Category Archives: Factions

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.

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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.

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.

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%.

ACT Labor’s coming Senate preselection battle

Earlier this week, Labor Senator Kate Lundy announced that she would be stepping down as a Senator for the ACT after 18 years. It has led to frenzied speculation about who might replace her with no clear successor and competition likely to be fierce.

Unlike most other ALP branches, ACT Labor conducts all preselections by a 100% rank-and-file ballot. While the Left holds a majority on the Conference floor, this is primarily due to the size of union delegations. The largest union in the ACT, the Community and Public Sector Union is affiliated to the Left and larger unions that are traditionally in the Right elsewhere such as the Transport Workers Union are aligned to the Left Caucus or are relatively much smaller (AWU, SDA, NUW).

The recent ballot for ACT President gives an indication of the breakdown of active rank-and-file membership and potentially the results. Approximately 63% of party members participated in the ballot and the Left Caucus’ candidate Louise Crossman topped the poll on primaries with 214 (34%). The Independents faction’s candidate Tom McMahon can second with 195 (31%), the Centre Coalition’s Jennifer Newman received 157 (25%) and non-aligned candidate John Kilcullen received 56 votes (9%). No factional grouping has an outright majority so preferences will matter. For a candidate to be successful, they will need to appeal to the other groupings.

The eligibility to vote will be much tighter for preselection so there will be a smaller pool of voters. Anyone who was a member could vote for President while those voting in preselections will need to be a member for more than 12 months and attended 3 meetings in one year (or 6 over 2 years). The requirements are less strenuous for those who have been a member for a longer period of time with only 2 meetings required for between 5 and 10 years membership and only 1 if a member for 10 years or more.

A big unknown factor will be the timetable and process for preselection. Many inactive members are likely to attend meetings to get preselection rights and whether pre-poll and postal voting is available will affect turnout. For example, half of the voters in the Presidential ballot voted by postal ballot.

Whatever occurs, it is likely to be a vigorous contest between the three groups and the candidate each grouping backs will matter significantly.

UPDATE 5/12/14: Katy Gallagher has announced she will seek preselection for the upcoming Senate vacancy. Given that Bill Shorten and Penny Wong approached her, it’s likely she will have no or minimal opposition.

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.

Mapping the left-wing of global social democracy

Whether called factions, currents, tendencies or platforms, there are often organised and sometimes formalised left-leaning groups within or seeking to pressure social democratic parties. Within the Australian Labor Party, it’s the Labor Left but what about elsewhere in the world?

While factionalism does not exist to the same extend within British Parliamentary Labour Party, there are left-wing pressure groups such as Compass, Next Generation Labour and those much further to the left such as the Labour Representation Committee. There are others that organise slates for internal elections such as Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. In Scotland, there is the Campaign for Socialism.

In other sister labour parties, left-wing groups have emerged and disappeared. For example, inside Irish Labour, left-wing members established the Campaign for Labour Policies trying to outline an alternative to the austerity agenda being pursued by the current Fine Gael-Labour Coalition Government. In Canada, there was the New Politics Intiative that believed the New Democratic Party was moving too far to the Right and sought to integrate social movements into the party that disbanded in the mid-2000s.

Outside of the English-speaking world, left-wing groupings are far less known due to language barriers.

The German Social Democratic Party, for example, has a Parliamentary Left grouping that has existed since the 1970s and an aligned think-tank, Forum Democratic Left (DL21).

Other more factionalised social democratic parties have a more diverse range of left-wing groups that appear and disappear. Within the French Socialist Party,  there appear to be a range of other institutionalised left-wing groupings at a party and youth level. The main left faction appears to be Maintenant la gauche who have opposed Hollande’s austerity agenda. Another recent notable grouping to emerge is the Socialistes Affligés led by former MEP Liem Hoang Ngoc and university professor and Guardian columnist Philippe Marliere which includes those outside of the French PS who are seeking a possible “red-rose-green” alliance to force a left turn and avoid emulating PASOK.

Some other parties have recognised factions exist and incorporated their recognition into party rules. For example, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) has recognised the Izquierda Socialista or Socialist Left faction and even provides space on the party website. Under the Italian Democratic Party’s rules, groups can be established and can operate autonomously. They have been actively promoted as it has sought to become a broad-based party that includes all those from the centre to the left. The main left-wing grouping that currently exists is Remake Italy.

Given the known links between the moderate or “right-wing” of social democratic and labour parties (e.g. Labor Right and British Labour’s Progress) and the transfer of ideas via these relationships, the social democratic left should also seek to identity the “left-wing” of sister parties, build and strengthen these relationships.

UPDATED 16/08/17: The list would now obviously include Momentum but also soft left groups like Open Labour within British Labour.