We are better than this

With inequality at a 70 year high and living standards stagnating, millions of Australians cannot afford another Coalition Government and nor can our planet. We urgently need a new direction.

We need to change the rules because they are are broken and rigged against working Australians.

We need an economic system that delivers for all Australians and reduces inequality, not one that just concentrates more wealth in the hands of the lucky few.

We need to reinvest in the essential public services that Australians rely on and halt the privatisation of our social security system that so many rely on.

We need to deliver a just transition to tackle the climate crisis while ensuring workers are not thrown on the scrap heap.

We need a Government that does not use the State to go after its opponents and take from those without power while showering as much public largesse as they can to their mates with little scrutiny.

What we have now at both a state and federal level are Governments run for the interests of the super rich, big banks and corporate Australia. They are Governments by organised capital, for organised capital.

The Coalition Government in New South Wales, shorn of some of the socially conservative extremism of its federal counterpart, shows what the Turnbull Government fundamentally is at its heart.

It is a Government that is addicted to privatising everything it can. A Government happy for the rivers of gold from a once in a generation real estate bubble to be wasted on vanity projects rather than schools and hospitals. A Government that has destroyed TAFE and disability services.

But Labor cannot take any election whether state or federal for granted.

It would be an arrogant betrayal of those who rely on Labor Governments. We should not, however, shy away from the fact that dissatisfaction with the Coalition has not translated into excitement for Labor. People are angry because the future does not look better. There is a yearning for positive ideas and policy proposals that address the everyday challenges they face.

Those on the progressive side of politics need to expand what is possible and show that only political involvement can deliver. That means fighting not for what is convenient but what is right and to fight to the end even if we might lose. It requires a party that is democratic and open to debates. Transactional politics and backroom deals that fuel cynicism will only be to our detriment in the long-run. Only the Left can do this and it is our responsibility to lead by challenging the status quo and making the case for change.

The next NSW state and federal election are choices about what kind of country and what kind of state we want to live in. Labor’s message has to be that Australia is better than this, that New South Wales is better than this. And only Labor Governments can deliver this.

Originally appeared in the 2018 NSW Conference edition of Challenge

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2018 ALP National Conference delegate election results

One of the big reforms at the last ALP National Conference was the direct election of delegates to National Conference equal to the number of federal electorates. Each branch was allowed to choose the method of election with NSW being the sole branch to elect each delegate by federal electorate instead of via proportional representation through an at-large state or multi-electorate regional ballots like elsewhere.

Almost all state branches have now held their rank-and-file National Conference delegate elections. The results of these elections are listed below:

New South Wales

In New South Wales, there were contested ballots in 26 out of 47 federal electorates. The electorates with ballots and factional alignment of the winners were:

Banks: Left
Bennelong: Left
Berowra: Left
Blaxland: Left
Bradfield: Left
Calare: Right
Cowper: Right
Eden-Monaro: Right
Farrer: Right
Greenway: Right
Hughes: Right
Hume: Right
Hunter: Right
Lindsay: Right
Lyne: unaligned
Mitchell: Left
New England: Right
North Sydney: Right
Page: Left
Parramatta: Right
Reid: Right
Richmond: Right
Riverina: unaligned
Robertson: Right
Sydney: Left
Warringah: Left
Wentworth: Left

Overall, the rank-and-file delegate split was 28 to the National Right, 17 to the National Left and 2 unaligned. My understanding is the number of Left delegates went down by two in NSW compared to the last ALP National Conference. At the time, NSW required a delegate to be elected per federal electorate but there was no requirement for direct election by members.

Victoria

The Victorian ALP had a turnout of 73% for their rank-and-file National Conference delegate elections with 9,609 members returning their ballots. The results were:

National Left Unaligned National Right
Socialist Left 13 IND 2 Mods 10
Industrial Left 1 AWU 7
Con 5
NUW 2
SDA 2
HWU 1

The Victorian union component of National Conference delegates is still to be elected but the total Victorian Left delegation to National Conference is expected to be the same or one less than last time.

Concerns have, however, been raised about the conduct of the ballots as the Victorian ALP Returning Officer made a ruling that members could email for a replacement ballot and allow someone else collect their ballot. Overall, 1,085 ballots were re-issued with a high level concentrated in a small number of branches and electorates. Some branches had over 40% ask for a re-issue. It is been suggested that about 1,000 votes were picked up by the Mods (Adem Somyurek) for National Conference delegates that way. It might be what leads to a National Right majority.

Queensland

Queensland is holding their delegate elections for both State and National Conference with the Left faction running under the ticket named ‘Local Left Team’. Voting will close on 8 June.

