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:


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.



  • 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.


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


  • 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.


Three observations about the Labour leadership election

For weeks Jeremy Corbyn had been expected to win the British Labour leadership race but the sheer scale of yesterday’s victory has shocked many.

While some thought it would go to a second round, Corbyn won in the first round with 59.5%. His closest competitor, Andy Burnham, only received 19%. It was a larger victory than Tony Blair’s in 1994 who won with 57% (although the selectorate was far larger in 1994).

It has left no doubt about Corbyn’s mandate amongst the Labour membership and the sheer number of registered supporters have quelled concerns about entryism.

Personally I am sceptical that Corbyn is the long term answer for Labour but neither were the other candidates. His victory does highlight, as Tim Lyons has noted, that the centre-left needs to deal with its inability to seek with moral clarity and a clear purpose. I can only hope that the disruption that his victory brings may force many within Labour to rethink and move on which it sorely needs to do.

There will be a plethora of thinkpieces about what Corbyn’s victory means over the next few weeks and months. It’s too early to tell what the long-term implications of his victory are but there are three quick observations I have from the leadership election based on the results.

1. The landslide victories were built on recruitment campaigns

Corbyn won 49.6% of the membership in the first round but he absolutely dominated the registered supporters section with 83.8%. The size of his victory amongst registered supporters is staggering but not a surprise.

Unlike the other leadership candidates, his campaign team actively recruited. Similarly Sadiq Khan actively recruited registered supporters and it helped to secure a landslide win over Tessa Jowell who was seen as the favourite to become the London Mayoral Candidate. She was well-regarded, had a good public profile and was associated with the successful London Olympics.

The moves by winning candidates to expand the selectorate reminds me of Canadian leadership elections. In the three major parties, members directly vote fo the leader and party memberships are actively sold to supporters during leadership contests by each campaign team. Those who can often recruit and organise the most supporters win.

The lesson for future Labour leadership elections will be the need for genuing organising and fieldwork and to bring potential supporters into the tent.

2. Union turnout was low

I have been sceptical of opt-in affiliation for unions and whether it would actually engage members of affiliated unions. While initial registration figures made me question my scepticism, the low turnout suggests that union member engagement, even amongst those who opted-in, was not high.

While turnout has not been officially revealed, based on those who registered to vote, only 48.2% of union members who opted in did. In contrast, 93.6% of registered supporters and 83.8% of members voted.

In the end, affiliated voters constituted only 16.9% of total votes (down from 27%) with 71,546. Rank and file members were 58.1% (up from 53%) and registered supporters made up 25% (up from 20%).

If there is no greater Labour Party engagement amongst affiliated union membership, it raises questions about what opt-in affiliation has really achieved beyond reducing funding from unions.

3. There will be a rethinking of support for primaries

The great irony of this result is that that the New Labour Right were the biggest advocates of primaries. They have admitted that it was an attempt to dilute left-wing member and union influence (through opt-in affiliation and primaries). Meanwhile the Left opposed the Collins Review that suggested recommended.

The problem is that their understanding of how primaries would work relied on America and the idea that a significant portion of the general population would participate. A better example to study would have been the party primaries run by the Italian Democratic Party (PD). The model was the same with a small fee and a pledge that voters needed to sign.

Academic studies have been done on participants in PD primaries, profiling them and their attributes. These studies found that participants have been more political than the average voter and more left-wing with no guarantee of party loyalty.

It is quite likely that the Labour Left will become converts to primaries whereas elements of the Labour Right will rethink their support. Already Dan Hodges has admitted that the Labour Right got it wrong.

There will be ripple effects here. It is likely to strengthen opposition to further democratisation of the Labor Party and the use of One Member One Vote being used to select leaders. Nick Dyrenfurth has already highlighted concerns about such a direct election model and is unlikely to be the only one to do so. The global trend, however, seems to be towards greater democratisation and primaries which poses a challenge for opponents.

Whatever does happen next, British Labour and social democratic politics will never be the same again after Corbyn’s victory.

