How many rank-and-file members does Labor currently have?

The number of rank-and-file members that our Australian political parties have is often a secret. Drawing on NSW Electoral Commission data, the Grattan Institute recently extrapolated a national ALP rank-and-file membership of 48,505.

Based on publicly available information, that appears to be an underestimation by over 10%. It is not surprise given the Greens membership was also undercounted by Grattan and knowing that multi-year memberships do not appear properly in the NSW Electoral Commission data that the extrapolation is based on.

So how many members does Labor have? Well let’s look at the available state and territory level figures.

We know that in mid-2019 Jodi McKay won the NSW Labor leadership in a ballot where 10,822 rank-and-file members voted. The ballot had a turnout of 61.5%, roughly meaning there were at least 17,596 members in NSW.

A range of other state membership figures have been cited in recent media articles:

  • A figure of 7,000 members was cited for Western Australia at the end of 2018.

Assuming membership levels are unchanged for Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia, if you combine the previously mentioned figures, the national total for ALP membership is at least 53,100.

It is likely to be higher for a few reasons such as that new members would not be eligible for leadership votes plus there is often a bump in party membership after election defeats such as in 2019.

In lieu of mandated public reporting, the next ballot for ALP National President is likely to be next time that the national membership figures (and possibly state breakdowns) get revealed to a public audience.

How have ALP rank-and-file membership numbers changed over time?

I often hear claims about how the British Labour Party is now the largest party in Western Europe with the number of new members cited. The numbers are impressive but also make me wonder how many members of Australian Labor Party are there and how it compares to the past. It is hard to know because membership numbers are a closely guarded secret.

Currently, the only state with available figures is New South Wales. It is only because New South Wales Electoral Commission provides details as part of the electoral disclosure regime. Registered political parties are required to disclose funds raised from membership fees and subscriptions. However, beyond New South Wales, there is no requirement for party membership numbers to be published.

The most recent official source for Australian Labor Party rank-and-file membership numbers is the 2010 National Review.

ALP membership 200210

It provided an overall indication of party membership across Australia between 2002 and 2010 but it did not delve into historical membership figures in the 20th century. Without that data, we do not know how large a decline there has been since the heyday of party membership.

The best available estimate of ALP rank-and-file membership numbers from the 20th century is from Andrew Scott’s 1991 book Fading Loyalties. Based on what fragments of data he could gather, Scott concludes that ALP membership peaked in the decade following the Second World War at around 75,000 and fell to less than 45,000 following the Split and never recovered (though there was some growth until Whitlam). While there was some growth in South Australia and Western Australia afterwards but it could not compensate for declines in New South Wales and Victoria.

ALPmembersandvoters

The problem with national figures, however, is they hide changes in state branches which can be significant over time.

The book Machine Politics in the Australian Labor Party provides rank-and-file membership numbers for each state and territory branch in 1980. While an approximation, it shows that even though the Australian population has grown by 67%, overall ALP membership numbers are stagnant.

The most recent publicly available figures, broken down by state branch, are from 2015 (though there is a national figure of 53,550 at the end of 2017). These were leaked to The Australian around the time of the National President ballot.

1980 2015 Change Change %
NSW          20,000          18,304 –       1,696 -8%
VIC          13,000          14,969          1,969 15%
QLD            5,500            9,328          3,828 70%
SA            8,050            3,836 –       4,164 -52%
WA            4,000            4,511            511 13%
TAS            1,730            1,144 –           586 -34%
ACT                800            1,500             700 88%
NT                400                338 –             62 -16%
Total          53,480          53,930             450 1%

From this comparative table, we can see that while national ALP membership has been fairly flat in raw numbers over the past three decades, there have been shifts in membership numbers within each state and territory branch.

It is clear from all these party membership figures that the ALP has never been a mass political party though some state and territory branches such as Queensland and the ACT are doing much better than others like SA and Tasmania. Why is something worth further investigation.

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.

UPDATE 14/11/18: The Australian reports that the National Right believes it will have at least 201 delegates with the National Left (excluding the Industrial Left) on 171.

