Where to after the Northcote by-election

The Greens’ victory in Saturday’s Northcote by-election in Melbourne is likely to send shockwaves throughout inner city Labor in Victoria. While some did not expect it after polling showed Labor winning,robopolling has previously failed to accurately predict other contests involving Greens, most notably during the 2015 NSW state election.

Despite a good candidate and substantial resources, Labor lost the seat in a double digit swing. The contest in South Brisbane this Saturday is likely to have some bearing on the discussion as to whether it is just a Melbourne specific phenomenon but either way it seems Victorian Labor may be headed towards a minority government.

Many are yet to fully process the implications of the result but it is likely to shape debate about Labor and the Greens for the next twelve months. There needs to be some deep and reflective thinking by both Victorian Labor and the Greens. Neither are prepared for a minority government situation and their relationship seems poisonous from afar. Majority governments reduced to a minority are almost never re-elected and it has the potential to be worse than the Tasmanian experience.

The danger is the Coalition may get more seats than Labor and neither Labor nor the Greens may be able to work out their differences. If there is a minority Victorian Coalition government after 2018, its path to majority will be by pointing to chaos and instability with Labor and the Greens as the alternative. Another scenario is a loose arrangement between Labor and the Greens where the Greens make a big fuss to differentiate, creating a division and chaos narrative for 2022, leading to a majority Coalition win. Either situation would be bad for progressive politics in Victoria.

The spectre of a minority government will also put a brake on the Andrews Government’s style of wearing its progressive agenda on its sleeve and curtail its ambition on a range of issues. Already the media is being briefed about abandoning the inner city for outer suburbia and the regions with a ‘bread and butter’ agenda, shaped by a view that Greens voters are not a detached part of Labor’s existing base but rather wealthy professionals with more in common demographically with Liberal voters.

The reality is both parties need to figure out how to relate to each other in a manner that does not feed a Coalition narrative of chaos and instability or else the Coalition may slip ahead and win. Both parties also must learn the lesson of the past decade of federal politics, that is the Coalition needs to be comprehensively beaten twice or they will not drop the agenda pushed by the hard right. Whether they will is yet to be seen.

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ACT Labor rightly extended voting rights

The big debate at the recent ACT Labor Conference in July was over proposed changes to voting rights. Over the past few years, only a third of all members had been able to attend sub-branch meetings, meaning only about 500 of 1,500 ACT Labor members had been eligible to take part in pre-selections or sub-branch AGMS which include standing and voting for Conference delegates. The proposed rule changes sought to expand the size of the selectorate and involve more members.

The ACT is one of the few state and territory Labor branches that has 100% rank and file preselections. Still, members were required to have sub-branch membership, meet attendance requirements as well as have at least a year of membership before they got voting rights. The previous activity test was a scale model of meeting attendance based on length of membership. For those with less than 5 years membership, attendance at 3 meetings was required. Those with 5 to 10 years membership had to attend 2 meetings. Those with more than 10 years membership had to attend one meeting. This activity test meant that preselections for Territory elections could be decided by less than 20 people, an easily stackable number. For example, the quota for Murrumbidgee in 2015 was 19.1 and in Yerrabi it was 11.

Despite suggestions from the Right faction that it was aimed at benefiting the Left faction and would lead to branch stacking, the rule change passed 128-72. The size of the margin showed it clearly won over many independent and non-aligned delegates who understood that it actually made it harder for factional stitch-ups by enfranchising more ALP members who may not heavily be involved in internal party or factional politics.

The rules now only require minimum periods of membership for voting rights. Sub-branch members only have to be a member of a sub-branch for six months before being eligible to vote for sub-branch candidates while anyone who had been an ALP member for a year would be eligible to vote in a preselection. On best guesses, the number of members eligible to vote will most likely double for Territory pre-selections.

As has been pointed out by Amy Knox and Nick Dixon-Wilmshurst, suggestions it could lead to branch stacking are absurd. The 2016 ACT Labor Conference adopted changes that mean membership fees are taken out monthly and must be taken out via traceable means, such as via debit or credit cards in the member’s name.