Giving members of affiliated unions a vote in the ALP is not a new idea

Over the past few years there has been a growing push to change how the ALP-union link operates. The union bloc vote has been the target of many who seek to change the link. Their criticism is that it centralises power, particularly over pre-selections, in a handful of union secretaries rather than giving individual members of affiliated unions a say.

Rather than let union appointed delegates cast votes in pre-selections, a common proposal has been to give individual members of affiliated unions (who are not necessarily party members) a vote as part of an electoral college. It is an idea that has gained significant traction across the party with union leaders, former MPs and even pressure groups like Local Labor supporting the idea. What is mentioned far less, however, is that this is not a new idea.

Individual members of affiliated unions (who were not party members) who were on the electoral roll used to be able to vote in local ALP preselections along side rank-and-file members. The practice existed in Queensland until 1980, in NSW until 1954 and in Victoria until the Split in 1955. These “closed primaries” were widely advertised, this newspaper article about a Victorian ALP preselection from 1954 clearly stating that all ALP members and financial members of affiliated unions could vote and stating when and where the ballot was taking place.

One of the reasons that the practice was ended was because it was used to rort pre-selections. A piece published by the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History gave one such example:

Bob Holt, a former Minister for Lands in Victoria, claimed that when he was the local member for Portland, which he held from 1945-47 and again from 1950-55, local Liberal employers urged their workers who were members of affiliated trade unions to vote for him, regardless of whether they were ALP voters or not. These employers wanted a man from Warrnambool, where Holt lived, as their parliamentarian, and not a resident of Port Fairy, another town within the electorate.

Bradley Bowen provides a description of how the “closed primary” which was manipulated by unions, such as the ETU, in Queensland:

Before pre-selections, blank “certificate books,” which entitled each barer to a vote were given to trusted officials who used them to ensure the victory of favoured candidates.

It unlikely that these practices would occur if affiliated union members were given a vote today. Firstly, few, if any, are suggesting a return to one supporter one vote “closed primary” model. The experience of community preselections in NSW shows that the fear of organised entryism is overstated. The level of public scrutiny and likely backlash would also means that if any organised manipulation were to occur and be exposed, the results would be quickly overturned by the state Administrative Committee or National Executive.

But what this does highlight is that many of the debates about the party’s structure that are not new and neither are the reform proposals. It suggests that we should revisit the history of our party to have a greater awareness of past proposals and practices. Unless we do so, we are likely to be reinventing the wheel and overlook lessons the party has learnt in the past.

Only a small number of union members are opting into (British) Labour Party affiliation

I have previously written about the push to change how unions affiliate to the Labor Party. Currently unions affilate on behalf of their membership but there have been calls to change this so individuals must opt-in to be counted for affiliation. British Labour has adopted it and there are advocates within the ALP pushing for it to be embraced here.

The big question has always been: how many affiliated union members will opt-in? In the 2010 Labour leadership election, 238,618 union members cast a vote but over two million ballots were mailed out. Any opt-in process would mean the number of voters would fall significantly. Estimates had ranged from 25,000 to 80,000 but a recent news article suggests it might be lower.

The New Statesman has reported that in London, only 1,197 members of affiliated unions have opted in. To give some context, Labour’s largest affiliated union, Unite, has 200,000 members in London and the most recent publicly available data indicates that 21% of Labour Party members are in London.  With Labour’s membership now in excess of 220,000, affiliated union members seem likely to be less than 10% of the vote in the upcoming British Labour leadership contest.

There are still two months left for union members to opt-in for the leadership ballot with 12 August being the last day to register. It, however, seems that even 25,000 may not be reached considering Unite has only just started getting members to opt-in since the election.

If the number of union members that affiliate to British Labour for the contest is tiny, it seems likely that the enthusiasm for opt-in affiliation amongst many in the ALP will disappear. It is possible that it will evolve into a much clearer debate about whether the current labourist model should be ditched and the party should move to a One Member One Vote model. Each model has its problems and while “breaking the link” is often floated by those who decry trade union influence, the Nordic experience of cutting links shows that the result is not always predictable and may not be the best outcome.

Whoever wins in the British Labour leadership won’t really matter to the ALP but the number of union members who opt-in and participate in the election will. We should pay attention to the contest because it will shape the ongoing debate about the ALP-union link and whether the “labour party” model is truly dead.

