The ALP’s Left faction say they will not give up on key Bracks-Carr-Faulkner reforms trashed by the Right at national conference and will urgently move to recruit multiple members to force Labor to democratise.

A devastating summary of Saturday’s reform debate, obtained by Crikey, illustrates in stark detail the emasculation of the hallowed trio’s considered initiatives. All three elder statesmen spoke during the debate and were livid after the Right welched on delivering anything meaningful.

“The 2011 National Conference rejected in whole, or in part, the vast majority of … recommendations to increase the role, influence and say of the membership in Party affairs,” the Left report reads. “These recommendations if adopted, would have restrained some of the power of those currently in control of the Party.”

The progressive reforms — which included the direct election of national conference delegates and the ability of the party president to vote on national executive — were left stillborn after the Right refused to commit to hard numbers and instead hived off the issue to an implementation committee.

The report reveals just 13 — or 42% — of the 31 BCF reforms were adopted with a majority adopted in only part (30%) or rejected completely (26%).

The appointment of an organising tsar, a membership amnesty, the direct election of state presidents, a ban on dual voting, a strengthened National Appeals Tribunal, a reduction in preselection interventions and the official affiliation of like-minded organisations were all junked.

“Party-building activities and community organising won’t happen effectively in some branches and direct election of National Conference delegates remains unfinished business,” the report reads. It slammed the conference’s “very weak commitment organisationally to properly look at primaries”.

A senior Left source with direct carriage of the faction’s agenda slammed a media report yesterday that the Left had “abandoned” the proposal to directly elect 50% of delegates and had instead put a suggestion that the national executive would “explore options” for rank and file deployment.

“There were no last-minute changes, the Right just jammed through an omnibus of resolutions and it was highly unlikely most delegates knew what they were actually voting for,” they said.

At multiple points during Saturday’s debate Right convener David Feeney’s chief foot soldier Stephen Donnelly held up a sign with an up and down arrow to ensure the sheep in the bleachers baa-ed at the correct moment.

Yesterday morning, right wing AWU national secretary Paul Howes, a former socialist, was seen in close discussion with Faulkner in the conference’s nose-bleed section after his faction had smashed the initiatives’ intent.

The Right’s performance “underscored the extreme reluctance to move away from pre-arranged fixes”, the Left source said.

“On gay marriage, offshore processing and uranium they didn’t want to hear the argument and debate that is a normal part of open and democratic decision-making.”

The Right commanded 218 delegates on conference floor, the vast majority of which are controlled by ruling daleks and business-focused trade unions who consider corporate success as a the key barometer of the national interest. The Left were within spitting distance at 177 delegates but struggled corral the 20 defectors needed to control debate. However, on contested votes on uranium, gay marriage, offshore processing and live cattle exports, the biggest gap was just 12.

Its one clear victory — a change to the party’s platform to allow same-s-x marriage — was carried on the voices to avoid prime ministerial embarrassment.

Australian leader writer and former Kevin Rudd speech-writer Troy Bramston, in a Fabian Society Forum compered by Geoff Gallop just hours before the reform debate kicked off, said it would take another 10 years before Labor would broach the topic again — presumably after another bout of soul searching after defeat at the ballot box in 2013.

But change could come much sooner. The Left will campaign hard to recruit enough delegates to chip away at Right control and seize control of the agenda. Depending on which state they come from, just 500 or 1000 new members would see Right banished to minority status.

“The votes were so close that if we can turn the huge cheers heard during the conference on contentious issues into 500 or 1000 new members we’d see some important changes to the platform,” a source said.

“Reform is really about removing the filters so the rank and file can select people on the basis of their views. The things people care about can become part of the process. At the moment they are not.”

The Left would also abandon any previous inclination to work out fixes with the Right — the conference signalled an attitudinal change and there would now be a supreme hesitancy to compromise.

“This is about whether we mean what we say … do we believe in democratic engagement to make a better world? If we say yes, than there’s no way we would have voted to export uranium to India,” the source said, citing La Trobe MP Laura Smyth’s speech during the debate as the “best at the entire conference”.

Despite the rancour, there was still some factional cross-pollination evident in the conference’s aftermath with Anthony Albanese and Wayne Swan witnessed cheering the weekend’s cautious progress over a pint at Darling Harbour’s picturesque Watershed bar. Whether the cordiality will last is another question.

To catch up on Crook’s weekend coverage check out his posts on The Stump, including:

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

What a year. Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW