Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has called a special caucus meeting for Monday, July 22 to seek agreement on a radical overhaul of the process for the election of the ALP parliamentary leader, he announced this afternoon.
Under the process proposed by Rudd, with support from the Labor leadership team, the ALP parliamentary leader would be elected jointly by the ALP membership and caucus, with each having 50% of the vote.
A victorious Labor prime minister would also be fireproofed against leadership spills for the duration of a parliamentary term unless 75% of caucus decided they had brought the party into disrepute, effectively ruling out the circumstances that led to the removal of both Rudd and Julia Gillard, as well as repeated leadership instability during Gillard’s term.
The election process, which would automatically take place after an unsuccessful election or if a leader resigned or called a spill, would take 30 days, with ALP members eligible on the same basis as party voting for the ALP national president. Other leadership positions — the deputy leadership and the Senate leadership team — would continue to be elected solely by caucus, which would also have restored to it the right to select the front bench.
The mechanism proposed by Rudd differs from that of UK Labour, where MPs, party rank-and-file and party-affiliated organisations such as trade unions each have a one-third proportion of the leadership vote.
If caucus does not support the reforms, Rudd will call a special party meeting, but caucus sources say the proposals are likely to be endorsed.
Rudd had flagged last week, when announcing federal intervention in New South Wales, he would have more to say on ALP reform. But the proposal to overhaul the leadership ballot process was a surprise. In opening up the leadership ballot to rank-and-file members, Rudd can appear a democratic party reformer as well as reducing the chances of future leaders being removed in the way he was or undermined in the manner he relentlessly undermined Gillard.
It also serves to further distance Rudd from the unpopular aspects of the Labor brand, such as perceptions of control by factional powerbrokers and the behind-the-scenes influence of faceless men.
The opposition is likely to argue the announcement is further evidence the government is internally focused, but Rudd clearly has a triangulation strategy of being seen not merely to oppose Tony Abbott but the business-as-usual politics of the ALP, knowing full well the latter is even more unpopular with voters than the former. It is a strategy reminiscent of Peter Beattie’s post-Shepherdson inquiry strategy of virtually campaigning against his own as an agent of change and a new broom.