Who are the ALP Left candidates for the National Policy Forum?

Voting is now open for Labor’s National Policy Forum (NPF). Modelled off British Labour’s Policy Forum, the NPF meets regularly to discuss policy, hear from a range of speakers and to help draft Labor’s National Platform in between the triennial National Conference.

The National Policy Forum has twenty rank-and-file representatives who are directly elected. Other voting members include the Federal Parliamentary Party Leader and the National President (who are co-chairs), two Deputy Chairs and a Secretary elected by National Conference, the National and Assistant National Secretaries, the National President of Young Labor, twenty affiliated union representatives and twenty federal MPs.

If you have been a member for at least a year prior to the calling of NPF nominations, you should have received an email today to cast your vote. Unlike the President or party leader elections, it is a digital by default ballot but you can request a postal vote. Voting for the NPF closes on 2 December so there is still some time.

There is often a dearth of information about who is who when these larger direct election ballots occur as not everyone has a large profile. To make things a bit clearer, the following is a list of known ALP Left candidates running for rank-and-file National Policy Forum spots in each state and territory.

 

NSW

Sinead Simpkins

Cameron Murphy

Verity Firth

Nuatali Nelmes

 

ACT

Ella Factor

 

VIC

Onagh Bishop

Mark Kettle

Jamie Gardiner

Damien Kingsbury

Max Costello

Steve Brown

Oliver Squires

 

SA

David Pearson

 

NT

Pat Honan

 

QLD

Nick Thompson

Laura Fraser-Hardy

 

TAS

Adam Clarke

 

WA

Dominic Rose

Tom Palmer

 

If I have made any mistakes or inadvertently left a candidate off this list, please let me know and I will amend the list.

 

UPDATE: The list of elected National Policy Forum members can be found here.

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Why isn’t there a regular broad Left Conference?

A few months ago, the annual ALS Freidman Conference was held in Sydney. It is a get together of hundreds of classical liberals and libertarians regardless of their party affiliation. It got me thinking that though the Left often has conferences, there is no equivalent centrepiece event.

While there are left-wing conferences, there is often a focus on techniques rather than ideas. The largest frequent conferences, organised by Australian Progress, tend to be more about campaigning strategies and tactics rather than ideology. There have been other conferences more focused on ideas but they have been one-offs or party-centric such as Labor’s Progressive Australia, the Greens Reboot or SEARCH’s Left Renewal Conference.

It seems odd that there seems to be a lack of an ideological conference culture on the Left in Australia. Where events about ideas and policy do occur, they seem to be either academic or exclusive and small rather than seeking involvement and a mass audience. Maybe it is because the yardstick for comparison is somewhere like the United Kingdom where the Fabian Society and other organisations host regular conferences and are not held back by geographic distances. Maybe it once existed locally but disappeared as the institutional Left started to shrink.

I do, however, think there is appetite for a regular, pluralist Left conference about future we want that is not bogged down by partisan or factional squabbles or be stuck in the past. Ideas, policy and ideology matter because what is the point of strategy and tactics if we don’t have end goals?

There are a range of topics that need to be debated whether it is the challenge of generational politics, whether we can rebuild solidarity, organising around housing affordability, tackling inequality in all its forms, fighting climate changing, how to get a treaty, aiming for a six hour work week and universal basic income.

Any conference should seek to push boundaries and build better relationships amongst the broader Left. It should also be fun, forward looking and more like a festival, incorporating art, music and culture. Something exciting like The World Transformed rather than the usual talkfests where we hear from the same people who already have a platform. It also needs to be engaged beyond the traditional Left and avoid just having the same older set of speakers we hear all the time.

Organising a big festival-like conference is easier said than done and it will probably be better to start small and scale up but a regular event should be on the agenda for the Left so there can be a proper organised space for debating and exchanging ideas that cuts across the silos that do exist.

Battling the Pauline Hanson battler myth

The big surprise of the recent federal election was the success of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party. Not only was Hanson elected but three other One Nation Senators were as well. Their election has led to much soul searching about Hanson’s ongoing appeal, and public discussion about how to respond.

A recent SBS Insight episode suggested that those who voted for Hanson predominantly were disillusioned with the major parties and believed Hanson had a passion and authenticity that the others lack. Hanson benefitted from the perception that she is a political outsider who speaks for ‘ordinary Australians’.

This affirmed polling by Essential Research that found 62 per cent thought she speaks for a lot of ordinary Australians and 65 per cent thought she spoke about issues politicians are too scared to tackle.

It is ironic that Hanson thrives on the perception that she is an authentic outsider against ‘the system’ when in fact she is part of that system. Think about how she is constantly given paid platforms by television networks.

