Who are state MPs supporting for NSW Labor leader?

During June, NSW Labor will be holding a direct election ballot for the state parliamentary leadership. The contest will be between Jodi McKay and Chris Minns, both from the Centre Unity (Labor Right) faction. It will be the first ballot held for a Labor leader in any jurisdiction since the ballot between Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten after the 2013 federal election.

The election will be conducted via postal ballot with the rank and file component of the ballot closing on 21st June. The State Parliamentary Labor Party will meet on the 29th to conduct their ballot and a declaration of the result on 30th June.

Under Section P of the NSW Labor rules, 50% of the vote will come from the State Parliamentary Labor Party and 50% will be from rank-and-file members. I do understand there are nomination thresholds for candidates in the State Parliamentary Labor Party rules which are not publicly available.

Estimates of the number of voters range from 15,000 to 20,000. The 74% turnout for the 2013 ballot gives a rough indication though that participation may be less than that, especially due to the lack of excitement about the choices, especially amongst left-wing members of the party.

Given they will constitute half the vote and may override the rank-and-file vote, I have listed the state MPs that have publicly indicated who they will support to date:

Jodi McKay Chris Minns
Lynda Voltz Greg Donnelly
Kate Washington Ron Hoenig
Jenny Aitchison Jihad Dib
Paul Lynch Walt Secord
Adam Searle Steve Kamper
Trish Doyle Tania Mihailuk
Mark Buttigieg Jo Haylen
Julia Finn Rose Jackson
David Harris Anna Watson
Prue Car Shaoquett Moselman
Jodie Harrison Edmond Atalla
Yasmin Catley Guy Zangari
Anthony D’Adam Courtney Houssos
Greg Warren Nick Lalich
Peter Primrose
Stephen Bali
Marjorie O’Neill
Liesl Tesch
Tara Moriarty
Michael Daley
Sophie Cotsis

A range of other endorsements have been made by unions, federal MPs and other organisations which are listed below:

Jodi McKay Chris Minns
MUA (Newcastle) AWU
Justine Elliott MP HSU
AMWU* SDA NSW/ACT
AMIEU* Hellenic Caucus
Mich-Elle Myers, ALP National Vice President Stephen Lawrence, Dubbo Regional Councillor
Mark Greenhill, Blue Mountains Council Mayor Bill Saravinovski, Bayside Council Mayor
CFMMEU Chris Bowen MP
Barrie Unsworth, former NSW Premier Chris Hayes MP
Susan Templeman MP Linda Burney MP
Sue West, former NSW Senator Sharon Grierson, former Labor MP for Newcastle
NSW Senator Doug Cameron John Robertson, former NSW Labor leader
Jenny Dowell, former Mayor of Lismore Doug McClelland, former NSW Senator
Christine Robertson, former NSW MLC
Transport Workers Union

* Did not explicitly endorse McKay but publicly opposed Minns

Some have suggested that this leadership contest is actually a proxy battle for control of Sussex Street within the NSW Centre Unity faction between the current General Secretary Kaila Murnain who is supporting Jodi McKay and those who were more supportive of her predecessor Jamie Clements who are supporting Chris Minns. If that is the case, it reinforces the ambivalent mood that many party members have about this contest.

If there are any corrections or additions that need to be made to these lists, please leave a comment.

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The fight against fake news on WeChat

Over the last few days, there has been media coverage of malicious and underhanded anti-Labor campaigning on the social media platform WeChat. Some of the recent messages being spread include that Labor plans to levy a 40% estate tax, defamatory claims about Tanya Plibersek and even a doctored Bill Shorten tweet about migration from the Middle East.

The use of WeChat to spread misinformation first gained attention during the 2016 federal election when the Liberals won the seat of Chisholm. The victory was attributed to its WeChat campaign, its key architect, the socially conservative Gladys Liu, now the Liberal candidate for the seat in 2019.

Part of the angst about WeChat has been due to the sense of dominance by the Liberals within the Chinese community with their victories in traditionally held Labor seats such as Banks, Reid and Chisholm, seats with a large proportion of the population from a Chinese cultural background. The recent NSW state election emphasised that edge in multicultural southern Sydney with the Liberals unexpectedly coming close in the seat of Kogarah and building up its margin in Oatley (which covers Hurstville).

There is a lot of confusion about how WeChat actually works which has resulted in some likening the misinformation to foreign interference and a misguided focus on CCP propaganda rather than as domestic politically motivated misinformation. This is because it tends not to be used by those in media and politics. Its wide usage in Chinese communities in Australia is because WeChat, unlike other messaging or social media apps, is not blocked in China, making it easy to contact friends and family there. Furthermore, in China, its functionality is such that you can use WeChat to pay at the shops or even transfer money to others.

