Why the ALP National President election matters

Nominations have now closed for the upcoming ALP National President ballot and the candidates have been revealed. Overall, there are five candidates with two from the Right (both men) and three from the Left (one man, two women).

Since the ALP National President became directly elected, it has been mainly a symbolic position. The Presidential ballot is, however, often used as a de-facto referendum on the direction of the party. As a result, the Left has usually run more high profile candidates than the Right.

Who are the candidates?

The Left candidates are senior Shadow Cabinet Minister Mark Butler, Victorian Minister Jane Garrett and former WA Senator Louise Pratt. Either Garrett or Pratt will be elected due to affirmative action requirements.

Mark Butler is running on party reform, specifically mentioning giving members a greater say over delegates to National Conference and candidates for the Senate and Legislative Councils, in his candidate statement. More broadly, Jane Garrett and Louise Pratt are pushing for Conference to be a contest of ideas and want to challenge the orthodoxy. Louise Pratt is also running on binding on marriage equality.

The Right candidates are Tim Hammond from WA and Henry Pinskier from Victoria. Tim Hammond has been endorsed by the national Right while Pinskier has not. Neither are as high profile as the Left candidates and neither are former or sitting MPs (Hammond has previously sought preselection though).

Interestingly, Tim Hammond specifically mentions extending 50/50 direct election model to all states and territories. TAS and QLD are the two states that have a different model (and both are Left controlled).

What is the election process?

The Presidential election will be conducted by postal ballot. Ballot papers will be sent out from Monday 11th May with voting closing on Friday 12th June. All party members will be able to vote.

I have previously written about the Presidential election process in case you want more information.

What are the implications of the election?

The results of the ballot could have some major implications for the ALP if party reform succeeds at July’s ALP National Conference. The reason is the ALP National Executive.

After ALP National Conference, the ALP National Executive is the next highest decision making body. Given that National Conference only meets every three years, National Executive is arguably the most powerful body within the ALP. Unlike similar executives or boards in other parties, it has the power to intervene and overturn decisions made by state branches. This not only includes overturning pre-selections but also rewriting the rules of state branches.

In the upcoming Presidential ballot, the Left is likely to win two out of three Presidential positions but none have voting rights on National Executive. The Left holds 9 out of the 20 National Executive positions elected by National Conference while the Right has 11. The Federal Parliamentary Labor Party leader also has a vote. This gives the Right a voting majority of 12 out of 21. This is despite the Right only having 40% of party members.

Party reform may mean the Presidents get voting rights

The Left has argued that the directly elected Presidents (and Vice-Presidents) should have voting rights on state Administrative Committees and the National Executive. It would give members a direct say over who effectively runs the party. This has been opposed by much of the Right.

If the Right does not have a majority at ALP National Conference, it is possible that the Left and non-aligned delegates could reform party rules to give the party presidents voting rights on ALP National Executive. There is currently a push to make this change and it would restore the voting rights that were taken away after the National President was made a directly elected position.

An even number spots elected by Conference means that even if the Right has more delegates, if the margin is close enough, it is quite possible that the National Executive could be evenly split. If the President has a casting vote, this creates a pathway to end the Right majority on the ALP National Executive, if the Presidents get votes, and opens up the possibility of more party reform, particularly of the NSW branch, and far fewer candidates being imposed.

This all, however, relies on a number of results falling into place. It may not happen but for the time being, it seems there is a chance of genuine change at July’s ALP National Conference.

UPDATE 2/7/2015: Troy Bramston outlines how the proposal to give the President and Vice-Presidents a vote on the National Executive will lead to Left control of the Executive.

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2 thoughts on “Why the ALP National President election matters

  1. Mike Smith April 29, 2015 at 3:05 am Reply

    Oz, the Left definitely won’t have the numbers at National Conference – I don’t think people should get their hopes up on that score. However, there are some right faction delegates who might support specific one-off reform and/or policy initiatives. Until Victoria and NSW finalise their delegations, though, it is too early to judge what’s possible.

  2. Matthew Donovan April 29, 2015 at 6:20 am Reply

    My understanding is the NSW Left’s numbers will be boosted following their delegate election, increasing their Admin elected (on PR) National Conference delegation.

    I’ve not heard anything about the Victorian Left’s expected delegate election outcomes.

    The chances of a Left majority are very slim but stranger things have happened.

    The more likely outcome is Queensland Old Guard joins the the national Left to get us to majority. That is a solid arrangement and it should stick in most instances.

    NSW Left could increase their National Conference by 5 – 10 delegates. The higher end of this bracket would ensure a Left majority.

    Most of the Left are relatively in lock step on various reforms but there are holdouts in NSW and Victoria. Not as united as I would like to see.

    That’s the challenge. Get the majority and then an agreement among the Left as to a meaningful policy and rules agenda.

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