When you challenge this constantly cited fear of stacking, it is clear some of the opposition is actually based on a flawed idea that members need to earn a right to have a say and that voting rights are a reward for participating in branches. Those who do not go to branch meetings are seen as less invested so should have less of a say. If that is the underlying belief then something is fundamentally wrong with the branch structure and it is out to step with modern expectations of how an organisation should operate. As former Labor Senator John Faulkner has argued, branch attendance should no longer be the basis which we measure someone’s participation in the ALP and:

 “…voting in our internal ballots ought not to be regarded as a reward earned only be those able to negotiate arcane rules.”

If we are serious about Labor being a mass movement, we need to recognise that people participate in different ways and not being able to attend a meeting should not make someone a second-class member. The changes adopted by ACT Labor should be considered by other jurisdictions to ensure all members are an equal say in who represents Labor. If all members can vote on the party leader, regardless of an activity test, surely they should also have the right to vote for their local MPs.

How 2018 ALP National Conference delegates will be elected

Next year the Australian Labor Party will hold its triennial National Conference in Adelaide from Thursday July 26 until Saturday July 28. It will be the first ALP National Conference in Adelaide since 1979.

There will be 400 delegates to ALP National Conference, comprising of:

(i) three delegates being the National President and National Vice-Presidents
elected under clause 18(a);
(ii) four delegates being the Leader and Deputy Leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (FPLP) and the
Leader and Deputy Leader of the Party in the Senate;
(iii) six delegates elected from and by the FPLP;
(iv) delegations from each state consisting of:
(A) the state Parliamentary Leader,
(B) a base component of 12 persons, and
(C) a supplementary component of a number of persons equal to twice the
number of House of Representatives electorates in that state as at the
previous 31 December;
(v) delegations from each territory consisting of:
(A) the territory Parliamentary Leader,
(B) a base component of 2 persons, and
(C) a supplementary component of a number of persons equal to twice the
number of House of Representatives electorates in that territory as at
the previous 31 December; and
(vi) three delegates from Australian Young Labor

It will be be first ALP National Conference since party rules were amended to mandate the direct election of state and territory delegations to ALP National Conference. Clause 32(b) in the party constitution now states that:

(i) a number of delegates directly elected by the financial members of the state branch that is at least equal to the number of House of Representative electorates in that state as at the previous 31 December; and

(ii) delegates from outside metropolitan areas.

Below is how ALP National Conference delegates will be elected in each state and territory branch, based on available information:

NSW

  • Each Federal Electorate Council will elect one delegate.
  • Party Officers (President, Senior Vice-President, Junior Vice-Presidents, General Secretary and Assistant General Secretaries) will be automatically elected.
  • The balance of the National Conference delegation will be elected by Affiliated Union delegates to NSW State Conference.

VIC

  • Half of National Conferences delegates and proxy delegates shall be elected by and from a single postal ballot of all party members, including Central Branch members, who have been members of the Party for at least 12 months at the close of nominations for this election.
    • At least two of the National Conference delegates elected must reside in a non-metropolitan area.
  • Half of the National Conference delegates and proxy delegates shall be elected by a ballot of the Affiliated Union delegates at the meeting of State Conference immediately preceding the National Conference.

QLD

  • Half of National Conference delegates will be elected by Affiliated Union delegates at QLD State Conference.
  • Half of National Conference delegates will be elected by branch members elected in separate proportional representation ballots consisting of:
    • a Brisbane North zone, consisting of the federal electorates of Brisbane, Lilley, Petrie and Ryan.
    • a Brisbane South zone, consisting of the federal electorates of Bonner, Bowman, Griffith, Moreton, Oxley and Rankin.
    • a South-East Queensland Zone, consisting of the federal electorates of Blair, Dickson, Fadden, Fairfax, Fisher, Forde, Longman, McPherson, Moncrieff, Wide Bay, Wright.
    • a Regional Queensland Zone, consisting of the federal electorates of Capricornia, Dawson, Flynn, Groom, Herbert, Hinkler, Kennedy, Leichhardt, Maranoa.
  • The number of delegates in each zone shall be determined by dividing the number of eligible branch members in Queensland at the time of opening nominations, by the number of delegates to be elected in total.