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 State Executive of the ALP (SA) will create National Conference Election Zones (NCEZ).
  • The number of NCEZ will be equal to half the minimum number of rank and file delegates required to be elected from the rank and file allocated to South Australia by the National Rules.  If this calculation produces a fraction, the number will be rounded up.
  • For the election of rank and file delegates to the 2018 National Conference, the number of NCEZ will be 11, being the minimum number of rank and file delegates required by the National Rules divided by 2, which when rounded equates to 6 NCEZ.
  • When determining the NCEZ, the State Executive must ensure each NCEZ has, as near as practicable, equal numbers of ALP SA members, and  use existing boundaries, where possible, in this order of preference:
  1. State Electorate Boundaries
  2. Federal Electorate Boundaries
  3. Council boundaries.
  4. Other boundaries as determined by State Executive
  • Each NCEZ will have two (2) delegate positions elected by a proportional representation ballot with the voting method to be determined by State Executive.

     

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.

How has ALP factional influence changed since the 1980s?

In previous posts I have outlined the factional composition of the ALP at a state and national conference level. Those posts have focused on the previous decade. It is, however, worth understanding that the level of factional influence has changed significantly since the days of the early Hawke Government.

While there is a long history of factionalism in NSW, it was not until a series of interventions into state branches between 1970 and 1980 and the imposition of proportional representation that formalised factions truly started to emerge right across the country. In fact branches such as Western Australia and South Australia were largely unfactionalised until the 1980s.

Though the ALP Left had a rudimentary national organisation since the 1950s, there were no self-declared national factions until the 1984 ALP Conference when the National Centre-Left formed. The Labor Right had never organised beyond the state level and did not even have a formalised integrated national strategy by the end of 1986.

The following tables and charts illustrate my point. The first three tables are from a 1987 journal article National Factions and the ALP by Clem Lloyd and Wayne Swan. They provide an estimate of factional voting power at a national and state levels in 1986. Chart 1 is a compilation of publicly available figures from the 1984, 1986, 2002, 2004 and 2011 ALP National Conferences.

Table 1 – ALP National Factions (Voting Power expressed as a percentage)

National Right National Centre Left National Socialist Left National Non-aligned
National Executive before 1986 National Conference 39 28 33
National Executive after 1986 National Conference 43 21 36
National Conference 1984 30 28 41
National Conference 1986 41 19 39
National Parliamentary Labor Party (total) 41 24 27 7
Senate 29 29 38 4
House of Representatives 45 24 23 8

Table 2 – State and Territory Factions (Voting power expressed as a percentage

Centre Unity/Labor Unity Centre Left Socialist Left Centre (Qld) Non-aligned
Queensland 25

[Old Guard]

6 45 29

[AWU]

5
New South Wales 66 34
Victoria 43 7

[Vic Independents]

50
Tasmania 22 16 49 13
South Australia 15 40 45
Western Australia 30 30

[Centre Coalition]

36 4
Northern Territory 45 24 23 15
Australian Capital Territory 40 10 47

Table 3 – ALP Ministers (Factional voting power expressed as a percentage)

Centre Unity/Labor Unity Centre Left/Vic Independents Socialist Left Non-aligned
National (Cabinet) 47 41 12
National (Ministry) 41 37 15 7
New South Wales 70 25 5
Victoria 32 21 32 15
South Australia 54 15 31
Western Australia 22 33 11 34


Chart 1 – Breakdown of ALP National Conference delegates by faction (factional voting power expressed as a percentage)

alpconfchart

There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from these tables.

Firstly, since the 1980s there has been a massive shift in factional voting power, particularly since the Centre-Left has ceased to exist. The Left has improved its position in Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Northern Territory and Tasmania. The Left has lost ground while the Right has gained ground in South Australia and Victoria. Though the Left has gained considerably, the Right gained enough to get an outright majority in the mid-2000s at a national level. The base of that majority has been its control of New South Wales.

Secondly, the sidelining of unaligned party members by factions is not a recent phenomenon at all. Arguably the Centre-Left swallowed up much of what was the unaligned vote in becoming a faction, which in turn has been swallowed up by the Left and Right. Swan and Lloyd (1987) noted that:

At the national level, the unaligned component, which was quite important even five years ago, has diminished in influence. Non-aligned delegates have disappeared from the National Conference and the National Executive.