The misinformation about Labor has been spread primarily through private or semi-private group chats. The comparison is WhatsApp group chats where people establish group chats and invite large numbers to join. The role of WhatsApp in spreading false information to help elect far right Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil has been well documented and there are reports that similar tactics are occurring right now in India. Like on WhatsApp, the lack of public features on WeChat means it is far harder to watch for the spread of misinformation. A good explanation of how misinformation spreads on WeChat was published by the Columbia Journalism Review a few year ago and it is not a problem limited to Australia.

While much of the misinformation has been spread under pseudonyms, a number of individuals have been identified as having links to the Liberal Party, the most notable being former NSW Liberal MLC Helen Sham Ho. Leaked screenshots have also indicate co-ordination in group chats named after the Liberal Party Chinese Council. While SA Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham has publicly denied any links to the Liberal campaign, the inclusion of Liberal in the names of these group chats suggests a blind eye is being turned to their activities by people in the Liberal Party.

Reports are the increased focus by the media has affected the level of activity on WeChat but the impact of this campaign of misinformation may be felt on May 18. It should act as a warning that similar tactics of spreading false information might also be used on other platforms such as WhatsApp in the future unless there is greater scrutiny by both the media and electoral authorities of those platforms.

Crossposted at AusVotes 2019

Getting a Parliament that reflects Australia’s cultural diversity

One of the big issues over the life of the 45th Parliament has been the Coalition’s problem with women. Much has been made about underrepresentation on the Coalition’s side and its implications on policy matters. Labor has sought to make it an electoral strength by emphasising gender equality and in response to its problems Coalition MPs are starting to shift.

The discussion about it (and the Coalition’s tone deafness on policies) has highlighted that representation in our public institutions matter to the public. You cannot have diverse and inclusive institutions without it. But sadly, when it comes to other forms of  underrepresentation in Parliament, such as that of cultural diversity, no party will be seriously addressing it at this federal election.

Australia might have an Asian-Australian foreign minister after May 18 but the rest of the federal Parliament is unlikely to reflect the cultural diversity of our country. The Leading for Change and The Way In reports have both shown that our federal Parliament does not adequately reflect the sizeable number of Australians with non-European cultural heritage, a fifth of the country’s population.

For all our talk about being a successful multicultural nation, Australia’s federal Parliament is less representative than national legislatures in comparable Westminster democracies like New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada. The diversity of electoral systems highlights that it is not our electoral system but rather our political culture that need to change.

While we may have some better representation after the federal election, for example, if the Labor wins the marginal seat of Banks and given the next member for Chisholm will have Chinese heritage, it is still starting from low bar.

So how should we address the unrepresentative nature of federal Parliament? A few days ago, Jason Yat-Sen Li who is on the Labor Senate ticket in NSW flagged that we should look at targets to ensure cultural diversity in federal Parliament. The idea of targets is not new and had been flagged by former Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane. Targets work as it was targets that drove Labor’s improvement in women’s representation.

There are of course challenges of how to make cultural diversity targets work in practice, in part because of definitional issues and a lack of comprehensive data. That, however, has not stopped business from adopting cultural diversity targets.

If we are serious about having a truly representative Parliament, addressing these challenges to enable targets should be a priority as demographic changes, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, mean the lack of representativeness is going to get far worse before it gets better.

Crossposted at AusVotes 2019

Could visa privatisation be what Medicare privatisation was in 2016?

On Friday afternoon, the Department of Home Affairs released second stage documents for its ‘Delivering Visa Services for Australia – Global Digital Platform’ tender. This innocuously sounding Request for Tender sets the stage for an attempt to privatise Australia’s visa processing system if the Coalition is re-elected, making it an election issue.

In the 2016-17 Budget, the Coalition announced plans to “reform the visa system”. In September 2017, the Department of Home Affairs released market consultation documents indicating that as part of the reform, it planned to let private operators build a new visa processing platform, operate it and profit from it. Over the past year, further preparations have been made with two shortlisted consortiums invited to bid. Tender documents indicate the winning bidder would earn over $300m per year for a decade for an estimated $1 billion investment.

There are parallels with the attempt to privatise the Medicare payments system in 2016 which was similarly justified on the basis that the system needed to be enhanced and modernised. That campaign against the Medicare privatisation attempt was a key Labor attack on the Coalition, dominating the 2016 election campaign, resulting in a last minute election pledge by Malcolm Turnbull that there would be no privatisation at all.

