Anthony Albanese is reportedly set to stand for the leadership of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, pitting him against Bill Shorten.

It’s an excellent outcome for the ALP and more widely for Australian democracy. For the first time in modern Australian politics, candidates for the leadership of a major federal party will seek the backing of their party’s members, as well as their parliamentary colleagues.

The process will mean the ALP will have an acting leader for several weeks while the ballot is conducted. Some in the media, with the encouragement of those within the ALP opposed to greater party democracy, will almost certainly attempt to portray this period as chaotic. But as Albanese and Shorten debate policies and appeal to the Labor grassroots, it will signal to voters that Labor isn’t conducting business as usual, that it is becoming a different party to the circus it has been for much of the last decade and particularly since 2010.

It will also signal to voters disengaged from politics, those who vote informal or refuse to enrol at all, and particularly younger people, that Labor is serious about trying to re-engage with voters rather than continue as a hollowed-out plaything of apparatchiks.

The ballot process may not be seen as successful; it may be overturned by party powerbrokers. This will be the first one, and the process is yet to be embedded within the party’s rules. But if it is successful, it may become more widespread in Australia, not merely in other branches of Labor but eventually within the conservative parties as well. And greater party democracy is good for our broader polity.

Crikey Calling is independent media for independent minds – in handy podcast form! Join the Crikey crew for a lively (if somewhat wonky) look behind the scenes of politics and power in Australia.

Why do Australians keep throwing out governments that make a good fist of the economy? If Labor is leaderless for a few weeks, what will happen? And how in the hell did Clive Palmer get candidates elected to Parliament – maybe even the man himself? Crikey Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane and writer-at-large Guy Rundle tackle these questions and more in our podcast — stream it or download here.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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