The NSW ALP 2014 State Conference was a small step forward for reform, both in what was achieved, and in what was almost achieved.
The Conference delivered direct election of the State Parliamentary Leader and a formal requirement for parliamentarians to behave with integrity and honesty. And it rejected one hundred and twenty four resolutions from eighty three party units calling for more direct democracy. This much has been widely reported. (See, for example, the SMH editorial of July 29)
What has not been reported is that independent rank and file candidates won a place on the Rules Committee in a contested ballot and came within about eight votes of securing a place on the Administrative Committee.
We understand that this is the first time since 1975 that anyone on the NSW Rules Committee was not a member of one of the two major factions. We believe that this is the closest NSW has ever been to having an independent member of the Administrative Committee.
The first day of conference saw the Administrative and Rules Committee Reports debated.
The Left moved a range of amendments which sought to increase direct democracy within the Party. Left speakers, including John Graham, John Faulkner, Luke Foley, Stephen Jones, Linda Burney and Anthony Albanese, spoke of the need for reform, to engage party members and to prevent any potential recurrence of the corruption that the current system had not only failed to prevent but had, arguably, actively enabled.
The Right used its numbers to defeat the motions. Its speakers, including Jamie Clements, Kaila Murnain, Sam Dastyari and Chris Minns, argued that the amendments would have disenfranchised union members and removed the equal weighting rural electorates currently have with city electorates.
Union leaders from both sides, including Tim Ayers and Bob Nanva, supported reform in principle, calling for an end to a “culture of hyperfactionalism” but not at the cost of ending the relationship with the union movement.
OurALP members Jim Bright and John Glyde moved an amendment that, if successful, would have asked National Conference to consider enfranchising union members, by having them directly elect their own union delegates. The motion was defeated.
The other significant and under-reported debate was a Right motion to form a committee to draft a replacement for the Socialist Objective:
The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other antisocial features in these fields.
The motion was bitterly opposed by the Left, but passed. A replacement objective, once drafted, is to be put to next year’s Conference for approval or otherwise.
John Robertson spoke well, mainly on the many contrasts between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. He also called for full public funding of elections and the banning of third party lobbyists.
The main floor of Conference on Sunday was mostly concerned with matters of policy. Amongst others, a motion on refugees was defeated. A non-binding motion on equal rights to marry passed, as did motions on Coal Seam Gas and on the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Bill Shorten spoke well, calling for a “party of members, not factions”. It was a good speech, and it offered hope that he will produce further reforms.
Arguably, the most important thing that happened at Conference was not on the main floor, but in the basement, where delegates got to vote on, amongst other things, the membership of the Rules Committee and the Administrative Committee.
The only non-aligned candidates were OurALP members Jim Bright, Ross Smith and Ben Aveling. In the Rules ballot, we won one position, on Left preferences. In the Admin ballot, both Left and Right preferenced against us and we still came within about eight votes of winning a position.
One position alone is not enough to change the balance of power, but it gives the rank and file a voice and a seat at the table. Most importantly, it shows it can be done. With a good campaign and with the support of enough branches and electoral councils, non-aligned members can take seats away from the factions.
OurALP thanks its supporters and its fellow campaigners for reform, including Local Labor and many other passionate pro-reform individuals, both in NSW and interstate.