Just as the campaign against the privatisation of the Medicare payments system torpedoed the Coalition’s election chances in 2016, could visa privatisation, until now a slow burner issue, play a similar role in 2019?

Labor has already indicated it will oppose the privatisation and there is opposition by influential individuals and civil society for a range of reasons. Former Department of Immigration Deputy Secretary Abul Rivzi has been highly critical of the proposal due its possible impact on the integrity of the immigration system. Concerns also have been raised by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia and the Community and Public Sector Union has warned there is the potential for 3,000 job losses, not only in Canberra but across the country like in Tasmania.

Unlike many election issues, it also has the potential to hurt the Coalition in both multicultural swing electorates in Sydney and Melbourne such as Banks, Reid, Chisholm and Bennelong as well as in regional Queensland seats where they are seeking to claw back primary votes and preferences from One Nation.

Furthermore, the links between one of the two bids for the visa system and Scott Briggs, a close friend and confidant of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, give it a potential conflict of interest dimension that the Medicare campaign did not have. Given existing public concerns about a spate of government appointments and questionable contracts such as those with Paladin and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, it could become a big political headache for the Coalition in the middle of the campaign.

This last minute release of the tender documents on election eve might be the spark that ignites a campaign that neutralises what was seen as a Coalition strength as discussing “border security” becomes a discussion about their privatisation plans, forcing them onto the defensive.

Cross-posted at AusVotes 2019

Where to now for NSW Labor

After its poor result on Saturday, NSW Labor is now looking at its longest stretch in the wilderness since the Second World War. For a party that has ruled NSW for nearly as long as the Swedish social democrats have governed Sweden, it finds itself in a position it is not used to.

There will be plenty of analysis about the impact of the last week of the campaign but undoubtedly, there were a range of factors at play. The overshadowing of state politics by federal politics has played a role, Labor changing leaders with less than six months before an election and inheriting a small target election platform all did not help.

In contrast to federal Labor, NSW Labor went for a small target strategy that emphasised how the Government was arrogantly ignoring the public’s wishes, symbolised by spending on stadiums. Beyond abandoning its previous pro-privatisation stance and some ambitious policies on climate change and industrial relations, it felt like a grab bag of smaller hip-pocket focused announcements and a handful of good individual policies championed by trade unions like nurse to patient ratios, not really tied into a broader narrative that resonated with the public.

Labor’s inability to answer the question of how it would pay for things has hampered the ambition of its agenda, forcing it to rely on cancellations to fund promises. Federally, rolling back tax concessions has played that role whereas at a state level, it has not articulated a credible alternative to the Coalition’s agenda of privatisation to fund infrastructure.

With a NSW Labor leadership election after the federal election seeming likely, many of these issues will come to the forefront, particularly as Labor made almost no ground since 2015.

Even though NSW Labor adopted a direct election model for party leader in 2014, there has not been a party wide ballot for leader despite two leadership changes since then. This was because the NSW rules deemed that a caucus-only ballot happens if it is within 6 months of an upcoming state election, a clause that does not exist in any other state Labor rules. The failure to have any broader contests meant no deeper reflection on Labor’s direction across the party or opportunity to scrutinise potential leaders in a contest.

Michael Daley has indicated he wants to continue as leader but there is speculation as to who else may contest. Jodi McKay and Chris Minns are most frequently cited as alternative candidates, Minns having challenged Daley in a caucus-only ballot that he lost 33-12 last November.

With the federal election due in May, the ballot will be delayed until after the federal election as it would take around five weeks to run and divert considerable resources. The NSW Labor rules allows the Administrative Committee to determine how and when voting for the rank-and-file component of the leadership ballot, which is how the delay may occur.

It would be the first direct election ballot held by any state Labor branch and first since the 2013 ballot that elected Bill Shorten so there are a lot of logistics that are still up in the air and precedents that have not been set.

One thing that could be done, if a contest occurs, is allowing those who join the Labor Party before the federal election, the opportunity to vote. It is normal for political parties in Britain and Canada to use direct elections as an opportunity to turn potential supporters into party members to build up the party.

Rather than retreating into its shell, an open contest that allows new members to vote might force the entirety of NSW Labor to reflect on its last eight years in Opposition, outside the stage managed confines of Conference, start engaging beyond what remains of its rusted-on party membership and get out of its comfort zone.

Cross-posted at AusVotes 2019

Eliminating Racism: Or As We Call It, Harmony

Thursday March 21 is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. You may not have heard of the day before. It is commemorated in Australia as Harmony Day.