Since the rise of national factions in the early 1980s, the level of influence by various factions has changed dramatically. Factionalisation and polarisation has spread to the rest of the country from the eastern states. The level of influence each faction will continue to change over the coming years.

The move towards greater direct elections is likely to mean less factional stability as greater contestability is introduced and increased levels of proportionality associated with these direct elections could result in the creation of new groupings. This will all depend on what occurs at the ALP National Conference in July where party reform will be debated.

How are state and territory ALP conferences structured?

The question of party reform is likely to dominate the upcoming ALP National Conference in July. While reform is undoubtedly needed, much of the commentary will be based on inaccurate information, in part because knowledge about party structures is not widespread.

It is important to understand that each state branch of the ALP has its own distinct structure. It can vary wildly from state to state. In some states, unions aren’t actually 50% of conference floor and in others committee members and the parliamentary party get many delegate spots. Furthermore, unions are not guaranteed 50% of the delegates at National Conference, “union delegates” are only elected indirectly through state and territory conferences.

This table from an ALP National Secretariat document provides a good overview of how each state and territory branch structures their conference:

State/Terr Conference/Convention NSW Vic Qld WA SA Tas ACT NT
Annual frequency 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1
Specified timing Oct May, Oct Jun None None Aug Jun/Jul Jun
Union delegates 445 300 211 150 100 100 92 33
— as percentage of total 50.0% 49.5% 50.0% 50.0% 50.0% 46.7% 46.5% 43.4%
FEA/FEC delegates 144 300 194 0 0 100 0 0
— allocation of delegates Fixed: 3/FE Proportional Ratios: 9,7,5/FE n/a n/a Fixed & Prop. n/a n/a
— elected how FE Councils Direct Direct n/a n/a Direct n/a n/a
— elected when Apr, annual Jul/Aug, odd yrs Every 3 yrs n/a n/a May, annual n/a n/a
State/terr electorate delegates 186 0 0 0 92 0 0 0
— allocation of delegates Fixed: 2/FE n/a n/a n/a Prop. Max 4/SE n/a n/a n/a
— elected from SE Councils n/a n/a n/a Direct n/a n/a n/a
Apr, annual n/a n/a n/a Aug, odd yrs n/a n/a n/a
Local branch delegates 0 0 0 148 0 0 92 33
— allocation of delegates n/a n/a n/a Proportional n/a n/a 0.1/member 0.1/member
— elected when n/a n/a n/a  Aug/Sep, annual n/a n/a May, annual < Sep, annual
Delegates elected postal or in person Person Person Person Person Person Postal Person Person
Total geographic member delegates 330 300 194 148 92 100 92 33
— as percentage of total 37.1% 49.5% 46.0% 49.3% 46.0% 46.7% 46.5% 43.4%
FPLP Caucus — elected 16 2 1 1 0 1 3 2
FPLP Caucus — ex officio 0 2 0 0 1 1 0 0
SPLP (or TPLP) Caucus — elected 16 0 0 1 0 1 0 0
SPLP (or TPLP) Caucus — ex officio 0 2 2 0 1 2 8 2
Entire caucus are delegates No No No No No No Yes Fed only
Municipal delegates 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 0
— method n/a n/a 1 Ex off, 2 elect n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Total parliamentary delegates 32 6 6 2 2 5 11 4
— as percentage of total 3.6% 1.0% 1.4% 0.7% 1.0% 2.3% 5.6% 5.3%
Admin/officials 34 0 5 0 2 1 0 0
— method All Admin n/a Ex officio n/a State Sec, Pres State Sec n/a n/a
Policy 27 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
— method Ex officio n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Women’s 3 0 3 0 0 0 0 3
— method Ex officio n/a Direct n/a n/a n/a n/a Elect conf
Young Labor 16 0 3 0 4 2 3 3
— method Elected YL conf n/a Elected YL conf n/a Direct2 Direct postal Elect YL AGM Elect conf
Indigenous 0 0 0 0 0 6 0 0
— method n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a Elect, fixed/FE n/a n/a
Platform Committee 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
— method Ex officio n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Total policy/party delegates 83 0 11 0 6 9 3 6
— as percentage of total 9.3% 0.0% 2.6% 0.0% 3.0% 4.2% 1.5% 7.9%
Total delegates 890 606 422 300 200 214 198 76
Nat Conf delegates 108 86 72 42 34 22 6 6
— per State/Terr conf delegate 8 7 6 7 6 10 33 13
Nat Conf delegates elected how 56/44% SC/FEs 100% Conf 100% Conf 100% State Exec 100% Conv 50/50% SC/DE 100% Conf 100% Conf

