An ALP insider who has seen plenty of battles over the years reckons the proposed Hawke/Wran reforms will only take the party back to the 1950s and 60s. And beneath it we have a rebuttal from a Queensland unionist who likes what he reads.

What is not so certain is that adoption of other reform proposals will be achieved. If they are in the proposed form the result will be a party in which the factions and the branchstackers will have even more influence. The party will be less democratic, and union heavyweights who presently are the party’s key operatives will have much more power. The reforms in fact propose to slightly change some vision of a 1950 structure with proposals advocated by Gough Whitlam and former National Secretary Cyril Wyndham in the 1960s. In one case they propose a return to the 1950s. Some recommendations will be considered at length:

1. The use of the AEC roll in preselections. This was the practice in the 1950s, when affiliated unionists could vote in ALP preselection ballots whether they were party members or not. This was the only way non-party members could be identified. The Karen Ehrmann rort in Queensland, putting bodgie people on the AEC roll, probably took place in the middle of last century, but has only recently been exposed.. Make the AEC roll the ALP roll and you encourage bigger rorting, with consequent bad publicity for the party. Christine Campbell, Minister for Consumer Affairs in Victoria, originally proposed the use of the AEC roll at a meeting of the Labor Unity faction. Despite serious objections to the proposal at that meeting Greg Sword and his merry band of Networkers adopted it. David Feeney in Victoria was responsible for a rule change that got over all of the objections. If people are on the AEC roll they are entitled to vote unless someone can prove a rort. If they are not on the AEC roll the onus is on the voter in an internal party ballot to prove they are eligible to vote, by producing adequate evidence of their residence.

2. Banning people from voting because they may not be Australian citizens is not a good idea. It is racist, and discriminates against Asians from countries which were never part of the British Empire. Some non-citizens who are British subjects are still on the AEC roll, and they will still get a vote in ALP preselection plebiscites. Also some people who for various reasons are denied Australian citizenship but are ALP members will not get a vote. Giovanni Sgro, a former member of the Victorian Parliament, was denied citizenship until the election of the Whitlam government because of an adverse ASIO report. He would have been denied a vote. In local government in some states non-citizens can vote in local government elections. In those municipalities where the ALP endorses candidates this would mean some ALP members could vote in the actual election but could not vote in an ALP membership plebiscite. During World War I an aunt of the writer, a good conservative voter for most of her life and a great admirer of Bob Menzies, was not allowed to vote because her parents were German, yet she was born in Australia. The electoral law should not determine who should vote in ALP plebiscites. If the argument that only ALP members with the right to vote for in a federal election was taken to its logical conclusion the District of Columbia before 1976 and Guam, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico would not be entitled to voting delegates at the nominating conventions of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party for President of the United States. In none of the above cases are voters in what may be called these protectorates entitled to vote for Presidential electors in the general election, but they can vote for delegates to party nominating conventions.

3. Allowing national unions direct representation at national conferences will give union bosses much greater power, particularly from the Left. Gough Whitlam wanted this in the 1960s, as did Cyril Wyndham. Direct election of delegates from federal electorates will increase branchstacking in non-winnable ALP seats, as factional bosses maximise representation. At present such branchstacking in hopeless seats is rare, the only known case is in Higgins, where Delia Delegate’s bete noir Diane Anderson is the subject of branchstacking by the Right to prevent her election, but she always wins.

4. Preventing non-members of the relevant union from representing that union at ALP Conferences was advocated by Dick McGarvie, former Governor of Victoria, in the 1960s when he was a member of a small faction called the participants (now the Independents who sometimes call themselves Non-Aligned) in order to reduce the strength of the then autocratic and ultra left faction controlling the Victorian ALP. It could currently be aimed at Diane Anderson. Why the party spends so much time on trying to muzzle that woman I do not know. She was ruled ineligible to be a delegate by vote of a Victorian Conference in 2000 yet Dean Mighell immediately credentialed her from the Electrical Trades Union so all the attempts to keep her out were to no avail. It is true that some unions, both on the Right and the Left, cannot provide enough delegates from their own members. Why shouldn’t others be allowed the right to become delegates? A returning officer in an election for conference delegates is denied the right to stand for office. Why shouldn’t such a person, who gives up a lot of time and collects a lot of abuse in a purely honorary capacity, be denied the right to be a conference delegate as a proxy delegate from a union which cannot provide enough delegates from its own membership?