UPDATE 16/6/15: GMB have said 10,000 members have registered as affiliated members and Unite is said to have similar numbers, however, Labour says only 2,500 have completed the process & paid a fee.

UPDATE 24/06/15: LabourList has been provided with the numbers of members and supporters. So far only 9,115 registered supporters and 3,788 affiliated supporters will be able to vote. Total Labour Party membership is 246,469.

UPDATE 12/07/15: Unite is claiming 50,000 members have opted in as affiliated supporters.

UPDATE 15/07/15: Unite has stated it is aiming to get 70,000 members to become affiliated supporters by August 12.

UPDATE 17/07/15: The Evening Standard is claiming it has seen figures suggesting 65,000 union members have registered.

UPDATE 12/08/15: The latest breakdown is 70,000 registered supporters (16%), 92,000 affiliated supporters (21%), 282,000 members (64%)

UPDATE 13/08/15: The Labour Party has revealed total figures of those who applied for a vote: Affiliated: 189,703, Registered: 121,295, Members: 299,755, Total: 610,753.

British Labour leadership election is the first big test of opt-in affiliation

Following its shocking election defeat on May 7, British Labour will be holding an election for a new party leader. Unlike previous elections, there is no obvious candidate and the field is likely to be wide open. The Labour leadership election will be held concurrently with London Mayoral candidate and Deputy Leader election with results announced at a special conference on September 12.

Importantly, it will be the first Labour leadership election since the end of the Electoral College model. MPs and union members will no longer have separate votes. Instead, a closed primary will be run where members, individual members of affiliated unions who opt-in and supporters who pay a small fee will be able to vote in a One Member One Vote system. The timetable and process for the elections are available here.

The most interesting aspect of the Labour leadership election (for those outside of the United Kingdom) will be how opt-in union affiliation works in practice. It is the first big test of opt-in union affiliation, which Ed Miliband brought in last year and may shape the debate in Australia. There are already a number of high profile advocates of opt-in affiliation within the ALP.

It is difficult to estimate the number of union members who will opt into affiliation. In the 2010 leadership election, approximately 240,000 union members voted. Union members were all sent postal ballots which would have increased turnout. It has been estimated that only around 10% will be the proportion of trade unionists that will opt-in, but it may be lower. According to Labour Uncut, estimates of the potential number of trade union voters have ranged from 25,000 to 80,000. Some though are predicting that union members could cast more than half of the votes (250,000 out of an estimated 400,000 voters) in the contest, though that seems unlikely.

Concerns were raised, before the election rules were finalised by the National Executive Committee, about how many union members had opted in. Labour’s largest affiliate, Unite, has said it had only just begun signing up members. A longer race means more time for unions to engage with their members and get them to opt-in. August 12 will be the last day to join as a member, opt-in as an affiliated member or register as a supporter.

Whatever the result is, the level of participation by union members in the British Labour leadership election is likely to influence debate here about opt-in affiliation and how much of a say affiliated unions get over preselections and National Conference.

Is opt-in union affiliation the future for the ALP?

In an address to the Light on the Hill Society yesterday, Senator John Faulkner called for a range of ALP reforms to be adopted. Along with Conferences being composed of 60% rank-and-file, 20% union and 20% Electorate Council delegates and the banning of binding, he called for affiliation to be an opt-in process by union members with all delegates to Conferences directly elected through proportional representation.

The idea of opt-in affiliation has been gaining traction recently. Greg Combet and Julia Gillard have both proposed opt-in affiliation in their recent books while Shadow Assistant Health Minister Stephen Jones MP previously wrote a piece for the Southern Highlands Branch newsletter advocating it and suggested it is inevitable.

Overseas, the British Labour Party agreed to move to an opt-in model in March with a transition period of five years. Irish Labour and the Canadian New Democratic Party also utilise an opt-in model. In the case of both those parties, the union member must also be a party member.

How does it work elsewhere?

Currently there are no unions that use an opt-in affiliation model in Australia. Some unions do not affiliate for their full numbers and at least one affiliated union has opt-out provisions. The main overseas examples of opt-in in Britain and Canada only provide some guidance for Australia as existing structures have been the product of particular historical circumstances.

