Being a rank and file member of the Labor Party has always meant spending a lot of time not getting your own way. First you have to persuade your own branch of the merits of your case. Then your branch’s delegates to the local State Electoral Council have to persuade it to support the motion. Then, up to a year later, Annual Conference might decide to support your motion. Generally, they don’t. But if your motion is passed, it becomes policy and all members are required by the rules to support it.
Quite often, that support is half hearted – democratic socialisation of industry anyone? The customary position is for the government to pay lip service, negotiate a little, and do what it can in a lukewarm sort of way. But now, Morris Iemma and Michael Costa have announced that they make the decisions, no correspondence to be entered into.
The Alexandria branch is a small branch, a couple of private sector employees, some public sector employees, a few small business owners. None of our regulars is a “staffer” and, like most similar branches, we are not factionally aligned. We don’t expect to dictate policy, but we do have a right to stand up and be counted.
We first tried to do this through our local State Electoral Council. Our motion against electricity privatisation passed, as did stronger motions from other branches. But in violation of two rules, the meeting had been postponed, moving it past the cutoff date for conference submissions and none of the motions reached conference. Nor was this the only attempt to manipulate the decision of conference.
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In frustration, we turned to the rulebook and found that we could ask the Administrative Committee to consider the behaviour of Iemma and Costa, which we did. John Della Bosca’s response was that it is “unacceptable” for rank and file members to expect senior ministers to be bound by party rules.
Iemma has gone further: if any MP obeys the rules and supports a policy in defiance of “cabinet solidarity”, Iemma will seek to have that MP thrown out of the party. Michael Egan has made his own contribution to doublespeak: Labor governments should not listen to outside forces like the Labor annual conference; as if Iemma and his supporters could have been elected without the word Labor after their names on the ballot papers.
Make no mistake, the rank and file are angry. There is a small group of people, with no grassroots support, who are trying to hijack the Party and the state. Our collective opinion was heard loud and clear at State Conference and will not be silenced by bully boy tactics from a Premier and Treasurer who seem happy to split the Party for a policy rightly regarded with deep suspicion by the electorate. We have always negotiated and compromised. Now we are being told to walk away completely. We will not.