The National Left of the ALP will move beyond Doug Cameron’s pronouncements on caucus democracy and gay marriage and strive to implement a wide ranging program of party reform, according to key resolutions of the faction’s weekend talkfest seen by Crikey.

The Left, co-helmed by Australian Labor Senior Vice President Jenny McAllister and CFMEU supremo John Sutton in addition to Cameron, calls on Labor to take immediate action on climate change and demands the reinstatement of a strong manufacturing base and a fair distribution of wealth for working families.

It also calls for revised industrial relations policies and substantial national investment in education, health and infrastructure.

One participant in the meeting, attended by over 150 senior activists from across the country, said there was a consensus in the room that the party’s backflip on an emissions trading scheme was a “shocking mistake” that damaged the ALP electorally and that getting a price on carbon was an “immediate priority”.

Momentum on climate change has picked up since the federal poll, although depending on the deliberations of the multi-party climate change committee Australians could still be waiting until mid-2012 for a trading scheme to be eventually implemented.

The meeting, attended by federal MPs including John Faulkner, Greg Combet and Kim Carr, also focused on the fact that the ALP hemorrhaged 3.5% of its primary votes to the Greens at the election, while conceding just 0.4% to the Coalition. Senior left sources say the seats of Melbourne, Dennison and the suburban Brisbane seat of Ryan were the victim of the failure to maintain the historic Hawke-era tie-up between the ALP’s traditional working class base and its progressive inner-city elements.

While Cameron has been vocal on the issue of caucus debate, saying the current rules lead to a party of “zombies”, insiders expressed befuddlement at the outburst, saying that during the meeting “it seemed to only be Doug”.

“The best way to implement progressive reform would surely be widespread agreement,” the source said.

Cameron has also spoken out on the issue of gay marriage, saying it was “absolutely crazy” that the party had not done more to change the Marriage Act. Party sources have suggested that the Left is still riled by the “insane” debate on the issue under former prime minister Kevin Rudd, whose stiff pronouncement on the Kyle and Jackie O show prior to the 2007 election that “marriage was between a man and a woman” appeared to guillotine reform.

The resolutions aimed to kick start a broad debate around divergent views, rather than simple moralising.  “This is the start of a process”, the source said.

“There was a discussion around a round of issues of what went wrong and what happened in an electoral sense, and a look at what sort of party structure would bring the side together and start a conversation.”

The debate will feed into the ALP National review overseen by former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and Bob Carr from the Right and Faulkner from the Left. The committee’s recommendations will then be debated by the ALP’s National Executive after the trio reports its findings in mid-January.

The meeting also resolved to pass an overarching agenda for change to reform the party’s internal structures to rebuild it from the ground up. Initiatives included promoting activity to reconnect with the progressive base, democratising party structures and deepening the connection with unions and progressive organisations, all of which have long been Left bugbears.

The ALP’s total national membership has flatlined in recent years to around 40,000, of which only a small proportion actively attend meetings and contribute to internal debate.

The source said that it was telling the Left faction had adopted a wide-ranging agenda for internal and external reform, while a recent meeting of the national Right was confined to re-allocating formal positions.

“It’s indicative because when the Right met they replaced Mark Arbib with Sam Dastyari in one capacity and with David Feeney in the other.

“As always, they were more about shuffling the deckchairs than changing the course of the Titanic,” the source said.

Peter Fray

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