WA

  • National Conference delegates are currently elected by the State Executive, however, there may be an attempt to change this at the upcoming WA Conference in August.

SA

  • The current party rules only refer to National Conference Rule 6.

TAS

  • Half of National Conference delegates shall be directly elected by rank and file members (with eligibility requirements).
  • Half of National Conference delegates shall be elected by and from State Conference in a single ballot.

ACT

  • Two delegates will be directly elected by rank and file members.
  • Four delegates will be elected by ACT Branch Conference delegates.

NT

  • Currently all six elected National Conference delegates are elected by NT Conference, however, there may be an attempt to change this to one delegate from each federal electorate with the remainder elected by Conference.

From this quick analysis, it is clear that each state and territory branch has been allowed to interpret the party rules differently. Some have allocated delegates to electorates or geographic areas while other states will have statewide ballots. It also means that while some states adhere to the 50:50 principle, others such as the ACT and Tasmania will not.

Furthermore, the extent of proportionality will vary significantly. New South Wales will have the least proportionate delegation, again reflecting the malapportionment that exists at a state level (to the advantage of the dominant Centre Unity faction). It is something that needs to be addressed to ensure something closer to One Vote One Value in the largest state branch.

It is also likely that the total number of National Conference delegates will need to be amended (or removed) for the following Conference as the House of Representatives will grow to 151, reducing the South Australian delegation by 2 and increasing the ACT and Victorian delegations by 2 per delegation for a total of 402 delegates to the following Conference if the current formula remains.

UPDATE 01/08/2017: It has been pointed out to me that the direct election clause seems to contradict Clause 15(e) in the party rules as no one is holding a single ballot for all delegates. Clause 15(e) states:

All delegates must be elected by a system of proportional representation in a single ballot with affirmative action in accordance with clause 19.

UPDATE 04/08/2017: I have been informed that Tasmania and the ACT comply with both clauses as their delegations are elected in single (college-type) ballots as opposed to electing each rank and file delegate in separate individual ballots like NSW.

Further, I have been told allowing half of National Conference delegates to be elected by union delegates to state Conferences is not based on anything in the party constitution but reliant on a Conference resolution from the previous 2011 National Conference. It is now included in Clause 22 in Chapter 12: Organisational Policies. The relevant section reads:

(g) Support state branches considering direct election.

To make our Party more active, we need to increase participation amongst rank and file members. One proposal for strengthening rank and file involvement is to provide the option of directly electing National Conference delegates in a ballot of financial members in an electorate. Different models for electing delegates to Party conferences are used in different states and territories. Each of these models reflects the unique political environment in that state. National Conference therefore:

(i) recognises that each state branch will approach the election of National Conference delegates differently;

(ii) supports state branches that are considering direct election;

(iii) recognises that the National Principles of Organisation require that state branch conferences comprise 50 per cent trade union representation, and 50 per cent Party constituency representatives;

(iv) reaffirms that this principle of 50/50 representation must continue;

(v) affirms that the local determination of National Conference delegates should not come at the expense of trade union representation; and

(vi) affirms that some of the National Conference delegation should continue to be elected in such a way as to ensure the principle of 50/50 representation is maintained.

Another world is possible, but only if we seize this moment

We are on the precipice of a moment of transformation. The orthodoxy of the last forty years feels as if it is exhausted and on the verge of collapse. What fills the vacuum is yet to be seen.

There is hope. The predictions of a calamity for British Labour did not come to pass. The public is tired of being told their future will be worse than their parents’ generation and they cannot enjoy what past generations took for granted: security, stability, an improvement in their material circumstances.

The British election had a global impact for social democratic movements. Here in Australia, many even asked who our home grown answer to Jeremy Corbyn is. That, however, is the wrong question and lesson. This isn’t about personalities or individuals – for progressives it never is. Rather the lesson of the British election for those on the Left should be to challenge what ideas we think are possible and to put forward a transformative vision for a better future.

The times call for a bold platform for a better future for the many and we must not hedge on it. We need to be unapologetic and hopeful. People are not happy with the status quo and established party systems are being overturned across the world.

The conservative side of politics has no answer to the crisis of housing affordability and the growing precariat, other than mindless appeals to xenophobia and the politics of division. They are in denial about the realities of climate change and comfortable with entrenched inequality.