1 ‘Person’ includes ballots with a postal provision for regional areas.
2 SA YL treated as a state electorate, 4 is assuming maximum allocation.
3 In some branches, union votes are weighted so the number of delegates present at conference will be less.

One thing that is clear from the table is that NSW has the least rank-and-file input into its conference and those delegates are a) not directly elected and b) the allocation is fixed, not proportional. It is a gerrymander that is out of line with all other states. A change to that structure will have flow on effects nationally.

With a clearer understanding of how the structure of the ALP actually works, it will be easier to identify the real barriers to a democratic party and push a more effective reform agenda.

Changes in Labor’s factional composition

There’s been renewed interest in a piece I wrote a few months ago after an article in The Guardian suggested the Right may lose its majority at the upcoming ALP National Conference. Whether it happens hinges on upcoming delegate elections in NSW and Victoria.

One question I have been asked is what changes have resulted in this situation. While there is some publicly available information about factional breakdowns in the ALP, it is fairly limited. For example, it was widely reported that at the 2011 Conference, the Labor Right had 218 of 400 delegates. There was, however, little information about how the state breakdowns.

The most notable piece on the factional composition within the ALP is Wayne Swan and Clem Lloyd’s journal article ‘National factions and the ALP’. Published in 1987 in the Australian Journal of Political Science, it gave a history of the rise of nationally organised factions and provided a comparative breakdown by state over 1984-1987. It is, however, of limited use today as a guide to factional compositions.

A better starting point to chart the change in ALP factional composition over the past decade is Xandra  Faulkner’s Ph.D. thesis, The Spirit of Accommodation: The Influence of the ALP’s National Factions on Party Policy 1996–2004. The thesis provides a breakdown of delegates from the 2002 Special Rules Conference in Canberra.

The 2002 Conference instituted a number of party reforms including instituting 50/50 at state conferences, directly electing the National President and also expanded National Conference to 400 which had an impact from 2004 onwards. Many of the more far-reaching reforms proposed by the Left were blocked as due to opposition from the Independents Alliance (Centre-Left) and Right.

In table below, I’ve drawn on data from her thesis and added a percentage breakdown:

Table 1. National Factions at the 2002 National Conference

NSW % VIC % QLD % SA % WA % TAS % ACT % NT % Total %
Right 47 73.4% 15 39.5% 12 38.7% 8 38.1% 5 25.0% 5 31.3% 1 25.0% 1 25.0% 97 48.3%
Left 17 26.6% 18 47.4% 13 41.9% 12 57.1% 9 45.0% 9 56.3% 2 50.0% 2 50.0% 82 40.8%
Centre-Left 0 0.0% 5 13.2% 6 19.4% 1 4.8% 6 30.0% 2 12.5% 1 25.0% 1 25.0% 22 10.9%
Total 64 100% 38 100% 31 100% 21 100% 20 100% 16 100% 4 100% 4 100% 201 100%

It seems the big change since 2002 has been the demise of the Centre-Left around the 2004 Conference. Much of their vote seems to have gone to the Left (particularly in WA and Tasmania).

Of note is that the Left has significantly increased its share in NSW. Gains, however, have been offset by losses in Victoria. The Right has gained significant ground in Victoria over the past decade at the expense of both the Left and Centre-Left (particularly as the National Union of Workers has rejoined Labor Unity in Victoria).

While the Left seems to have gained the most from the demise of the Independents Alliance, the Right gained enough to get an outright majority, first on National Executive in 2004 and then at the 2007 ALP National Conference.