At the end of July, New South Wales Labor will hold its Annual Conference at its traditional venue of Sydney Town Hall.
The two day Conference will debate a number of proposed changes to the NSW Labor rules. Proposed reforms include the direct election of NSW Parliamentary Labor Party leader and Senator John Faulkner’s proposals to democratise Senate and Legislative Council preselections. One change that it is unlikely to be debated is changing how branch delegations are allocated.
While there is a lot of focus on union delegations to Conference, the allocation of branch delegations does not garner as much attention. Arguably there is a greater need for the reform of party delegations than of union delegations in New South Wales.
Why? Because it is a gerrymander.
How NSW allocates delegates
The allocation of rank-and-file delegations to Conference is based on a formula of three delegates per Federal Electorate Council (FEC) gets three delegates and two delegates per State Electorate Council (SEC) regardless of their size.
The number of members does not matter and it means there is no proportionality when it comes to rank-and-file delegations to Conference. It means that Campbelltown SEC, which has 28 members eligible to preselect, gets the same number of delegates as Newtown SEC, which had 241 voting party members in its recent preselection, nearly ten times as many. It is clearly an unfair system that needs to change.
How other states allocate delegates
The method NSW Labor uses to allocate rank-and-file Conference delegates is different to other states. In most other branches there is an element of proportionality. In fact, it appears that NSW may be the only branch of the ALP where delegates to Conference are not elected proportionally at all.
Below is how some other states allocate their rank-and-file delegations:
Victoria: 300 delegates from each Federal Electorate Assembly (equivalent of the FEC) is allocated on the basis of membership with each guaranteed at least one delegate.
ACT: each branch gets an additional delegate to Conference for every 10 members of the branch
Western Australia: 150 delegates are allocated proportionally to branches rather than state or electorate councils. Branches with 30 or more members entitled to at least one delegate.
Queensland: federal electorates with a larger number of eligible members elect more delegates than electorates with a smaller number of eligible members
Tasmania: 100 delegates elected by and from the membership with each electorate getting 10 delegates and the remainder allocated proportionally.
Furthermore, unless it decides to invoke rule M9, rank-and-file delegates to Conference are elected by branch delegates to Electoral Councils, not individual rank-and-file members. Not only are all branch members not equal, they also do not automatically get a direct say over who represents them at Conference.
All this needs to change and the gerrymander needs to end.
What reforms should happen
Rank-and-file delegates to Conference should be directly elected by members and there needs to be proportionality to ensure that the Conference make-up reflects the broader party membership.
A base number of delegates per electorate would guarantee representation for electorates with smaller party membership and quotas (similar to what was used for the NSW Policy Forum election) would guarantee regional representation on party committees.
Only through the end of this gerrymander will the democratisation of the New South Wales Labor Party and other reforms like direct elections of positions of power be ensured.