Within Australia, inequality is growing. It is growing within our capital cities, with those living in rich and poor suburbs experiencing substantially different health and educational outcomes. It is growing as well as between urban and regional communities. It is a challenge that social democratic parties at all levels of government must face head on.

This moment is a time to articulate that another world is possible. Imagining a better future requires a dash of utopianism to consider bold ideas, as well as meticulous attention to the nitty gritty of policy and legislation. The Left in Australia is capable of both – but we must be smart, united and determined.

The alternative is to cede the future to a xenophobic nativism where the majority are pitted against each other, with an increasingly wealthy and disconnected elite making decisions about who is deserving and how to distribute the scraps they are prepared to share. The PASOKification that has torn apart sister parties in Western Europe is the future if Labor does not put the interests of working people front and centre.

It means a vision for better future for the generations to come, rather than the fear of a future in which our lives are worse than those of our forebears.

It means tax settings that fund the public services we need to build a good society that can stop the growth of inequality and ultimately make our society more equal.

None of this will happen naturally or automatically. It will require our ideas and our hard work. We have a better future to create and do not have a second to lose.

Originally appeared in the 2017 NSW Labor Conference edition of Challenge

Understanding Labor beyond Sydney and Melbourne

A few years ago, the NSW Socialist Left celebrated its 60th anniversary and got historian Frank Bongiorno contributing a short history of the faction. I re-read the short history a few days ago and it got me thinking about the origins of the Left faction in other states.

While there is often much talk about rumblings within the Left faction, as I have previously written, the reality is that it is a loose coalition of state-based groupings. They are shaped by local factors and histories which mean they often disagree (as shown at the recent ALP National Conference) and even have their own sub-groupings. The state-based nature of the ALP also meant that the various factions did not all form at the same time and are very much creations of certain circumstances and local party cultures, something that is not well understood or analysed.

The NSW Combined Unions and Branches Steering Committee (as the Socialist Left was originally known as) was formed in 1954-55 to fight the Groupers, however, the Victorian Socialist Left was only formed after federal intervention in 1970. Elsewhere around the country, formalised Left factions were formed at later dates. For example, in Queensland, a formalised Socialist Left only established itself in 1978-79 around then Senator George Georges. In Tasmania, party reform in 1976 resulted in dominance by the ‘Broad Left’ from the mid-1970s onwards which became a formal faction in 1983. The ACT Left Caucus was not formed until the early 1980s. In each of these cases, a Left faction was instigated by local circumstances and those local factors meant that they were often ideologically and operationally quite different.

The experience of South Australia and Western Australia is different, in part because factionalism was imported from the other states. Until the 1980s, much of the rest of the party outside the East Coast was not factionalised. Two factors changed this. Firstly, in 1981, ALP National Conference approved the introduction of proportional representation for the remaining state branches. As Clem Lloyd and Wayne Swan pointed out in their 1987 Australian Journal of Political Science article ‘National Factions and the ALP‘:

Because the state machines could no longer control the composition of National Conference and National Executive delegations, a premium was placed on factional representation which transcended state limits.

Prior to then, the Labor Right did not organise beyond the state level and the Left only had a rudimentary national structure at best. Whoever already controlled the branch had complete control and there was limited incentive because it required complete control.

Secondly, it was the formation of proper national factions, instigated ironically by the creation of the National Centre Left in Adelaide on 19 February 1984, that led to factionalisation in states like Western Australia and South Australia. The Centre Left established itself in opposition to the factionalism of Left and Right factions. Lloyd and Swan explained that:

Lacking any prospect for winning power bases in NSW and Victoria, where existing factions honeycombed the ALP structure, the National Centre Left focussed its aspirations on the outer states which were largely unfactionalised.

Reflecting on all this, it becomes clear that whenever Labor’s past is discussed, it only really focuses on either Sydney or Melbourne or the going ons in the Commonwealth Parliament. It overlooks the importance of local factors in shaping distinct party cultures that do have an impact on national decisions. Labor still is a federation of state branches with alliances across state lines. The Labor Party is more than what happens in Sydney, Melbourne and the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. There should be more knowledge and discussion about these local histories such as the origins of local factions and political clashes to understand how and why things are the way they are.