Harmony Day was a creation of the Howard Government twenty years ago, a response to research conducted for the federal government about the causes of racism. It was a deliberate choice to not focus on ‘anti-racism’ but rather emphasise the importance and value of ‘harmony’.

Undoubtedly people feel an attachment to Harmony Day as a celebration of cultural diversity that schools, workplaces and community groups can participate in. It is a day that people have a positive association and feel very comfortable with. But it does us no favours by avoiding any hard conversations about racism. As educator Robin DiAngelo has pointed out, niceness is not anti-racism. A parallel would be celebrating International Women’s Day without mentioning ongoing under-representation, sexism or the gender pay gap.

Polls have indicated strong community support by Australians for multiculturalism and non-discriminatory immigration policies, but there continues to be significant cognitive dissonance. The most recent ScanlonFoundation Mapping Social Cohesion Surveyfound that 25% of Australians have negative attitudes towards Muslims and that a broader definition of intolerance and rejection of cultural diversity can reach 30%-40% of the population.

While Australia fares better than most other Western countries, a self-congratulatory tone that we are the ‘most successful multicultural country in the world’ only breeds complacency and means we treat acts of racism and other symptoms of institutional and structural discrimination as the isolated actions of individuals. None of this happens in a vacuum.

Over the last few days, there has been public debate about the normalisation of far right rhetoric and hatred. Far right figures are treated as a novelty for television and given a platform, giving their points of view legitimacy in public debates and uncritically amplifying their message for a mass audience. These acts are not benign and contribute to a climate where major party politicians feel comfortable dog-whistling.

We should condemn the mainstreaming of these abhorrent views, however, it cannot be at the expense of continuing to ignore other less overt forms of discrimination that have a direct impact. According to the 2018 Leading for Change report, a fifth of Australians have non-European cultural backgrounds. We cannot pretend that the continuing under-representation of people of colour in the media, public sector, parliament and business is the result of of merit. It has to be asked whether more representative institutions would meant a different treatment of past public debates about race, immigration and multiculturalism. Yet there is a defensiveness whenever these issues are raised, solutions such as targets and quotas being portrayed as worse than the problem itself.

The horrendous events in Christchurch last week should make us rethink how we currently recognise the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This year’s theme of mitigating and countering rising national populism and extreme supremacist ideologies makes the day feel even more relevant.

Rather than simply celebrating Harmony Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination should be an opportunity to not just recognise our successes but also focus on what Australia still needs to do to combat racism and racial discrimination in all its forms.

Published at Meanjin on 20 March 2019

Our democracy needs the energy and the passion of the #ClimateStrike

Across the world on Friday 15th March, we saw a huge co-ordinated Global Climate Strike by school students to demand action on climate change.

In Australia, one hundred and fifty thousand school students and their supporters protested across the country in capital cities and regional centres. Their demands were:

  • Stop the Adani coal mine in central Queensland
  • No new coal or gas projects
  • 100 per cent renewables by 2030

Having attended the Sydney rally, it was a breath of fresh air from many other protests and rallies I had been to with plenty of energy, enthusiasm and people streaming out of Town Hall Square, unable to get in because it was full.

While a range of politicians did express support for the school strikes, it has not necessarily fully throated. Though NSW Labor leader Michael Daley expressed unequivocal support, Bill Shorten diverged, his comments primarily drawing critical comments from those online.

While Shorten’s comments that “kids are allowed to have an opinion” and “in an ideal world, they would protest after school hours and on weekends” were not as bad as initially characterised, it did highlight a lack of trust and the perception of his inauthenticity means it is very easy for some to think the worst of him and jump on him about it. Shorten has previously recognised that trust is an issue, stating that “Our deeper opponents are distrust, disengagement, scepticism and cynicism.” 

The small target calculation to hedge to stick to talking about his theme of the week, a “living wage”, may have allowed people to read their own meaning into his statement but it leaves few who saw it satisfied and misread a public mood that was supportive of their actions.

Climate is likely to be a defining political issue for the emerging generation. A recent piece in The Conversation pointed out that for young people, climate change is transforming their identity and challenges many of the long held tenets about representative democracy, hard work leading to a better future and acting ethically.

With climate change increasingly being tied to leadership and becoming a defining issue in elections, fudging it to avoid the issue may no longer pay off given the urgency and instead further undermine trust in democratic institutions at a time when it is needed most.

In an era of disillusionment with politics and low trust, rather than giving conditional acceptance, welcoming the kind of energy and passion that the school climate strikers exhibited might be what our democracy needs.

It may just help make the 2019 election a turning point to help rebuild trust and reinvigorate our democracy.

Cross-posted at AusVotes 2019