What is the factional breakdown at Labor Conferences?

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
National Presidents 2 3
FPLP Leaders 2 4
AYL 1 3
FPLP 3 6
NSW* 43 109
NT 3 7
ACT 4 7
QLD 37 73
SA 13 35
Tas* 17 23
Vic 40 87
WA 27 43
Total 191 400

* 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.

UPDATE 31/07/17: The industrial bloc, bits of PLUS and one of the CEPU have formed an Active Left faction.


Campaign to reform NSW Young Labor launched

Having written about the need to reform Young Labor in the past, I was pleased to find out that NSW Young Labor members have launched a campaign to reform NSW Young Labor and introduce One Member One Vote (OMOV). The campaign was launched with open letter to the NSW ALP General Secretary calling for democratisation.

New South Wales is the only state branch of Young Labor that not directly elect its Executive or Office Bearers through OMOV. All the other branches, regardless of whether the Right or Left faction is in the majority, use OMOV either through an AGM ballot or postal vote.


Table 1. Election methods: Young Labor – States and Territories.

State Model Process Eligibility Participation Test
NSW   Executive Ballot Executive Members only  
TAS One Member One Vote Postal Ballot All YL Members Financial for 6 months and attendance at 2 official meetings of party units in two years.
QLD One Member One Vote Postal Ballot All YL Members 6 months membership plus a member of a QLD Labor Branch
VIC One Member One Vote AGM Ballot/Postal vote for rural and regions All YL Members Must preregister for AGM
WA One Member One Vote AGM Ballot All YL Members Member at close of roll
ACT One Member One Vote AGM Ballot All YL Members Member of ACT Sub-branch, 3 months and attended an ACT Young Labor Meeting
SA One Member One Vote AGM Ballot All YL Members Member at close of rolls

There are many arguments for OMOV such as driving cultural change and increasing member participation but the simplest reason for it was put by Dom Anderson and Dannie Grufferty in an article for LabourList earlier this year:

The fact of the matter is that if you don’t believe each of your members deserve a say, then you neither trust, nor truly respect them.

If you are a NSW Young Labor member, please consider joining the campaign. Without democratic reform of all our party’s institutions, it will be far harder to end the party’s toxic culture of dealing and factionalism.

Left takes the lead on Australian Young Labor Reform

One area in desperate need of reform that does not receive enough attention is Young Labor. I have previously written about the need to reform Young Labor. It operates in a way that is detrimental to our movement and shapes a toxic, machine driven culture within the Labor Party. It has been treated as a sandbox for far too long and been ignored when party reform is discussed.

Positively, the National Young Labor Left is showing signs that it wants to take a national Young Labor reform agenda seriously and have recently published a discussion paper on how to reform Australian Young Labor.

Proposals include direct election of all positions through a One Member One Vote (OMOV) postal ballot, consistent eligibility across the country, autonomous elections of Women’s Officer and other positions, reforming the structure of Australian Young Labor conference and making Young Labor a more independent entity.

There are some healthy Young Labor branches. It is no surprise that healthier branches such as Tasmania have used OMOV for a considerable time. Others that have recently adopted it such as Queensland have seen higher turnout, attempts to engage non-aligned members and a more proportional outcome.

Victoria has also attempted to reform Young Labor, the move to reform it only failing because there was no absolutely majority at the last Victorian Conference due to SDA opposition.

NSW Young Labor unfortunately appears to be the major hold out. It is absurd that members are able to directly elect the ALP National President (and soon the party leader) but not the NSW Young Labor President or the rest of the NSW Young Labor Executive. They continue to be elected through a Conference modelled on ALP Conferences based on equal branch delegates and affiliated unions, something no other Young Labor branch does. It is effectively a rigged system (established after the NSW Right takeover in the early 90s) that removes possibility of the Right losing power.

It is a good sign that Victoria and Queensland, states where the Left does not have a majority, have accepted the need for Young Labor reform. New South Wales and the national body will not be able to hold out from the tide of OMOV forever. The sooner that OMOV and reform is accepted, the better for Young Labor and the ALP more broadly.

