A lot is happening.
We’re electing a National President now, there’s National Conference in July, and NSW State Conference will be in October.
There are 5 candidates for National President, 2 from the Right, 3 from the Left. All are more or less in favour of reform.
From the Right are Henry Pinskier and Tim Hammond. Hammond is being backed by the Right, who have been using the Party’s official membership lists to solicit support for him, whereas Pinskier writes in his candidate statement that he runs “without any endorsement of the factions”.
The Left candidates are Mark Butler, Jane Garrett and Louise Pratt. Butler is seen as having a good track record on Reform, and has the support of most of the Left. He should therefore be a clear favourite, except that the Victorian Left are supporting Garrett. This split probably won’t stop Butler winning, unless the Victorian Left preference Hammond over Butler. While such behaviour might seem irrational and self-defeating, it would be completely consistent with the past behaviour of the Victorian Left, who in the ballot for Federal leader, voted for Shorten (the Right candidate) over Anthony Albanese (the Left candidate), handing Shorten a narrow victory. (Candidate statements are here; candidate responses to a survey by Local Labor and Open Labor are here)
The 2015 National Conference will be from Friday 24th July to Sunday 26th July, in Melbourne. On the agenda is Equal Marriage, the so-called Socialist Objective, voting rights for the National President, and a multitude of large and small changes to the platform. (the current Platform is here; the new draft platform, except for the Constitution, is here)
For the first time in living memory, the the Left are hoping to have a majority of delegates at National Conference.
Several States have swung left. This makes NSW’s selection of delegates particularly important. One of the reforms achieved in NSW was that each NSW FEC gets to elect one delegate to National Conference, either by rank and file ballot or at the FEC’s AGM. The remaining delegates ought to be elected by Conference, but at least this year they are being chosen by the Administrative Committee. FECs should already have held their AGMs. For those that have opted for direct election, voting closes soon.
Equal Marriage is receiving plenty of press coverage, as it deserves to, as a test of the Labor Party’s commitment to “equality in all areas of human endeavour”. But there is another less well reported issue that has far greater implications for the future of the Labor Party.
At the last NSW State Conference it was decided that the “NSW Policy Forum in consultation with the membership” would draft and circulate a proposed replacement for the so called Socialist Objective: “the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields and the pursuit of social justice and equality in all areas of human endeavour”. So far, nothing much has been seen publicly, and it is not clear that there has much of substance done behind the scenes. But it is certain that there will be something on the agenda that will remove any reference to “democratic socialisation”, and potentially remove all references to socialism in any form, including “democratic-socialism”. One wag has said that the plan is for Chris Bowen to knock something up on the night before the vote.
Another notable event in NSW was the manner of Penny Sharpe’s return to the NSW Legislative Chamber (the NSW Upper House). Sharpe stood down to contest the lower house seat of Newtown, which she lost. In what is possibly a first, Sharpe then filled the Upper House vacancy created by her own resignation. From outside the Party it would have appeared to have been decided by the proverbial handful of factional leaders around a Chinese restaurant table, but it wasn’t. While not as democratic as it should have been, it was a lot more democratic than it appeared to be.
Sharpe was previously elected by the Left at the 2010 State Conference, and by convention, the Left got to decide her replacement. There was a call for nominations, and there were two nominees: Penny Sharpe and David Havyatt. There was a meeting of the Left at which both spoke, and there was a ballot in which every Left delegate to State Conference got one vote. Members of Electoral Councils that returned Left Delegates were able to lobby their delegates, and some Left Unions held meetings of those of their members who were also Party members, where they decided how the Union’s delegates would vote. It was imperfect – voting was opened before candidates had a chance to speak to the meeting, there was no provision made for delegates who could not get to Sydney, and not every Union consulted its members. But it was still an improvement on past practice, and to that extent the Left deserve credit for allowing members an increased role in making the decision.
Ballots papers for National President are due by the 12th of June.