The left-wing faction of the NSW Labor Party has issued an urgent call to its comrades — send submissions to the inquiry “Build a Modern Labor Party” suggesting ways and means of resuscitating the organisation.

Although written submissions ended last Friday (April 24) the inquiry team may still allow out-of-time contributions to be considered.

Upper House MP Penny Sharpe, deputy chair of the inquiry, has emailed her left-wing colleagues telling them:

The review is an opportunity for the Left to help shape Labor in NSW for the future.

Progressive forces have always campaigned for a Labor Party that is participatory, progressive, democratic and corruption free.

Putting rank and file members at the core, the Left have sought to build a genuinely mass based party that is accountable to our membership and that upholds the Labor values of equality, fairness and justice.

The Party needs to hear your ideas about how we can reform our structures for the future.

The all-powerful administrative committee has established the committee of inquiry to revise the party’s rule book to address four issues:

  • Encourage Labor supporters to become Labor members;
  • Promote retention of Labor members;
  • Better engage and increase the participation of Labor supporters and members;
  • Increase Labor’s engagement with the community.

The inquiry team is chaired by Sarah Kaine, junior vice president of the NSW ALP and wife of Transport Workers Union supremo Tony Sheldon and includes a sprinkling of right and left nominees — Maurie Campbell, Jodie Harrison, Elizabeth Scully, Geoff Derrick, Sam Moreton, Janai Tabbernor and Amanda Fazio MP who is a devotee of The Ramones.

Their final report will be delivered to the party’s rules committee on June 30 and then it will be picked to pieces by the factional heavies.

Over the years there have been repeated well-meaning attempts to make the NSW ALP interesting, relevant and membership-friendly. The piles of reports and recommendations would fill an overseas freight container.

But the bureaucracy in Sussex Street, by its very nature, is impervious to change. It operates in its own comfort zone according to its own rules, traditions and culture. It resents practices of open and participatory democracy because it is essentially an undemocratic instrument to run and control a political machine not a mass party.

Many members regard the current inquiry as an exercise in window-dressing and the response to it around the branches has been poor. After 14 continuous years in office, the NSW ALP has become corrupted by incumbency and lost its ideological compass. Under Bob Carr, Michael Egan, Morris Iemma and Michael Costa an agenda of privatization, asset sales, small government, corporatisation and public-private partnerships replaced the core responsibility of any state government, which is to maintain well-funded, efficiently run and properly-staffed public transport, public schools and public health.

Can a modern Labor Party be built from the dysfunctional machine now in charge of the state? It will take more than a few rule changes. Perhaps a policy re-direction would help.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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