Senator John Faulkner’s Henry Parkes lecture, delivered last weekend and excerpted in Monday’s Australian,
attracted media attention mostly for its criticism of Mark Latham
(mild) and of ALP factionalism (less mild). But Faulkner’s more
constructive ideas have largely gone unreported.

He has kindly
sent Crikey a copy of the full speech, and it makes interesting
reading, especially when one remembers that it comes from a leader of
Labor’s left. For example, he reveals himself as a sceptic about public
funding of elections. It was, he says, “an effort by the ALP to combat
massive corporate donations to the non-Labor parties. It didn’t work.
Campaigns have merely become more expensive, and parties have spent
even more time chasing corporate donations to pay for them.”

what to do about the sad state of our political parties, and Labor in
particular? Faulkner has the right goals, when he says that “democracy
and transparency must be the watchwords of our reform.” But his first
suggested reform, direct election of ALP state presidents, is hardly
the stuff of revolution.

Simon Crean’s reforms, which Faulkner
describes as “moderately successful,” included direct election of the
national president. If the measure of success is that none of them have
been caught stealing the silverware, then fair enough, but it’s hard to
see how an elected president (Carmen Lawrence and Barry Jones, with
Warren Mundine to follow) has so far improved the ALP one iota.

does not lie with the president, it’s the state secretaries and the
administrative committees who run the party. Faulkner of course knows
that, and he believes that “as many as possible Party officials,
executives, committees and for that matter Senators, ought to be
directly elected or preselected by the Party membership.” That would
certainly make a difference, but the suggestion is left hanging, with
nothing about how it would work or what it would mean.

seriously, Faulkner offers no guidance on “how to get there from here.”
As he knows, the existing factional warlords will fight tooth and nail
against anything that would diminish their power. Mark Latham threw in
the towel because he thought that power could never be overcome, and
it’s no answer to him to say that the party could work if it were
reformed. We need to know how it can be made to reform, and that
Faulkner does not tell us.