Western Australia

In Western Australia, the split amongst the elected rank-and-file National Conference delegates was 12 Left, 5 CFMMEU and 5 Right. The delegates are:

  • Christy Cain (CFMMEU)
  • Magenta Wilders (Right)
  • Pierre Yang (Left)
  • Carolyn Smith (Left)
  • Matthew Swinbourn (CFMMEU)
  • Josh Wilson (Left)
  • Adrian Evans (CFMMEU)
  • Guy Wroth (Left)
  • Deana Lawver (CFMMEU)
  • Michelle Roberts MLA (Right)
  • Anne Aly (Left)
  • George Gakis (CFMMEU)
  • Matt Keogh (Right)
  • Sally Talbot (Left)
  • Jess Short (Left)
  • Tim Hammond (Right)
  • Patrick Dodson (Right)
  • Dom Rose (Left)
  • Louise Pratt (Left)
  • Stephen Dawson (Left)
  • Helen Tuck (Left)
  • Jessica Shaw (Left)

South Australia

In South Australia, the twelve directly elected National Conference delegates were evenly split between the Left and Right:

South Zone

  • Amanda Rishworth (Right)
  • Kyam Maher (Left)

Central Zone

  • Aemon Bourke (Right)
  • Demi Pnevmatikos (Left)

North West Zone

  • Stephen Mullighan (Right)
  • Karen Grogan (Left)

Regional Zone

  • Eddie Hughes (Left)
  • Clare Scriven (Right)

North Zone

  • Zoe Bettison (Right)
  • Steven May (Left)

North East Zone

  • Dana Wortley (Right)
  • Margot McInnes (Left)

Tasmania

All Tasmanian delegates to ALP National Conference have been elected. The Left will have 19 delegates (including the party leader) while the Right has 4 delegates. This is unchanged from the last National Conference.

Australian Capital Territory

In the Australian Capital Territory, Yvette Berry (Left) and Andrew Leigh (unaligned) were chosen as the directly elected National Conference delegates. The remaining four delegates elected by ACT Labor Conference were split between the CPSU (Left), CFMMEU, SDA (Right) and Gai Brodtmann (Right). The Chief Minister, Andrew Barr (Right), is also a delegate as party leader. The factional split is unchanged from the last National Conference.

Northern Territory

The elected National Conference delegation of six was evenly split between the Left and Right. The Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, sits with the Right faction.

Upcoming State Conferences

There will be three state ALP Conferences in the lead-up to ALP National Conference that will elect some remaining delegates to National Conference (Victoria on 26 May, NSW on 30 June-1 July, Tasmania on 7-8 July). Western Australia, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia will hold their state conferences after ALP National Conference.

If you have any corrections to this post or further information, please send it through.

UPDATE 25/05/18: Reported numbers are that the National Right hold roughly 200 delegates (dependent on whether you include the Queensland “Old Guard”).

UPDATE 13/06/18: Guardian Australia reports that the breakdown is 193 Left, 195 Right, 5 Queensland “Old Guard” and 7 independents.

The 2018 ALP National Conference might be a watershed moment

The upcoming ALP National Conference this July may herald significant changes to the Labor Party with suggestions that the Left might have the majority at National Conference for the first time since the 1970s, the first since the emergence of the modern factional system in the 1980s.

While it has the potential to be a watershed moment on party reform and a range of other issues, how the numbers ultimately fall and what is achieved will depend on a variety of factors. As I wrote prior to the last National Conference, no Labor Right majority does not guarantee the Left winning.

How the CFMEU-MUA delegates vote will be important and may determine whether the Left has a majority on many votes. In Western Australia, the CFMEU-MUA has split off the Broad Left and joined the Right in a new Progressive Labor faction. In Victoria, they and other unions have split off the Socialist Left to form the Industrial Left to deal with the right-wing Centre Unity faction. There has been an indication that all the CFMEU-MUA aligned delegates plan to caucus with the National Left but what it means in practice is still unclear.

Fragmentation is not only happening on the Left. In October last year, the QLD Labor Unity (old guard) faction withdrew from the National Right and will act independently on a case by case basis. Estimates had their delegates numbers at 6-8 and their votes could be pivotal when it comes to topics like party reform.

Finally, the biggest structural change since the last ALP National Conference is the direct election of delegates. In all, 150 of the 400 Conference delegates will be directly elected by members for the first time. All bar NSW will be elected through a proportional ballot. The direct election of these delegates has commenced with social media feeds clogged with candidates jostling for positions. It is currently unclear what the final result will be but there is the view that the Left will do better out of this process.

There is likely to be a push for further party reform at National Conference and if party Presidents do get a vote on the National Executive, it will make the upcoming National President election even more important. There is also likely to be a pushback from elements of the Labor Right with alternative watered down reforms or potentially attempts to reduce the size of delegations from the Left-dominated Tasmanian branch. Which duelling proposals get up are again unclear as all sides are yet to fully develop their proposals.

Predictions of outcomes would be unwise at this stage. The experience of the last National Conference of deals on a case-by-case basis, most notably when sections of some unions supported Shorten on boat turnbacks, is likely to be repeated. My suggestion is that anyone interested in the future direction of Labor should keep a close eye on what happens over the coming months, particularly at the NSW and Victorian State Conferences where proposals might be debated.

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.

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.

Labor must grasp this opportunity to inspire

Labor’s 2015 National Conference is the most important in a generation. Our party is at a critical juncture. The 47th National Conference must set the path both on policy and on internal reform.

After many false starts, real Party reform is now within reach, Now is the time to guarantee rank-and-file members a direct vote for not just the leader but also for delegates to National Conference and Senate candidates. Just as essential is the continuation of our equal partnership with the union movement, the largest social movement in Australia. This opportunity to inspire must not be squandered.