Why reforming Australian Young Labor matters

Across the world, the declining electoral fortunes of social democratic parties have led to internal discussions about the need for party reform. From Refounding Labour process in the United Kingdom to New Zealand Labour’s organisational review to the adoption of an open primary to determine the French Socialist Party’s Presidential candidate, there is an acknowledgement that social democratic parties need to change. In Australia, the National Review has framed much of Labor’s debate about party reform and what kind of change is needed.

Since the National Review’s release, there have been many discussions about the merit of primaries, direct election of President and National Conference delegates and the role of unions. However, there has been one glaring omission from ALP reform debate. Absent from the National Review was any mention of the role of young people currently within the ALP or how to keep them in the ALP. In particular, nothing was said about the current state of Young Labor.

Young Labor has a mixed reputation depending on who you talk to. Some think of Young Labor as a joke, others highly regard it as providing the on-the-ground campaigners that help win elections. Whatever one thinks of it, excluding Young Labor from the reform discussion ignores an important fact. Young Labor shapes a large section of the party membership. Many future parliamentarians, ministers and party leaders are a product of Young Labor. How people learn to operate in Young Labor, what they experience and what behaviours are normalised often shape how they act in later years. Sadly, Angus Oehme quite accurately highlighted some typical behaviour you would find in many (but not all) Young Labor branch across the country. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, even worse behaviour has been highlighted in the media many times in past.

While the National Review spoke about the “need for a change to long established patterns of behaviour and culture,” it did not recognise that much of that culture and many of those behaviours are shaped and reinforced by people’s experiences in Young Labor. Changing the culture of Young Labor is likely to lead to cultural change elsewhere in the party. The starting point to change that culture is reforming Young Labor through introducing direct elections by rank-and-file members at all levels.

By introducing direct elections, individuals running for positions will need a platform and talk about what they will deliver if elected to a larger electorate of members. People will need to present their case and convince people to support them on the basis of merit as they cannot just buy off a handful of people with positions. It will encourage a shift towards focusing on values and campaigning on issues that matter to young people such as improved education policies, affordable renting, marriage equality, abolition of youth wages rather than whether you control a handful of the fifty-two Australian Young Labor National Conference delegates.

A shift from an insular behind-the-scenes approach towards a more outward approach of engagement and campaigning should be encouraged within the ALP. It will encourage a culture of greater accountability to members and in the long-run the party will be better off as it encourages the development of those important skills needed during election campaigns and in Government.

The direct elections should be conducted under one member one vote (OMOV) system. A vote should be given to every single party member under the age of 27 so they all have a say in who their local, state and national Young Labor Executives and Office Bearers are and who their delegates to Young Labor, State Labor and National Labor Conferences are. The move by the NSW ALP to adopt an online vote for the newly established Policy Forum and its use for City of Sydney community preselection shows how directly electing these positions could work, addressing possible concerns about the logistics of direct elections.

Young Labor reform is far from impossible. Young Labour in the United Kingdom has gone through a democratisation process, moving from an appointed Chair and towards direct elections in a number of years. It actually would be far easier than reforming the rest of the ALP as the ALP National Executive has the power to reform Young Labor and bring about this change. Reforming Young Labor must be seriously considered, the future of the party might just depend on it.

We are all AUF and Norwegians

There are few words that describe how I feel reading about what happened in Norway at the Labour Youth (AUF) summer camp. Frightening, sickening and horrifying are words that come to mind but it cannot capture how I feel. I never imagined targeted political violence against young social democrats in a Western liberal democracy such as Norway.

It is a tragedy that is being felt beyond Norway. At the moment, I’m on my way to the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY) World Festival in Austria. It is a political summer camp, just like the one that the AUF held on Utoya. The AUF is an affiliate to IUSY and were going to have a delegation at the festival. The feeling of absolute shock and disbelief has been widespread amongst others traveling to the festival.

What makes the events in Utoya so upsetting is knowing you share a similar beliefs and values with activists in the AUF. Many of them would not be that different to me or many other young members of the ALP. It happened at an event that you would have been at if you were Norwegian. The terrorist attack on the AUF feels like orchestrated violence against all young social democrats and their values. The statement by by IUSY, captured this sentiment:

The attack on AUF is an attack on all of us, our values and principles.

There are still many questions left unanswered and answers may not be known for some time. One thing that we can do though is to give our solidarity and condolences to the AUF. The thoughts of the world are with AUF members and their families. For the moment at least, we are all AUF activists and Norwegians