How many ways can you elect a party leader?

Just over a week ago, the Victorian ALP became the latest state branch to pass a motion endorsing the direct election of the party leader. The motion directed the Administrative Committee to draft options for direct election of the state parliamentary party leader.

Nationally, momentum is building behind the push for direct election of the Labor Party leader. NSW has agreed to review how the party leader is elected, a motion in support of direct election only narrowly failed in Queensland last year and the Tasmania has already amended its rules to allow direct election once the National Principles of Organisation are changed.

Most proponents of direct election have suggested adopting a British Labour-style electoral college. While I am supportive of an electoral college, it far from the only option as to how to elect a party leader.

Based on an examination of different models used by a range of parties, there are six basic models for the election of a party leader. The six models are:

  • Election by MPs
  • Weighted electorate vote
  • One member one vote
  • Open primary
  • Hybrid model or electoral college
  • Election by conference delegates

There are other possibilities but they are variations on these six basic models. For example, an electoral college can comprise elements of the other models (one member one vote and MP sections) or weighted electorate vote can be combined with an open primary as the Canadian Liberal Party recently did.

While the likely consensus will be an electoral college, it is worth knowing about other models. Models of direct election do not remain unchanged and it is unlikely that the model chosen will permanently stay the same for the ALP. The changes to the British Labour electoral college since its adoption in the 1980s are a case in point.

As tweaking and changes are likely to happen, it far better for everyone to start to get their heads around the benefits and flaws of each model now rather than later.


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