She hasn’t been silenced by ‘the system’, her voice is heard and has been amplified. She is also no amateur, she is a professional and knows exactly what she is doing. She is not some ‘battler’ being picked on, and that needs to be emphasised.

The resonance of Hanson’s message goes beyond being seen as an outsider. Part of it also comes from her portrayal of her views as ‘common sense’. Her perspective is never complicated or sophisticated; it is matter of fact, and based on practical intuition. Think back to her maiden speech and her comparison of immigration to being allowed to choose who she invites into her home.

A good recent example of how Hanson uses ‘common sense’ was her comments about squat toilets in the Tax Office. Her simple message was that if you cannot figure out how to use something as simple as a toilet, how can you know how to run something complex like a tax system?

Her messages are not based on facts, so fact checking is pointless, as are overtures to diversity or that it does not matter. They are simple ‘common sense’ messages, so they cut through.

That ‘common sense’ approach thrives in the current media landscape and explains why it favours populists. Simple messages cut through the noise and grab media attention, in an era where resources for serious journalism are limited. It is a vicious cycle where the media and populists have an almost parasitic relationship.

While Hanson is not the only One Nation senator, the party’s success has always been reliant on her. There has been increasing scrutiny of some of the other One Nation senators but it seems unlikely to damage the party. One Nation, like other similar parties, is reliant on a charismatic figure. As Ben Moffitt points out, populist parties tend towards extreme personalisation where party leaders ‘speak for, represent and embody the hopes, desires and voice of ‘the people’. The re-branding of the party as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation is a case in point. So long as One Nation and Pauline Hanson are seen as synonymous, the other senators might cause some embarrassment but will not undercut the party’s base level of support.

Given all of this, how should those who want to challenge Hanson respond? Firstly, Hanson and One Nation should not be indulged, but the broader concerns of her voters should be acknowledged. Acknowledging is not the same as agreeing.

The myth that she is an authentic outsider also needs to be challenged. She is not some poor downtrodden member of society, but very much a part of the system and a beneficiary of it.

The attempts to correct her using facts or talking up the benefits of what she opposes should stop. When responding to Hanson, don’t fact check; point out how her view’s lack ‘common sense’ and respond to them on that basis.

Finally, try to avoid giving attention that aids her. Every time she says something and we feed the frenzy, she gets more attention from the media, which ultimately aids her. Nuanced replies on her terrain do not win.

All of this is easier said than done, but relying on reasoning or facts will not undercut Hanson’s appeal.

Published in Eureka Street on 16 September 2016

Why we need Comment is Free Australia to be better

I’ve been a fan of Guardian Australia since it launched in 2013 and think it has shifted the tone of public conversation in Australia. Its coverage of federal politics and investigative journalism has been great in the short time it has existed and has improved as time as passed. It may not be as well resourced as News or Fairfax but it has punched above its weight and it was why I decided to start paying for it. One thing I have noticed though is that I am far less enamoured that I used to be with Comment is Free Australia.

When it first launched, I really enjoyed Comment is Free Australia because it provided an outlet for a range of voices that weren’t heard that were both articulate and interesting. It still does that and provides some great perspectives, for example, voices like Van Badham, Jason Wilson and Jeff Sparrow. It was refreshing to see voices to the left of social liberalism and other very different perspectives in the mainstream media but it feels far less common than it once was.

Maybe it was the different focus of the previous Comment Is Free editor or a decision by Guardian Australia to focus on a set cohort of regular writers or maybe it is just a reflection of op-eds more generally devolving into a kind of clickbait to get more hits, I’m not sure as to why but more often than not it feels like it now plays to the same old audience. Whereas the op-eds used to be more thought provoking and challenging, it feels like I have heard it all before.

This is not meant to be an ultra critical post, I have no doubt that the Guardian Australia gets inundated with lots of pitches for op-eds and has limited resources but I miss the diversity of voices that were thought provoking and whose impact lasted more than 24 hours.

I know things can’t stay the same but with the disappearance of The Drum and the increasing number of op-eds that are obviously click-bait that you read published by News and Fairfax (even in hard copy papers), it makes it even more important for there to be quality op-eds from a diversity of contributors. You can set up blogs or online magazines but they don’t have that same reach that the Guardian Australia has.

Op-eds are important because they can set the agenda and shape public debate but if there’s only a similar cohort that get that opportunity, it means our public conversation will continue to be narrow and shallow. Comment might be free but its role in public debate is sacred.

 

Peter Dutton throws a “dead cat”

This morning I awoke to furore about comments that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton made on Sky News last night. He claimed that if Australia’s refugee intake was dramatically increased (as proposed by Labor and the Greens), “illiterate” refugees would come to Australia, take jobs and drive up unemployment.

