A fortnight ago was a historic occasion for the Queensland Labor Party. For the first time ever, the Left faction had a majority of Conference delegates in their own right.
A change in balance of power at party conferences can have big implications for the party rules, who controls the party machine, preselections and delegates to National Conference (which in turn determine the National Executive).
The most notable changes in balance of power have occurred in Victoria. For many years after “the Split”, the Left had a majority at Conference. Splits and realignment amongst unions meant that the Left lost this majority in the 1990s. A realignment in the early 2000s meant that the Left ruled in coalition with the National Union of Workers (NUW) before the NUW rejoined the Right. The Right then split again in 2009 and sub-grouping aligned to Shorten and Conroy (ShortCons) formed a “stability pact” with the Left which continues to today (with the SDA back in the tent with the ShortCons).
The table below outlines who has a majority in each state branch and federal with a rough estimate of factional delegations at each Conference:
|Jurisdiction||Conference breakdown||Who forms the majority?|
|National||Labor Right: 52% Labor Left: 48%||Labor Right majority at Conference & on Executive|
|NSW||Centre Unity: 60% NSW Left: 40%||Centre Unity majority|
|Victoria||Socialist Left: 37% Labor Unity (ShortCons): 24% SDA: 21% NUW: 8% Independent (Ferguson) Left: 5% Union and Community Alliance: 2% Victorian Independents Group: 1%||Stability Pact between Socialist Left and Labor Unity-SDA|
|QLD||The Left: 50% Labor Forum 40% Labor Unity 10%||The Left-Labor Unity alliance|
|WA||Broad Left: 65% Labor Unity: 30% Unaligned: 5%||Broad Left majority but cross-factional deals are made by sub-factions|
|SA||Labor Unity: 45% Progressive Left Unions and Sub-branches (PLUS): 35% Others (including remnants of the Progressive Labour Alliance industrial bloc): 20%||Labor Unity supported by ‘Others’|
|TAS||Broad Left: 70% Labor Unity: 20% Unaligned: 10%|
|ACT||Left Caucus: 51% Combined Right (Centre Coalition, Labor Unity): 35% Others (ACT Independents & unaligned): 14%||Left majority|
|NT||The Left: 60% Labor Unity: 40%|
The table shows that the Right has a majority in three branches (Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia) while the Left is dominant in the other smaller branches.
Things become far more interesting when you apply the state Conference proportions to delegations to ALP National Conference for a rough estimate.
|Left Delegates||Total Delegates|
* Tasmania and NSW direct elect some National Conference delegates
What becomes clear is that it will be impossible to end the Labor Right’s absolute majority at Conference and on the National Executive without a shift in delegations from NSW. An absolute majority has been held by the Right following the 2004 ALP National Conference when the remnants of the Independents Alliance collapsed and seceded its balance of power role.
Unlike every other state or territory, NSW has no element of proportionality in its election to State Conference. The gerrymander has meant that the balance of power has not shifted despite national intervention in 1971 and in 2013. Recent One Member One Vote ballots held in NSW for the State and National Policy Forum have resulted in the Left electing equal numbers of candidates to Centre Unity if not beating them.
The road to a truly democratic party, one that is not dominated by the Labor Right, lies through reforming the New South Wales branch of the Australian Labor Party and changing the balance of power at National Conference.
UPDATE 13/03/15: Since this post, the Independent (Ferguson) Left has reunified with the Victorian Socialist Left.
UPDATE 06/04/17: The movement of the MUA and CFMEU from the Broad Left to a new Progressive Labor faction with right-wing unions will result in changed numbers for Western Australia.