British trade unions have separate funds for political activity (campaigning as well as affiliation). The existence of these separate funds are a legacy of Thatcher’s anti-union laws where unions are forced to ballot members every decade to continue funds for spending on political activities whether party political or not.

An example cited by British Labour leader Ed Miliband when he was making his case for opt-in affiliation was Unison’s opt-in affiliation model. It was created as opt-in because of the legacy of union amalgamations between affiliated and non-affiliated unions. Members tick upon joining whether they want to contribute to the affiliation fund, however, it is not always that simple in practice. Turnout in Unite’s recent ballot on its political fund was 18.6% which suggests the rate of opt-in affiliation might be around 15%.

In Canada, union affiliation occurred at a local level and unions never had the same role in the NDP as they did in the British Labour Party or Australian Labor Party. Founded in 1961 as a merger between unions and a social democratic party, the NDP gave the unions no block voting rights at party conventions or on the party executive and unions usually compromised 15-25% of Conference delegates. They are well-organised but very much a minority voice unlike British or Australian Labo(u)r.

Key issues

From a practical perspective, opt-in is doable but there a range of questions that will need be answered, most importantly, what are the rights of affiliated members? How will it be different to being a general party member? Should they get a say in who the leader or in preselections or officebearers? In Britain, affiliated members will get a say in the leadership ballot but not in preselections.

There would also be questions about directly electing union delegates under an opt-in model. For example, who will administer the elections, the electoral roll and what the rules will be around these elections. My guess is that it’s likely that delegates would be elected for multiple years and the elections would coincide with union election. The big question remains to who these delegates are ultimately accountable to. Are these delegates organisational representatives and should therefore be bound to decisions made at the union’s supreme governing body or are they elected as individuals? It is a broader question that will need to discussed.

Politically, a move to opt-in will be hard. Many unions feel that Labor only treats them as a cashcow and that this is primarily a attempt to weaken their influence. The move to opt-in in British Labour was agreed to on the provision that it would not reduce the overall union section of Conference. It suggests that any move to opt-in affiliation might only be possible if 50/50 was maintained.

Would maintaining 50/50 if opt-in affiliation is adopted be a bad thing? Not necessarily. It would rewards unions that put effort into organising their members. The fact that it is being phased in over five years does emphasise that any change will have to be gradual and there still are many issues to work through.

From the growing number advocates, it is clear that opt-in affiliation is a debate that will not be going away anytime soon and the ALP and unions will need to come to grips with it.

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.

Queensland Labor rejects 50/50

Over the weekend, Queensland became the latest state Labor branch to embrace the direct election model for ALP leader. An Electoral College that evenly divided votes amongst rank-and-file ALP members, the State Parliamentary Labor Party and affiliated unions (33/33/33) was adopted rather than the 50/50 model.

Unlike the rules adopted by Tasmanian Labor, affiliated unions will have their Conference delegates cast their votes. Unions will be able to ballot, or otherwise consult with their rank and file members, an approach that New Zealand Labour has adopted. New Zealand Labour lets each affiliated union decide if voting will be undertaken by union delegates to Conference or amongst the eligible membership of the union.

This morning, the Queensland Secretary of the National Union of Workers announced that all union members would be balloted to determine who is supported. I imagine that most other unions are likely to follow, however, there is no guarantee that all will adopt this approach. During the 2013 New Zealand Labour leadership election, only one union, the Service and Food Workers Union, conducted a ballot of its members in determining who it supported.

Some unions may get their delegates to cast the vote but in the long-term, it may not be teneable and would be criticised heavily. A rule change requiring unions to ballot members individually and allocate the results proportionally, similar to that adopted at the 1993 British Labour Conference, is likely to be put up.

While the campaign for the direct election of leader has nearly won, Queensland Conference demonstrates that the battle over what model is still far from over.

Comparing the rules of labour parties

The successful campaign to directly elect the ALP leader has meant there is widespread knowledge about how sister parties such as the British Labour Party and the Canadian New Democratic Party elect their leader.

