Shorten’s reforms – good, bad or both?

Shorten’s reform speech may be found here: http://billshorten.com.au/towards-a-modern-labor-party and here: http://australianpolitics.com/2014/04/22/bill-shorten-alp-reform-speech.html, including transcript, audio and Q&A.

Some of Shorten’s reforms are more symbolic than anything else, such as formally ending the rarely enforced mandatory union membership. Others, such as the increased weight for the rank and file in lower house preselections, will have impact only in some states, while others are more of a statement of intent or a call for action by others, such as the target of 100,000 members or the call for State Leaders to be elected by a 50:50 vote of rank and file and caucus.

There are gaps, big ones, but overall the package is positive and a real step in the right direction in several ways:

  • up to 20% increase in weight given to local members’ vote in House of Representatives preselections

  • local members to have a vote in Senate preselections (details to be worked out)

  • local members to have a vote in choosing Federal Conference Delegates (details to be worked out)

Even the parts that are symbolic, or statements of intent, add weight to existing calls for real change:

  • no longer compulsory for members of the Labor party to join a union

  • intolerance of corruption – and acknowledging that lack of reform has enabled corruption

  • a membership based party

  • State and Territory parties to follow the lead of Federal Labor and elect their leaders using the 50:50 system

  • acknowledging that intervention by the National Executive (the ‘plenary power’) has been abused, “as a substitute for convincing members”.

  • acknowledging that good process, involving locals, leads to better preselections

  • acknowledging that the party’s electability is linked to reform.

There are things missing:

  • no concrete actions on many of the problems acknowledged above

  • nothing on branch stacking, nothing about payment through traceable means

  • no significant change to the union relationship, no change in union representation, not even pressure for unions to give their members the right to vote for their own delegates to conference

Shorten has been criticised both for going too far, too fast – by people who would prefer no change. And Shorten has been criticised for not going far enough – which is true, but is not a reason to reject the changes that Shorten is proposing.

These change deserve to be supported, and they need to be supported.

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