5. The proposal of a two year wait for voting rights is unfair in that it denies the vote to many committed party voters, particularly the very young. Mary Delahunty was not a member for two years at the time of her election to parliament. In fact she had been a party member for only a few months yet the Right factional bosses considered her a suitable candidate. One rule exists for plebiscite voting rights. Another to be a Labor parliamentarian, particularly if one is female and has a high profile.

6. Why should the party have more female parliamentarians as of rule and not as of ability? I am all for female parliamentarians, but there should not be affirmative action. They should be preselected on their merits.

7. Why should unionists have the right to party membership at a reduced rate? This aids the factional branchstackers who need not pay as much for party memberships. Party members of ability without a factional connection find preselection impossible. Party members should be required to disclose their faction when they stand in a party election. Faction rules should also be made public and open to scrutiny, like those of the party itself. Factions should also be concerned with policy questions as well as the distribution of party power. How long is it that any faction ever played much more than lip service to vital policy questions, which are more important in the eyes of voters than any of the reforms proposed will ever be. It is doubtful that any reform adopted by the party will have any effect in influencing the result of the next federal election.


CRIKEY: We’re keen to get right into this debate so send in your contributions folks.

Queensland unionist rebuts warhorse’s onslaught

By Quentin Queenslander

Banana bending ALP member and unionist

I’m going out on a limb and sticking up for the Hawke/Wran reviews recommendations in large part. I’ve been in the party since I was 16, am a member of a union and all the rest. I’m as bona fide ordinary member as you’ll find. In the sunshine state I have no doubt it will be roundly condemned by the QCU (If you’re after a laugh, go to and the AWU.

So where does the report fall down, well it doesn’t go far enough. I’d like to see factional allegiances listed on ballots and independent caucuses within the party (as used by the factions) banned under threat of expulsion. That measure would test there claims to be like minded people while at the same time making it more difficult for the factional types to maintain group cohesion. I’d also like to see independent admin and exec committees, and non-political support staff at head office. I’m still waiting for some documents six weeks after they said they were in the mail. That kind of petty failure to disclose information at the most junior level within head office is pathetic. It also highlights the need for greater transparency within the ALP.

I think John Button got the ideological problem right when he suggested that Labor’s potential lies in modernity yet we define our party historically. We need to have a few goals, simple, social democratic ones and work from there. We need to remove the socialist objective and related dribble and discard the ineffective and impossible solutions of the past.

This comrade has been called names for saying very much the same thing as Hawke and Wran have come out with. I’ve been told the problem isn’t with the party structure or objective, in effect there is no problem. Everyone in the ALP has an excuse, and a nice line about the tree of knowledge, but its about time we acknowledged our organisations weaknesses and act collectively to correct them.

I’ve listed below what I would argue are the most important and valuable recommendations of the committee.

Choice Bits

Recommendation One

As I read the document, recommendation one provides inter alia that –

a. National Conference be expanded; the rationale behind this recommendation is relatively sound. If you increase the number of delegates, it is more likely that non-aligned members will be able to get up by virtue of the reduced support required. It will also presumably have the effect that factions will have difficulty finding the all important tight votes, and this will in turn make it more difficult to stage manage conferences. I doubt this proposal will strengthen the position of the factional ‘bosses’ if its properly implemented.

b. Direct election to national conference will aid non-aligned candidates and make it more difficult to horse trade conference seats.

c. Part 4 & 5 of the recommendation disallows party and federal staffers and federal members from getting up as rank and file but allows all MPs speaking and moving rights. Very good idea, but should have gone further and disallowed state members, staffers and union employees. State members should elect from within caucus a few flag bearers with the same rights as their federal colleagues. Union employees can sort themselves out, maybe the unelected hacks should all join the ASU and sort themselves out within the ASU’s quota. Union delegates should be members of the Union. As for Unions unable to find a few comrades in the ranks, well why on Earth are they affiliated?