There, however, continues to be limited knowledge about other internal aspects of our sister parties. Given the continuing debate over affiliation, the selection of delegates and the election of officebearers within the ALP, greater knowledge of how similar parties operate would improve the party reform debate.

The following tables are an attempt to provide some comparative examination of labour parties in the English-speaking world. It covers who can affiliate, how the allocation of Conference delegates is determined and how party officebearers are elected.

The information in these tables is based on most recent publicly available information.



Party Who can affiliate? How affiliation occurs? Other relevant clauses
UK Labour
  • Trade unions affiliated to the Trade Union Congress or considered bona fide trade unions
  • Co-operative societies
  • Socialist socieities
  • Other organisations which have interests consistent with the Labour Party
  • Organisations may, subject to the decision of the National Executive Committee, which shall be final and binding, affiliate to the party. Each affiliated organisation must:
  1. accept the programme, policy and principles of the party
  2. agree to conform to the constitution and standing orders of the party
  3. submit its political rules to the NEC
  • Political organisations not affiliated or associated under a national agreement with the party, having their own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, or possessing branches in the constituencies, or engaged in the promotion of parliamentary or local government candidates, or having allegiance to any political organisation situated abroad, shall be ineligible for affiliation to the party.
  • The panel of the NEC responsible for assessing applications from socialist societies to affiliate to the party shall have regard to procedural guidelines determined by the NEC, which are available from the Compliance Unit
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • Affiliation is open to trade unions, farm groups, co-operatives, women’s organisations and other groups
  • An application for affiliation must be made to the Executive and include:
  1. evidence that the organization officially supports the NDP and
  2. confirmation of the number of NDP members within the applicant organization
NZ Labour
  • An affiliate of the Party is any Trade Union or other organisation which has applied for membership, subscribes to the Constitution and Policy of the New Zealand Labour Party, and has been approved by the New Zealand Council
  • Affiliate membership shall be decided by a majority of votes cast of the affiliate and affiliation should be in accordance with the percentage of the votes cast. All members of an affiliate must be given adequate notice and an opportunity to vote on affiliation. The question of affiliation must be decided by either a ballot of the members of the affiliate proposing to affiliate or, in the absence of a ballot, by a method of formal determination that is certified as satisfactory for the purposes of proving proper procedures for formal determination of the question of affiliation
  • The names and addresses of members of affiliates shall be made available to the General Secretary of the New Zealand Labour Party for the purposes of inspection only, in connection with verifying the eligibility of affiliated members to take part in the constitutional processes of the party at electorate level. Such lists remain the property of the affiliate
Irish Labour
  • Trade unions, sections or divisions of unions that are not themselves group members, professional associations, co-operative societies and other organisations which subscribe to the Party’s Principles and Objects and accept this Constitution are eligible for group membership of the Party
  • Applications for group membership shall be made to the Executive Board. Every applicant for group membership shall make, through a duly authorised officer, a declaration that the group subscribes to the Party’s Principles and Objects and accepts this Constitution
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • All bona fide unions shall have the right to affiliate to the ALP
  • This right to affiliate shall not be impaired unless it can be demonstrated clearly that the relevant organisation is not a bona fide union or that the organisation has engaged in conduct that renders it unsuitable to be affiliated

N.B: Affiliation may change by the end of 2014 for British Labour, in line with the adopted recommendations of the Collins Report.