One critical Conference debate will focus on the need for Labor to build a credible economic agenda. As Tom Skladzien argues, that does not mean slashing spending driven by a ‘surplus fetish’ or the imposition of arbitrary tax-to-GDP ratios. Instead we must ask: how can government best pay for the services Australians need and expect?

A progressive fiscal policy for Labor must address the revenue question. This is an absolute prerequisite to realising the society and public services we want to deliver. Jo Schofield rightly points out: if we accept an ever-shrinking tax base, progressives will end up squabbling over the ever-decreasing pool of revenue.

So how can Labor fund the program as that Australians need? Richard Dennis’s outlines four progressive revenue-raising measures.

Labor cannot lock itself into a low-revenue future and nor allow itself to be cast as a pale imitation of the Coalition. As Nadine Flood points out, the ALP must advocate a positive case for the role of over meant as an essential enabler of future jobs and prosperity.

Conference will feature several other key policy debates that will shape Labor’s approach in government. Asylum seekers, marriage equality, a fairer tax system that tackles corporate tax avoidance, housing affordability and tackling climate change are all high on the Left’s agenda.

Conference will also debate Labor’s core objective. It is a debate that seems to have been mainly conducted in the conservative press. While the case for change has not yet been made, we should always have the confidence to debate Labor’s purpose. In that spirit, we are publishing two competing views on the socialist objective.

The British election proved that even incompetent and hated governments can triump on the back of cynical fear campaigns. Being the least worst option will not lift Labor to government. Neal Lawson offers two lessons from the UK election.

Labor must grasp the vital opportunity offered by th 2015 National Conference. Facing a federal election, we must demonstrate our evolution as a modern, democratic movement with a positive policy vision for the future.

Originally appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of Challenge

The upcoming election of the ALP National President

The next few months will be extremely busy within NSW Labor with elections every month until ALP National Conference in July. After the NSW election at the end of March, there is automatically a ballot for State Parliamentary Labor Party leader in April. This will be followed by the election of a delegate from each Federal Electorate Council to National Conference in May and then there will be the ballot for the ALP National Presidency. Of all these elections, the ALP National President ballot is likely to be the most interesting.

The process

Under the ALP rules, the ALP National President and 2 National Vice-Presidents must be directly elected from and by Party members in the 12 months before each triennial National Conference in a single ballot by proportional representation with affirmative action (meaning at least one must be a woman and one must be a man) The candidate first elected is National President, the candidate second elected is National Senior Vice President, and the candidate third elected is National Junior Vice President.

The term of office for each position starts at the commencement of National Conference, and ends at the commencement of the next triennial National Conference. The ballot will take the form of a postal ballot and all party members who were financial at 31 December 2014 will be eligible to vote. Party units, union or MP resources will not be allowed for campaigning. It won’t be considered campaigning if all candidates are treated equally and given the same opportunity to submit supporting material that is circulated. A roll of voters will not be provided to candidates to try to limit campaigning. In previous National President ballots, candidates required at least 50 nominees, 10 nominees from five different states and territories. It is unclear if this will be a requirement.

Timeline

Milestone Date
States requested to send National Returning Office membership information Wednesday 31 December
Roll of eligible voters finalised Friday 16 January
Nominations open Monday 30 March
Nominations close Friday 17 April
Voting opens, ballot papers and candidate statements issued Monday 11 May
Voting closes, last day for ballot papers to be returned Friday 12 June
National President takes office at start of National Conference Friday 24 July

What is likely to happen?

The Left has traditionally topped the National Presidency ballot and seems likely to top the ballot again. The last National President ballot resulted in Jenny McAllister (Left) being elected President. Transport Workers Union National Secretary Tony Sheldon (Right) was elected Senior Vice President and Jane Garrett MP (Left) was elected Junior Vice President. An independent candidate came fourth after preferences followed by Senator Claire Moore (Left) and Gai Brodtmann MP (Right).

The Presidency ballot may be used as a mini-referendum on the future direction of the party. It seems likely that candidates for ALP National President from the Left may run on a platform that is the Left’s National Conference agenda, which will go beyond party reform. There may be added pressure as the numbers at National Conference are likely to be the closest that they have been in years. While no one has confirmed they are running, there are rumours about a former Cabinet Minister in the Gillard Government standing and another candidate running on a binding on marriage equality platform. Whatever does happens, the debates that occur during the ALP National President contest are likely to a forerunner to the debates we will see at July’s ALP National Conference in Melbourne.

UPDATE 10/03/15: Mark Butler is a declared Left candidate for National President after Greg Combet pulled out. The ALP Right is backing WA barrister Tim Hammond.

UPDATE 16/06/15: According to Troy Bramston in The Australian, left-wing Cabinet Minister Mark Butler looks set to win the ALP National Presidency with approximately 30.5% of the vote. Tim Hammond (Right) got 24.4%, Jane Garrett (Left) received 19.8%, Louise Pratt (Left) came fourth with 15.4% while Henry Pinskier (Right) was last on 8.9%.