Social media was ablaze with people attacking Dutton for making such a suggestion, accusing him of racism and rebutting his claims about refugees with facts. Some even suggested it was a gaffe. It was not. It was intentional.

What Dutton did was “throw a dead cat on the table.”  It is a signature election manoeuvre by Lynton Crosby, used to regain control of public debate. Media attention switches as everyone reacts to whatever outrageous and offensive statement is made. Everyone will be talking about what you want them to talk about (in this case, refugees). Julie Bishop’s tacit agreement with Dutton affirms that this is no gaffe, it is an intentional strategy. It is aimed at distracting everyone and keeping the focus on refugees. It is a tactic that is succeeding.

The Tories used the “dead cat” to great effect in the last British election and locally George Christensen and Cory Bernardi are particularly adept at this tactic. People dismiss them as idiots because of the views they espouse publicly but they know exactly what they are doing. Their incendiary statements are about grabbing maximum public attention and trying to force a response on their issues.

Those who oppose the Coalition need to stop taking the bait. The Coalition does not want the election to be focused on education, Medicare or housing affordability which are far more important issues to voters and Labor’s strengths. Instead it wants it to be focused on refugees and national security because they see them as electorate winners. Labor does not win votes talking about either. They either lose votes to the Coalition or the Greens.

It won’t be the last time that the Coalition tries this tactic during this election but progressives need to far get better at responding and shifting the focus away whenever a “dead cat” is thrown.

Cross-posted to AusVotes2016

A deal on asylum seekers would show the limits of the Greens

Discussion about the relationship between Labor and the Greens has continued into a second week with suggestions in The Australian that the Greens are open to changing their refugee policy to do a deal with Labor. Richard Di Natale responded to these reports saying the Greens won’t compromise on their policy to close offshore detention centres.

Reading between the lines, as Labor’s unlikely to change its policy, it seems to rule out a deal where the Greens alter their policy. My guess is the Greens hoped to win improvements without being locked into supporting Labor’s policies. The model they want is likely to be the one used by ALP-led governments in SA, TAS and the ACT that allowed non-Labor Ministers to “opt-out” of Cabinet solidarity. Given recent rancour between the two parties and Labor’s defensiveness about being outflanked on the left, I doubt Labor would accept such an arrangement.

While most of the focus on the politics of refugee policy tends to be about Labor tearing itself apart, attempting to negotiate improved refugee policies raises some big questions that most Green supporters appear not to have not grappled with. In particular, it highlights limits of what the Greens can achieve on their own and raises questions about what they are willing to trade off. Richard Di Natale has spoken about using a hung parliament to push for changes to refugee policy but he has not outlined what changes and what are acceptable trade-offs.

A genuine question yet to be debated is whether such a deal would be acceptable if Greens can vote against the current asylum seeker policies even though the outcome would be the same and offshore detention and turnbacks remain? It may be aimed at preserving the idea the Greens have not sold out but wouldn’t that just show the Greens are just as hungry for ministerial positions as the other parties? It would make the Greens the inner-city version of the Nationals, raising a fuss every so often to differentiate but getting rolled most of the time.

Personally I don’t support the ALP’s policy and have massive issues with turnbacks and offshore detention centres. The problem is that unless either the ALP or the Liberals change their policy, it doesn’t matter what the Greens’ position is. Unless one shifts, activists will spend the rest of their lives being angry about an issue with no possible resolution.

Support for the Greens may help drag the Overton window to the left on refugees but you can’t just create the space, you need to push the majority of the public in its direction to make the change permanent. Recent Essential polling showed that despite a plurality (39%) thinking conditions at Manus Island were poor, almost half (48%) opposed bringing asylum seekers to Australia even though respondents were told it was ruled to be illegal. Immigration may be less of an issue currently but it is still rated as one of the three most important issues in Australia today. It will not go away as a political issue.

The fact is if the Greens compromise on refugee policy, it will destroy them. They framed refugee policy as a black or white moral issue, far more so than climate change. The complexities of climate change allowed a fudge, there is no such room on refugees. Labor may budge on aspects of its refugee policy but it won’t adopt anything like the Greens’ position unless public opinion changes significantly. The experience of coalition government in Tasmania caused a lot of internal dissatisfaction during its term and even splits afterwards. Refugee policy is just as contentious federally as forestry was at a state level and one can imagine something similar occurring if the Greens compromise.

Luckily for the Greens there is no other viable party that opposes the offshore detention of asylum seekers but there is no guarantee of that into the future if a viable social liberal party emerges. Furthermore, compromising will challenge the belief that the Greens are not like every other party but unless it does so, any improvements are unlikely. It can be brushed over while the Greens’ influence is limited but if they participate in government it is far harder to avoid.