Conference delegations 

Party Rank-and-file delegation Union delegation Rules around delegations
UK Labour
  • 1 delegate for the first 749 individual members
  • 1 further delegate per additional 250 members or part thereof
  • Where the individual women’s membership in a
    constituency is 100 or more, an additional woman delegate may be appointed
  • 1 delegate per 5,000 members or part thereof
  • Where membership is less than 5,000, an additional woman delegate may be appointed if the women’s membership is 400 or more
  • Delegation should include women at least in the proportions in which they are represented in that organisation’s membership
  • at least every second delegate from a CLP shall be a woman; where only one delegate is appointed this must be a woman at least in every other year
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • 1 delegate per 50 party members
  • 1 delegate per 50 members
  • Canadian Labour Council entitled to 4
  • Unions with at least 1 affiliate entitled to 2
  • Provincial federation of labour with at least one affiliate shall be entitled to 2
  • Each affiliated labour council with at least one local affiliated shall be entitled to 2
  • Union delegations are based on number of affiliate members who are party members
NZ Labour
  • A minimum of 4 plus one more delegate for every 50 members or part thereof
  • 1 delegate for membership not exceeding 200
  • 2 delegates for membership from 201-500
  • 3 delegates for membership from 501-1000
  • 4 delegates for membership from 1001-1500 with 1 extra delegate and vote for each additional 500 members or part thereof
  • No affiliate may exercise more than 12 votes unless it is represented by at least four delegates
  • All delegations comprising of two or more delegates shall ensure that women are part of their delegation
  • Any such organisation that does not must justify their absence and will lose one vote. If no acceptable justification is provided they will lose all but one of their voting entitlement
Irish Labour
  • 2 delegates for membership not exceeding 10 with 1 additional for every 5 additional members and an 1 additional for every 10 affiliated individual members
  • Constituency members (members in an electorate who aren’t in a branch) elect the number of delegates they’re entitled to as if they were a branch
  • Less than 50 members – 1 delegate per 5
  • Above 50 but less than 500 – plus 1 per 10
  • Above 500 but less than 1000 – plus 1 per 15
  • For additional members above 1,000 – plus 1 per 20
  • Delegates are elected by group members, in accordance with the following scale of individual members of each group member who are branch members of the Party
  • In any election of more than one member or delegate to Party Conference, not fewer than 30% of those so elected are women and not fewer than 30% are men.
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • 12 per state plus twice the number of electorates in that state as at the previous 31 December
  • 2 per territory plus twice the number of electorates in that territory as at the previous 31 December
  • In Tasmania, 50% are elected by members in a postal ballot and the remained by state conference
  • In NSW, one delegate will be from each Federal Electorate Council
  • No separate union delegation to National Conference, elected from State Conferences.
  • In all states, the state conference shall comprise 50% union representatives and 50% constituency Party representatives
  • Not less than 40% of a union’s delegation shall be women, and not less than 40% shall be men. Provided that if the level of male or female membership of a union is less than 40%, the minimum representation shall be set at that level
  • It shall be the right of each union to determine the criteria and procedures for selection of its delegates, subject to those delegates being financial members of that union and of the Party
  • All elections, other than public office, for three or more positions, shall comply with the affirmative action model. Not less than 40% of such positions shall be held by women, and not less than 40% by men, provided that sufficient candidates of the relevant gender nominate. If the calculation to determine the basic entitlement results in a fraction of one half or more then the basic entitlement shall be the next higher whole number, and where it results in a fraction of less than one half it shall be the next lower number.

N.B: Union delegate numbers may change by the end of 2014 for British Labour, in line with the adopted recommendations of the Collins Report.

Election of Officebearers 

Party What officers How are they elected?
UK Labour
  • Chair
  • Vice-Chair
  • General Secretary
  • Treasurer
  • The General Secretary shall be elected by conference on the recommendation of the National Executive Committee (NEC)
  • NEC shall elect its chair and vicechair at its 1st meeting each year
  • Treasurer elected by an electoral college of votes from members by OMOV and by affiliates
Canadian NDP (national rules)
  • President
  • Vice President
  • Vice President Labour
  • Treasurer
  • National Director
  • President, treasurer is elected by all delegates
  • Vice President is elected by caucus of delegates of the linguistic language group other than the President’s i.e. if President is Anglophone, Vice is Francophone
  • Vice President Labour is nominated by a caucus of labour delegates and ratified by the Convention 
  • National Director appointed by Officers and raitifed by Council
NZ Labour
  • The President of the Party
  • A Senior Vice-President of the Party
  • A Maori Senior Vice-President of the Party
  • An Affiliate Vice-President of the Party
  • A Pacific Islands Vice-President of the Party
  • A Women’s Vice-President of the Party
  • A Youth Vice-President of the Party
  • A Rainbow Representative
  • General Secretary
  • All except the General Secretary are elected by the delegates assembled at the Annual Conference
  • The General Secretary shall be confirmed by Annual Conference and hold office on terms and conditions agreed with the New Zealand Council
Irish Labour
  • The Party Chairperson
  • Party Treasurer
  • General Secretary
  • Chairperson and Treasurer is elected by the Party Conference
  • The General Secretary is appointed by the Executive Board, following an open competitive process conducted under the authority of the Party Leader and with the approval of the Board
Australian Labor Party (national rules)
  • President, Senior Vice President, Junior Vice President
  • National Secretary
  • Assistant National Secretaries
  • The National President and 2 National Vice-Presidents must be directly elected by members 12 months before each triennial Conference in a single ballot by proportional representation
  • National Secretary shall be elected by the National Conference and re-elected at every second Conference
  • Assistant National Secretaries elected by the National Executive/li>


