Kim Beazley and the Sussex Street Bruvvers – will he bring out the scalpel?

A fundamental truth about the ALP is that it has an overriding
ability to become consumed with the spoils of patronage, factions and
internal power and distracted from the first task of all political
parties putting forward a viable program for government with a viable
team of candidates (MP’s and Ministers) to implement that program.

The
last great clean out of the ALP occurred in 1970 with federal
intervention in the NSW and Victorian branches to introduce some
element of democracy within those branches to increase the
accountability and electability of the ALP. It was on the back of these
changes that policies which were electoral poison such as opposing
state aid to catholic schools were thrown out. The changes of 1970 were
essential in making Gough Whitlam electable and laid the groundwork for
a wave of new membership which ultimately formed the ministerial talent
pool which sustained the Hawke and Keating Governments.

The
great failing of the ALP in the last decade has been the reluctance to
once again take up the cause of internal reform to prevent some of the
worst rorts and abuses of party democracy. The ALP has largely tried to
paper over these cracks in an effort to avoid unpleasant public
headlines. These rorts and abuses within the ALP are well known to ALP
leadership figures but left untouched and include:

  • Rapidly
    declining union membership of approximately 20% which translates to
    union secretaries (whose exposure to democracy is about the level of
    the Albanian People’s Party circa 1975 under Enver Hoxha) voting 50% of
    the vote at ALP conferences.
  • ALP candidates who have
    never actually been on anything other than a union or public payroll
    and with the limited life experience to prove it. This also has another
    pernicious effect – an incestuous culture where everybody is the
    husband/boyfriend of somebody else in the party. As can be expected
    this is not a culture which is welcoming of outsiders. One example is
    that female ALP members who have children actually never have to
    experience balancing work and family you just stay on the payroll and
    “work from home”. No one dares criticise this practice because of fears
    of being labelled sexist.
  • Time serving hack MP’s who
    even though they have no contribution to make are allowed to linger on
    because they are a reliable vote and their retirement may actually
    provoke a conflict or battle for preselection

The
level of debauchery in the ALP is such that even the premier of NSW can
openly admit there is a problem with branch stacking in ALP branches in
South West Sydney. Even now the ALP cannot hold a proper preselection
in Werriwa because the Federal Electoral Council has not met for years.

The
sad truth about the ALP is that the ALP can only reform as a top-down
party and the party is very much in need of a Gorbachev style
purgative. For too long ALP leaders like Bob Carr have avoided these
issues in the hope that they could be postponed. Kim Beazley avoided a
confrontation on these issues when he was leader first time around and
it was only Simon Crean who raised them in the most tentative of ways
by reducing the union vote in the ALP from 60% to 50% and doubling the
size of the ALP national conference.

It is possible to
win by addressing these issues openly and honesty as Peter Beattie did
in Queensland with the electoral rorts affair. But even in that case
Mike Kaiser who resigned from parliament over electoral rorting was
brought back by the ALP as its assistant federal secretary.

So
how should we measure the new improved Beazley leadership? There are
two elements which are preconditions to winning federally, a downturn
in support for the Federal government and secondly Kim Beazley
demonstrating to the public his preparedness to confront the worst
elements of his own party and signal he will act in the public interest
ahead of ALP interest.

On the first Kim cannot do much
about this as these matters are often hostage to the economic cycle
however on the second he can and should do it. Most successful western
leaders at some point demonstrate this capacity, Bill Clinton with what
was known as the Sister Souljah moment when he attacked the lyrics of a
black rapper, Tony Blair when he removed the socialist objective from
the Labour Party charter. There are countless other examples.

There
are of course examples in every state but lets examine NSW (the bedrock
of Kim Beazley’s support). Here are some acid tests for the new Kim:

Candidate Selection

  • Two
    time candidates – Do people who have lost a seat twice deserve to keep
    going? Robertson and Lindsay are must win seats for any Labor
    government. Yet the ALP has run the same candidate in these seats twice
    and lost. Surely David Bradbury in Lindsay and Trish Moran in Robertson
    need to take a walk outside the tent for the good of the party.
  • Retire
    old MP’s – Two of the safest seats in NSW belong to Mike Hatton
    (Blaxland), and Roger Price (Chifley), does the ALP really need
    timeservers in two of its safest seats in NSW? Does anybody really
    believe Steve Hutchins or Mike Forshaw are really capable of becoming
    ministers in the Senate? These are all areas in which Kim Beazley could
    ensure that new blood is brought into the parliament with some
    judicious pruning of the dead wood. Of course all of these people are
    also Kim Beazley supporters. They are also good avenues for people to
    be introduced who could be future Cabinet Ministers in a Beazley Labor
    Government.

Union Reform

The
50% bloc vote held by unions in the ALP is a cancer which effectively
blocks any democracy in the ALP. How can the ALP have 50% of its vote
determined by about a dozen union secretaries who represent 20% of the
workforce (and once public sector unions who traditionally do not
affiliate to the ALP are taken out – perhaps 10-15%). These same union
secretaries typically (in many cases) have never had real employment in
the industries their union represents and come along to the ALP
conference with a selection of delegates who are handpicked union
officials or in many cases people who are not even members of a
particular union because the union cannot fill its delegation.

Often
in NSW’s unions overaffiliate. This means you affiliate for the voting
strength you are prepared to pay for rather than your actual
membership. You can count on one hand the number of times a union votes
other than a bloc as they say in NSW “Row F hands up”.

A
classic example of the disasters reaped from union control in NSW is
electricity privatisation. All those people who attack Bob Carr for the
trains and hospital in the ALP need to remember their efforts to veto
electricity privatisation in 1999 when the NSW government could have
achieved record prices for the electricity assets whose proceeds could
have been spent on this vital infrastructure. Bob Carr and Michael Egan
knew it unfortunately the union control of the ALP stopped it.

Just
like Smith and Tony Blair in the UK it is time to introduce one man one
vote in the ALP. The ALP rules can be changed to allow unions to
affiliate based on the number of individual union members who choose to
be members or affiliates of the ALP

Tax Reform

There
are plenty of labor inclined voters and families where the breadwinner
earns $100,000+ in Sydney and some of them even work as independent
contractors as plumbers, bricklayers and truck drivers. Unfortunately
too many people in the ALP who typically don’t earn more than $80,000
as a parliamentary staffer or union organiser think you are wealthy.
These people typically live in area like Parramatta, Penrith or Menai
just where your famed aspirational voters live. It’s just amazing that
John Howard has conned these people with 48.5% tax for four elections
now – bring them home with real tax reform. These people don’t want
programs like Medicare Gold they want to have to be able to afford to
live in Sydney and provide for themselves and their family. Kim Beazley
should be the champion of these people – they are Labor people who need
to come home.

In conclusion to win government the ALP needs
to win with swings of up to 10% in some seats. It won’t happen waiting
for the Liberals to fall over or with a small target strategy. In the
words of the Maoists Comrade Kim “Dare to Struggle – Dare to win”.