lower houses of parliament at both state and national levels, but the NSW branch of the Party through the Administrative Committee has the power to overturn the results of voting by use of Section N40 Rule as deemed necessary by the Administration Committee. Hence this recommendation is an insult to branch members and will result in further membership losses.

The suggestion that the process commences “in open and non-held lower house seats and be considered for held seats in the future” is simply the usual stalling tactic used to pacify Party members. But there is not a word regarding upper house pre-selection which is the dominant issue stalling real democratic reform.

It is correct that improvements have been made with branch members having the right to vote for the election of national president and vice-presidents, but these positions have no real influence within the ALP. Recommendation 13 should be easy to carry through because the offices of National President and Vice president are basically powerless positions. This is the reason why all branch members are able to vote for these positions.

Proposed changes to the pre-selection process of candidates for public office

Most Party members accept that the process for the pre-selection of candidates for the Legislative Assembly and the House of representatives in NSW is fairly democratic (apart from the alleged over-use of the N40 Rule).

Under the current system State Conference pre-selects candidates for the NSW Legislative Council and Australian Senate and many branch members are concerned that the process is undemocratic, and requires change. The fact is that members of the Party, apart from conference delegates, have no influence whatsoever in the selection of candidates for either the Legislative Council in NSW or the Senate.

Recommendations 17 and 26 in the National review 2010 readily admit that rorting of voting at State Conferences take place. Recommendation 17 states that dual voting is undemocratic and should not be permitted. Recommendation 26 states that double or triple voting should not be permitted.

The major change in the process would be to remove the right of pre-selection of upper house candidates from State Conference and manage the process under the auspices of the NSW Branch of the ALP. Nominations would then be called using the same process as currently used for lower house pre-selection.

After credentialing by the Administration Committee, and after setting the selection date, all eligible candidates would be placed on ballot papers and sent to all eligible Party members for voting. Eligible voting members would be determined from current Party membership lists. Each candidate would then canvass members for their support prior to the date set for the ballot. The current rules for the eligibility of candidates for pre-selection are already defined under Section N of ALP Rules, and the process would be carried out under the amended rules regarding non-compulsory union membership.

This system would ensure that all candidates win their positions on the pre-selection lists in a free and fair democratic election. But more importantly, all the rank and file of the Party would have the opportunity to be involved in the democratic election process. All party members, including those members, trade union members or not have equal voting rights.

Conclusions

There is no doubt that the Party, particularly in NSW is going through a period of unprecedented political problems not encountered on such a scale over the past one hundred and twenty years. Public opinion polls two years prior to the March 26 2010 election gave the Coalition a considerable lead which, despite the election campaign run by Labor did not change. NSW Labor was considered by the public a decadent and corrupt organisation.

The only way to arrest further decline and demonstrate to the voting public that we are worthy of re-election is to institute real structural change within the organisation. This does not mean cosmetic or the usual deck-chair shuffle. It means change both on the policy front and introducing major democratic reforms. Those individuals within the Party who use the organisation as a vehicle for self-promotion and hold their positions due to factionalism will always argue against change.

The above proposal to remove the pre-selection of upper house candidates from State Conference and to give all branch members is a major change. It is recognised by branch members as a major democratic reform and it is long overdue. The reasons for the change have been discussed above and irrespective of the views of some in Caucus and in Sussex Street will remove cronyism and make the Party an organisation to be respected by the public not only of this state, but Australia wide.

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One Response to A Submission from Mt Colah – Berowra

  1. Ross Smith says:

    The following extract from the Mt Colah – Berowra Branch’s submission “Under the current system State Conference pre-selects candidates for the NSW Legislative Council and Australian Senate and many branch members are concerned that the process is undemocratic, and requires change.” omits one other candidate who is selected solely by Conference, the Lord Mayor candidate for the City of Sydney Local Government elections.
    The other candidates are selected by Rank and File vote in a conventional preselection process.
    This absolute denial of Rank and File preselection should be redressed along with the other inequitable candidate selection processes.

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