Recommendation Two

Policy Branches Well its not earth shattering stuff, and as Nifty and Hawke noted, the system may be exploited by lobby groups and opportunistic individuals (Labor for Refugees springs to mind as a prime example.) The danger is that Policy Branches will be used as tools by factional hacks, and pray on the inner “Green” band wagon jumper in every comrade. The recommendations concerning internal party ballots will negate the ability of policy branches drawn from relatively wide areas to elect delegates. However, any alternative would involve close consultation with the Queensland Liberals.

Recommendation Nine

Increasing the period of membership before one has standing to vote in party ballots.

Could pave the way for cheaper membership (it isn’t cheap if you’re not earning decent money.) Taking issue with what was said by the ALP veteran, I would argue he should examine the way pre-selections work, read Saturday’s Australian, consider why 800 members joined the Liberal Party last week and then think for a little while. Consider cut off dates in detail, and how one might gain an unfair advantage. If years of substance abuse, ALP membership and life in general haven’t got the better of comrade vet, he/she will see why the waiting period ought to be prolonged. I’ll admit it is not perfect, but it’s better than open slather.

Recommendation Ten

Live in Australia, be on the roll, vote where your enrolled. Sound idea, makes branch staking more difficult.

Recommendations Eleven and Thirteen

control branch stacking and bulk renewals and develop a national appeals tribunal.

Sound ideas, but you don’t have to have the letters QC after your name to figure out how these proposals are subject to abuse. The effective enforcement of these measure relies on forums dominated by successful branch stackers, factional hacks and the like. The National Appeals Tribunal screams subject to abuse to this member. It would be sensible if Hawke and Wran had under 13.1 changed not involved with the day to day affairs, to not members of the Party, union or affiliated body. 13.3, a provision requiring the exhaustion of local remedies is subject to abuse, because of the temporal period required to exhaust all local remedies in theory. It would be possible if I had the chairman of the state body responsible for appeals under my thumb for me to delay the opportunity of the aggrieved party to present their case until the subject of the appeal is beyond correction. Even if the national committee came to the conclusion that the conduct of the state body meant all avenues of appeal locally are exhausted, the delay involved may be fatal to its effectiveness. Also, the powers of any such committee to make orders needs to be broad. I doubt this will happen. The ALP sees a tainted ballot and a ballot as essentially the same and as such, nothing much should be done about a tainted ballot.

Recommendation 16

Parliamentarians to meet unionists, good idea. The unions and parliamentary wings should love each other more. See Qld for further details as to why this is desirable.

Recommendation 20

Cheaper membership for unionists. It is financially equitable, as a union member you pay twice. Once for the union to send delegates who aren’t members of your union and donate to head office, then you fork again for factional organisers who spend all day every day in the car park on their ALP funded mobile phones.

Recommendation 23

The report suggests a Permanent National Policy Committee be created. It’s a good idea to create a body which will wield only limited power within the party internally, but has a role in fostering and promoting ideas. The lack of power should hopefully keep the less talented hacks well away.

Recommendation 32

Senators to leave glass towers in inner city or safe electorates and be preselected by conference. Simple, solid and decent idea. The quality of ALP senators is all over the shop, but I am not sure that electing them from conferences is really going to make much of a difference in the medium term. Maybe if branch membership was up around 15 000 or so it would. That figure is just plucked from thin air, but I assume that you would have a critical mass of independents and talent at that stage. At present in Queensland the ALP has 4800 members or so, with one safe state seat needing 14 votes to gain preselection.

Recommendation 34

Ensuring MP’s work between elections. Recommendation 34 (1) , inter alia recommends members be allowed to spill sitting members if the original preselection is uncontested. This mechanism is clearly open to abuse. However, the other two recommendations are sound, if only because they are likely to make branch members feel loved.

The rest is unremarkable at best.

Quentin Queenslander

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