So John Della Bosca, the NSW state government minister, thinks it’s “inappropriate” to threaten Labor members with expulsion from their party.

Someone should have told Joe McDonald.

McDonald, you will recall, was the building union official chucked out of the ALP, not because a court found him guilty but precisely because it didn’t. In celebration of his “not guilty” result, McDonald told journalists that he was back and that John Howard would soon be gone.

That was all it took. The comments were “unacceptable”, Kevin Rudd declared. He demanded — and received — McDonald’s expulsion.

Compare that case to the charges of disloyal conduct laid by the Alexandria branch against Morris Iemma and Michael Costa.

Iemma and Costa stand accused of acting contrary to “the principles and solidarity of the party” by trying to sell off the NSW electricity industry.

Given Della Bosca’s umbrage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Labor’s list of principles contains a passage advocating wholesale privatisations (right next to the section that lists celebrating Howard’s departure as an expellable offense).

Not quite. The first paragraph under objectives actually still runs as follows:

The Australian Labor Party … has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other antisocial features in these fields.

In fact, while we’re poking around inside the ALP’s crusty old rulebook, we might note that the constitution actually mandates an infinitely more inclusive procedure for generating new ideas than the 2020 forum. In theory, anyone who thinks they’ve got something to contribute can join the Labor party, even without being Cate Blanchett or Hugh Jackman. As a member, they can attend branch meetings; they can elect delegates; they can go to the national conference.

As Section D of the rulebook explains, “policy … is not made by directives from the leadership, but by resolutions originating from branches, affiliated unions and individual Party members.”

Sure, it’s a long time since individual party members really shaped Labor’s policy (and even longer since anyone took the socialisation objective seriously), and that’s partly why Rudd’s claims about 2020 as a new way of doing politics have a certain currency. But if the ALP leaders can transform their own democratic structures into kiss up-kick down control freakery, it doesn’t bode well for the implementation of non-binding 2020 recommendations.

Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland.

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