Labor embraces the direct election of leader

Kevin Rudd appears to be on a party reform kick. Last week, he announced an intervention into the NSW branch and today he announced the direct election of party leader.

I’m actually surprised that it happened this quickly. I did not expect it until after the Federal Election and thought it would be protracted change happening state by state. Rudd has taken advantage of the situation to force it through, like many other reforms that are likely to be announced over the coming month.

I have previously written about the clause in the National Constitution that only allows the caucus the power to elect of the leader and the Ministry. It appears that Rudd will attempt to change the Parliamentary Labor Party rules to allow the direct election of leader.

A two section election college where 50% of the vote would be from the Parliamentary Labor Party and 50% from rank-and-file members was announced. This model was previously proposed by Chris Bowen.

The election of parliamentary party leader could be called after the resignation of the leader, at the request of the leader, or if 75% of caucus members signed a petition calling for an election ”on the grounds that the current leader has brought the party into disrepute”.

A better model

I do not deny that the 50/50 model is an improvement on the current process, however, it is not the model that I personally support. The 50/50 model is in contrast to the three section electoral college in operation in New Zealand and the United Kingdom (and adopted in Tasmania).

A three section model is better because it acknowledges that the party is a partnership between rank-and-file members and affiliated unions. Leaders must have the support from the different wings of the party. It also makes a leadership contest less inward looking and more representative as candidates need to appeal to members of the wider community who are outside the party but share our values. The exclusion of affiliated unions raises broader questions about their role within the party.

I also disagree with the eligibility to vote being the same eligibility to vote for the ALP National President which is over two years of membership. Members should be given a vote as soon as they join. Ideally, after an election loss where leaders tend to resign, a contest should be announced and those who join before a cut off date should get the right to vote in the leadership election. 45,000 joined the Canadian NDP and 32,000 joined British Labour because they could join and vote after an election was announced. Imagine how many may join here.

What else will Rudd be announcing?

I would not be surprised if a broader set of reforms will be announced over the coming week. My guess is that some recommendations from the National Review will be adopted, an attempt will be made to reduce the influence of affiliated unions and that primaries will be adopted.

I am also guessing that Treasurer Chris Bowen will play a significant role in shaping many of these changes, particularly given his 50/50 model was adopted by Rudd. His new book Heart and Minds does not come out until next week but would be worth reading to get a sense of what else might be pushed.

Regardless of the election result, one thing can be guaranteed, the Australian Labor Party will not be the same party that it was three years ago.

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