Everybody’s talking about Reform

Sam Dastyari has chosen this week to blog on the topic of reform: http://www.nswalp.com/media/blogs/alp-blog/june-2011/alp-must-look-to-primary-system/

And John Graham has chosen this week to release a paper on reform, a copy of which is available at: https://ouralp.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/rebuilding-community-labor.pdf

Both are worth a read.

Sam see three mutually exclusive paths available to the party:

  1. Do nothing
  2. Engage in structural reform
  3. Begin a slow move towards US style primaries.

Sam rejects the first option, and quite bluntly: “Labor has survived because of our ability to change rather than to resist it”.

To Sam, structural reforms are “the wrong reforms”. He sees structural reform and policy debate as either/or: “the pursuit of a mythical structural purity [will drive out] anyone whose passion for ideas and debate stretches beyond [the] inner workings of the ALP”, resulting in “shrinking”, “inward-looking organisation”.

The bulk of the rest of the paper advocates moving slowly towards US-style primaries: some local government elections next year, and five more seats in 2015 – “winnable” ones, so presumably not ones already held by a sitting member, but that will be at the discretion of the Administrative Committee.

Sam doesn’t explain why there needs to be a choice between structural reform and policy reform – for most in the rank and file, structural reform is a path to the policy reform that is currently blocked by the insider-decider model that is currently business as usual.

Sam also needs to explain why including the rank and file (which anyone may join) in decision making would be a narrowing of the party. I am reminded of the words of a Young Labor President: “the Rank and File are out of touch with the community”.

A full blown commitment to primaries would be significant – a radical departure from the current party. This proposal – 5 in 2015 and then we’ll see – is hardly radical.  It may be sensible as part of a package of reform but on its own it’s exactly the sort of cosmetic reform he warns against in his opening.

But at least he acknowledges the need for reform.

John’s paper is much longer. It covers eight objectives in some depth:
1. a bigger Labor party
2. a return to Labor’s central values and Platform
3. strengthen Labor’s relationship with unions and their members
4. engaged members
5. engaged supporters
6. stronger and more interactive policy development
7. revamped campaign funding model – less reliant on big advertising
8. expanded training and education capability

For John, the key choice is between being a membership based organisation or being a purely “parliamentary party [and not part of] a broader labour movement”. Like Sam, John wants to grow the membership base, not let it shrink.

John lists three focuses for Labor: inequality, economic insecurity, advocating for the role of the state.

John sees merit in primaries in electorates where Labor membership is low (he gives the example of 30) but he has concerns about the risk of ‘money politics’ and rejects the proposal of 5 primaries in 2015, “Without a package of measures to change our party culture, by itself it will do little, and should be opposed.” Primaries are unpopular with the rank and file, but this does represent a sensible compromise that the rank and file ought to agree with.

In total, John proposes eighteen structural reforms aimed at delivering on the eight objectives, including direct elections, members to pay their own membership fees, and a guarantee of a visit from the General Secretary before any preselection intervention. These cover two of the four ‘core motions’, and are a small step in the general direction of one the other two. The remaining core motion (union members to elect union delegates) is contentious, even among the rank and file, and I don’t expect people to push for it in its current form.

Overall, John has presented a comprehensive program for cultural change of the type that hasn’t come out of the Left for a long time, and it deserves to be supported.

This entry was posted in Branch and EC Motions, Misc, NSW ALP State Conference. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Everybody’s talking about Reform

  1. boydkevin says:

    It would appear Sam does not believe in the maxim you have to know where you have come from to know where you are going.
    A US style primary is not the way to go and not showing leadership or initiative but following others to who knows where.
    I cannot understand why dastyari and Arbib and co have embraced US style electioneering polls and focus group, economic rationalist style campaigning. It is not all about numbers oddly enough.
    The only winners are the staffers and admin in my view a pernicious rising third faction of the party whose ideology is concentration of power. with a crew of gen x and y devotees to push their message and report back all they see, he is selling the Labor party out for concentrated personal gain. The lunatics are running the asylum.
    what he is suggesting is not a logical progression and is not a Fait De Compli far from it.
    this is nothing short of a liberal conservative union busting type assault to undermine the rank and file destroy the branches, (patricks and reith would be proud of him).
    please spare me (us) the platitudes and just tell the truth.
    ideas philosophy and policy win the hearts and minds and compel people to join and support the party. not parlour games.
    he wants to remove membership voting rights and conferences relevance as the arena of debate for a bureaucratic think tank of similar minds intoxicated on each others stench.
    fair dinkum sam the man what are you thinking.
    it is not another 120 years of the labour movement.
    i hope he falls flat on this and then allow a rank and file a vote on his position and lets see if he can win the hearts and minds of the membership. It appears to be very much in line with what he are proposing but not allowing of us in the name of reform except one major difference we are committed paying members not associate/pseudo members which he appears to want to attract, the swinging dependent.
    not now not ever.
    so he believes in the one with the biggest pockets wins. the US can’t even get universal health care because it is seen as Socialist please…. and how influential is the tobacco lobby NRA oil christian right what is he thinking????? and who is writing his speeches (signing his cheques) and heading the agenda? i wonder.
    thanks Ben for your evaluation and heads up always a good read.

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