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:
- Do nothing
- Engage in structural reform
- 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.