For all the talk of an ALP-Green government by Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt, it seems the Greens doubt it will happen, which is why the conditions of a change in asylum seeker policy they set is most likely unachievable. If any arrangement does occur after the election, it would probably be a supply and confidence arrangement or abstaining on forming government. It will kick the can further down the road but the limitations of their strategy is an issue the Greens will eventually have to grapple with if they are serious about exercising power and ever forming government.

Cross-posted to AusVotes2016

Preference deals are driven by pure politics

Almost on cue, the perennial election issue of a Liberal-Green preference deal has re-emerged with reports of a deal in Victoria. It is an issue that unfortunately sucks up so much political oxygen that I would rather spend on why the Coalition Government needs to be defeated.

The Greens have denied a deal with the Liberals, saying they will never preference the Liberals ahead of Labor. It is a carefully worded statement that allows for an open ticket in marginal Victorian seats in exchange for Liberal preferences in inner city seats. They could rule out a deal with the Liberals on open tickets but have chosen not to.

The fact is that these preference decisions are driven by pure political self-interest and all three parties are playing hardball.

The politics behind the deal

Each party has a reason for their actions and response whenever this issue of a Liberal-Greens deal emerges. Depending on the outcome, they will either win big or lose significantly.

For the Liberals, they have little chance of winning in the inner city, however, their preferences can sow discord between Labor and the Greens. Liberal preferences will tie up Labor resources in inner city seats plus will make it far more difficult for Labor to form government on its own. In the event of a hung Parliament, it will also be more difficult for Labor if it has to rely on Greens as well as other independents.

For the Greens, Liberal preferences will mean they can win other Lower House seats and make it easier to get balance of power in the Lower House. The long-term aim would be to form a coalition and have Ministers with both Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt talking about future federal Labor-Green governments. The threat of open tickets may also be used as a bargaining chip for Senate preference discussions.

For Labor, the allocation of Liberal preferences to the Greens may result in previously safe inner city seats being lost. The loss of these seats will make it far harder for Labor to form government and divert resources that would otherwise be used in other Labor-Liberal marginal seats. The possibility of a Liberal-Green deal is also an issue which they can use to try to break off some soft progressive voters by portraying the Greens as “Liberals in disguise” for being wiling to deal with conservatives instead of fighting them.

Do preference recommendations matter?

Yes and no.

Less than half of major party voters follow How to Vote cards but enough followed Liberal How To Vote cards that preferenced the Greens in 2010, leading to Adam Bandt’s victory in Melbourne. Green voters are even less likely to follow How to Vote cards.

While Liberal How To Vote cards can be pivotal, the impact of Green How To Vote cards in a compulsory preferential contest are relatively minimal. Antony Green has calculated that based on a Green primary vote of 10%, it makes a 0.3% difference whether preferences are recommended or not.

Labor is wrong to suggest that open tickets will funnel votes to the Liberals. An open ticket by the Greens in this context is not the same as preferencing the Liberals, however, the Greens should hope Labor does not lose those marginal Victorian seats by less than 0.3%. My guess is the Greens probably think that 0.3% in those marginal seats will not make a difference to who forms Government.

How To Votes cards in optional preferential voting on the other hand can have a significant influence. The shift in preferencing at the Queensland election was what brought down the Liberal National Party and open tickets by the Greens where preferential are optional are a big risk for progressives.

Open tickets are small ‘l’ liberal

One of my biggest frustrations has been the misleading talking points on social media that open tickets allow voters to “decide” their own vote. It has been repeated by Greens supporters again and again. The insinuation that a How To Vote card with recommended preferences is the same as the now abolished Group Voting Ticket is absurd. Voters still determine how they preference at the end of the day and can ignore How To Vote cards. In fact, over half do.

There is little difference between a How to Vote card recommending preferences and third party endorsements by unions, environment groups and GetUp! All seek to influence voters to vote in a certain way. Voters don’t exist in a vacuum and competing interests will always seek to influence them. The idea that the individual can rationally make a decision without outside influence is very small ‘l’ liberal and not embedded in reality. It is the logic that sees trade unions as vested interests, is focused on process over outcome and is obsessed about individual choice to the point that it does not believe organisations should spend money on causes without an individual member’s permission.

At the end of the day, all parties are free to preference or not preference whoever they want. What is disappointing is the misleading statements from all sides. It highlights how electorally driven and cynical they can all be. The Greens can be just as bad as Labor or the Liberals and this saga shows all parties are the same in the end once they get a taste of winning office.

Cross-posted to AusVotes2016