The rest of the Gang of Four plus a few others have their say on the partys direction.
This time its another submission to the party review not as good as Andrew Murrays, but certainly not without interest.
The authors, to begin with, should grab anyones attention. Theyre the rest of the Gang of Four Aden Ridgeway, John Cherry and Lyn Allison the Senator who resigned when Britney became leader, John Woodley, and the Senator who lost when the Dem vote collapsed under her leadership, Vicki Borne. High powered and high profile and, as they say, with 70 years of party membership and 30 years of parliamentary representation between them.
The submission doesnt have the cri de coeur element that made Andrew Murrays also published in Crikey so compelling, but it occupies similar territory. The Dems, say the authors, will inevitably decline and fail in their current permutation. They are scathing of the direction the party has taken of late:
We are no longer perceived to be a progressive moderate party of , but a party of the protest left, competing (unsuccessfully) with the Green for leftist support. We are no longer seen to be a professional outfit. Our inexperienced National Executive team is unable to provide the leadership needed to rebuild the party. And, we are no longer a balanced polity, with members seeking to direct and discipline parliamentarians in a way that can only reduce the public credibility of the Democrats as a parliamentary force.
How do they see the Dems at their best? A party neither left nor right but different progressive in its principles, but moderate enough to work with the Government of the day to achieve them. Right. So we know where they stand on the GST deal then.
Interestingly, though, this is how they define the inevitable Keeping the bastards honest. They spell it out as working with the Government of the day to improve legislation and combine it with a policy stance that could help rejuvenate the party.
They talk of recent policy initiatives as throwing large amounts of money at policy problems in a way that defies political credibility and instead suggest that the Democrats should seek to develop a constant diet of small, social policy-related initiatives that keep us in the public eye.
Without spelling it out explicitly, they clearly see the Democrats as a party of small l liberal ideas appealing to voters left behind by the big L Libs and a populist Labor Party. These voters are seen as its traditional supporter base, and they warn that the mix of the partys political positioning and the partys policy development process has pushed it away from these people.
There are the obligatory remarks about the powers of the party rank and file:
Probably the most fundamental issue that the Review needs to address is the appropriate balance between membership participation and party stability. The partys constitution contains an uneasy balance between promoting membership participation, maintaining a powerful National Executive, and preserving the rights and obligations of the parliamentary wing to voting constituents. Increasingly in recent years, some members have failed to understand this balance and have used (and abused) party processes to seek to impose a warped view of members rights.
The example they choose to illustrate this is says much: Forcing Meg Lees as leader to face four ballots on her leadership in four years, but perhaps the most interesting parts of the submission involve the partys head office:
The effectiveness of the National Office also needs to be questioned. The National Office has, in the past, played a key role in campaigning. However, this has dropped off. The Review needs to ask questions about the effectiveness of the partys heavy investment in the National Office, and whether having party office bearers employed in National Office creates a conflict of interest that detracts from the ability of National Office to perform its proper campaign and administrative work.
Theres a hidden story here. Financing of an election campaign is a fundamental concern, the submission says. The current national executive has failed to produce a proper financial plan to ensure that the party has an adequate cash flow to fight the next Federal election campaign. This needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency
Does it ever. Back in 1996, following the Dems unexpectedly strong election performance, the party got a windfall in public electoral funding. A special committee was set up to develop a five year strategy to make the best use of the unexpected bonanza.
The group put the Democrats on a firm financial footing for the first time in the partys history, establishing a capital reserve of over $1 million. The money appears not to have been managed well.
In terms of financial management, they say, the party needs to be more professional. The National Executive needs to set a Budget, with clear guidelines, and stick to it. The National Executive has voted to establish a capital reserve but failed to defend the partys financial reserves against calls for expenditure.
The submission quotes the resignation letter of national treasurer Helen Hodgson in detail before concluding Very large sums have been allocated to by-elections over the past two years with little strategic benefit. The annual running costs of the party exceed its income by a six figure sum. This will result in the party going into the next Federal Executive with a capital reserve barely a quarter of that available for the last one.
In other words, the Dems only have $250,000 of their million left. Indeed, if the Dems have tackled policy by throwing large amounts of money at problems in a way that defies political credibility, they also seem to have adopted a similar approach to housekeeping. The submission lays down a series of financial principals that would normally be considered fundamental:
That a capital reserve be set up with the objective that the interest earned on the reserve ONLY be available for any expenses between Federal Elections;
That the running costs of the party should not exceed its income, and if they do, then the income is increased or the costs reduced;
That funding for State Elections from National should not be permitted unless firstly, there is no electoral funding in that state, secondly, there is a real prospect of increasing parliamentary representation (as opposed to simply retaining it), and thirdly any grant from national is matched by fundraising.
That when a Budget is set, the National Executive sticks to it. If spending is increased on one item, it should be reduced on another.
Budget priorities should match the partys agreed strategic goals, as outlined in the partys strategic plan.
So, in conclusion, what does it all mean?
Andrew Murrays submission to the Democrat review read like a justification for a new party. This seems more to long for some mythical good old days when the party enjoyed peace and prosperity.
Theres much thats appealing there to a jaded small l liberal hack like yours truly but the reality always ends up being limp.
You can go through the full document here. Perhaps the final comment should just be it reads better than it lives.
Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]