Who are the ALP Left candidates for the National Policy Forum?

Voting is now open for Labor’s National Policy Forum (NPF). Modelled off British Labour’s Policy Forum, the NPF meets regularly to discuss policy, hear from a range of speakers and to help draft Labor’s National Platform in between the triennial National Conference.

The National Policy Forum has twenty rank-and-file representatives who are directly elected. Other voting members include the Federal Parliamentary Party Leader and the National President (who are co-chairs), two Deputy Chairs and a Secretary elected by National Conference, the National and Assistant National Secretaries, the National President of Young Labor, twenty affiliated union representatives and twenty federal MPs.

If you have been a member for at least a year prior to the calling of NPF nominations, you should have received an email today to cast your vote. Unlike the President or party leader elections, it is a digital by default ballot but you can request a postal vote. Voting for the NPF closes on 2 December so there is still some time.

There is often a dearth of information about who is who when these larger direct election ballots occur as not everyone has a large profile. To make things a bit clearer, the following is a list of known ALP Left candidates running for rank-and-file National Policy Forum spots in each state and territory.

 

NSW

Sinead Simpkins

Cameron Murphy

Verity Firth

Nuatali Nelmes

 

ACT

Ella Factor

 

VIC

Onagh Bishop

Mark Kettle

Jamie Gardiner

Damien Kingsbury

Max Costello

Steve Brown

Oliver Squires

 

SA

David Pearson

 

NT

Pat Honan

 

QLD

Nick Thompson

Laura Fraser-Hardy

 

TAS

Adam Clarke

 

WA

Dominic Rose

Tom Palmer

 

If I have made any mistakes or inadvertently left a candidate off this list, please let me know and I will amend the list.

 

UPDATE: The list of elected National Policy Forum members can be found here.

ACT Labor wins a historic fifth term

ACT Labor’s decisive victory on Saturday in the Australian Capital Territory took many commentators by surprise. The predicted backlash and much touted “It’s Time” factor did not occur nor did any independents or other minor parties get elected. The campaign by ClubsACT and Canberra Community Voters fizzled.

In an election where there were no public opinion polls, the commentary was dominated by feelpinions. Former Liberal Senator Gary Humphries and former Minister Michael Moore were predicting a Liberal Government with non-Green cross-benchers. The vocal minority opposing Labor mistook having a platform through a supportive Canberra Times and institutional support through the clubs with public support.

Labor not only ran a strong campaign but was strategic in making Civic to Gunghalin the first stage of light rail. Gunghalin has traditionally not been the strongest base of support for Labor, however, its vote surged, making it the electorate with the highest Labor primary vote. Furthermore, the second stage of the light rail will go to Murrumbidgee where Labor and the Greens must improve its vote to entrench three out of five MLAs.

It was the third election in a row where the Liberals have attempted to get into power through anti-Labor forces establishing a front party. In 2008, it was the Community Alliance Party. In 2012, it was the Australian Motorists Party. These parties have not come close to winning. The reality is reaching a quota is hard and the fact that they are a front with little community support means they do not get many votes. On reflection, it makes the decision of the Liberals to support five member electorates quite strange.

Post-election there are a number of things to watch beyond which candidates win. Firstly, Labor will elect a new Deputy Leader. The caucus is likely to be six Right, five Left and one unaligned, however, factional considerations means the Left’s Yvette Berry will become Deputy Leader. Secondly, how the Greens manage if they have members outside the Ministry and one inside will be important.

While some praised the ACT on social media as a model for Labor and Greens co-operation, there are unique factors that make it difficult to emulate elsewhere. Labor and the Greens have no major disagreements on social issues, resource extraction is not a big issue, minority government is the norm and it is not a zero-sum game over seats under Hare-Clark.

By the time the next election comes, Labor will have been continuously in power for 19 years and will be the longest serving Government in Australia. Despite claims it was a “pyrrhic” victory, the fact is ACT Labor is a different creature to NSW Labor. 2020 will be difficult but unless the political landscape drastically changes, it is hard to see how the Liberals win.