The Australian Labor Party is the only party that does not include a clause to allow affiliation by organisations that are not trade unions in its rules. All other parties specifically allow affiliation by non-industrial organisations.

The ALP is also the only party that has a fixed proportion of union delegates on Conference floor. Elsewhere, more members increases the size of Conference and the size of union and rank-and-file delegations are not automatically linked. Almost all others have a system where delegations are tied to the number of members (union and party). Depending on the exact rules, union delegations range from between 20% to 50% of Conference floor.

The Canadian NDP and Irish Labour also differ from other parties as the number of delegates from affiliates is based on the number of individual members of the party who are affiliate members. Both, however, are third parties, not one of the major parties in their parliamentary party system.

Interestingly, Australian Labor Party is alone in having the direct election of officebearers. All other parties elect their officebearers through Conference delegates or through the National Executive (or equivalent) of their party.

What this comparative exercise shows is that the ALP’s internal structure operates very differently from other labour parties in the English-speaking world. These differences should be acknowledged and understood when debating party reform to ensure a more informed discussion occurs.

Who “owns” political parties?

What are political parties? Are they a networks of people with shared values or the parliamentary representation of extra-parliamentary movements and groups? Are they member-led and run organisation or are they quasi-public institutions? Who should “own” them?

These are the questions that are not being discussed when we talk about reforming the internal structure of political parties. Before we can reform a party, we need to be clear about what it is. It influences who should have what say and why.

The recent debate in New South Wales Labor about the direct election of candidates is a classic example of how this question of who should “own” a party has been avoided. Instead it has been framed as dichotomy of a corrupt, bureaucratic (union) elite versus genuine rank-and-file activists.

While there are undeniably issues around who has power, there are two different conceptions of a political party at play. One sees the ALP as a representative of a social base and the other is a private organisation of individuals. Both are valid but have come into conflict, particularly as the Faulkner proposal sought to remove any union say in pre-selections.

Similarly, the debate over community preselections or “primaries” within the ALP is also a contest between two very different conceptions of a party. Supporters, not just members, have “ownership” through primaries. It conceives parties as a loose and open network of individuals who support a party. It arguably challenges the classic 20th century idea of a party where there is a rigid structure and discipline, where parties represent their extra-parliamentary members who select candidates and determine a platform for them to enact. It effectively makes a political party a quasi-public entity, very different to the idea of a private organisation “owned” by members, whether individual or affiliate.

My own views on who should “own” a party have and continue to shift. Personally I am sympathetic to the idea of direct elections by members only but at the same time I am torn because I increasingly doubt that is a viable option in the long-term. Party reform may help to stem the bleed but do we really think the party could recover to what it was a decade ago, let alone reach 100,000 members? I find myself agreeing with former Labor leader Mark Latham that Australia “will never return to an era of mass membership politics”, at least as we know it. We are in an age of shrinking (major) parties and fragmenting politics and unlike some continental European parties, Australia never had a culture of truly mass political parties to begin with.

As an example, ACT Labor which has 100% rank-and-file preselections and a more democratic and inclusive culture only has 1,200 members or 0.34% of the population as members. It also has the highest numbers of member per capita of all the state branches. Applying that proportion nationally would only get you to 80,000. It makes you wonder how Labor will ever get to 100,000 members nationally.

I don’t think there are any easy answers but acknowledging that the different sides of the reform debate have different conceptions of what a party is may be a starting point. Who knows, it may result in some movement on genuine ALP reform.