A ginger group of Labor elders and activists has thrown down the gauntlet to leadership aspirants Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese over party reform, demanding swift and unblinking changes to the ALP’s sclerotic internal structures.

In an eight-point questionnaire sent to both camps last night, Local Labor, founded by former Gough Whitlam chief-of-staff and Cain government minister Race Mathews, asks when each candidate would move to fully implement the findings of the 2010 Bracks-Carr-Faulkner review into the party. They’re also grilled on a series of specific reforms — the direct election of national and state government delegates, a tightening of central branch intervention in preselections and an extended trial of community primaries.

Other ripe areas include affirmative action and diversity, a simplified joining process, deeper engagement with the community, access to internal training for party newbies about the history of the party and the establishment of an “ad-­‐hoc ALP Reform Implementation Committee” to track the BCF reforms. Prospective leaders are asked to sign up to governance and transparency reforms via a “state of the party reporting process”.

As Crikey demonstrated on the day after the ALP’s 2011 national conference, just 13 – or 42% – of the 31 BCF reforms were adopted with the majority only broached in part (30%) or rejected completely (26%). Progress has been glacial — although over the weekend, NSW Labor made good on its plans to hold community ballots in five state seats prior to the 2015 state election.

Local Labor — which boasts Faulkner, Peter Beattie and Carmen Lawrence as patrons — was founded three years ago in the aftermath of the BCF review and now has over 700 members. It has been circulating reform material throughout the party ever since. Mathews told Crikey the “leadership contest was the most unprecedented and unique event for the party in 50 years and it’s important for the reform and renewal process … the contest shouldn’t be about generalisation or obfuscation but about renewal.”

Successful sandbagging in western Sydney had been achieved by on-the-ground activism, he said: “The involvement of effective grassroots community organisers in limiting losses in western Sydney in the recent federal election are a clear indication of what can be achieved with committed and involved party members. This will be particularly important in the next federal election in the numerous Abbott government seats held by margins less than 2%.”

The group spans the party’s factions. Mathews, a member of right-wing grouping Labor Unity in Victoria, was present at last Thursday’s Albanese campaign launch in Melbourne and speech at the Wheeler Centre and is planning to attend the Shorten equivalent later this week.

Mathews led the previous wave of party reform as Whitlam’s chief-of-staff  between 1967 and 1972 (and for three years before that), served in the federal Parliament from 1972-75 as the member for Casey, as chief of staff to opposition leaders in Victorian Parliament from 1976 to 1979, as the member for Oakleigh from 1979 to 1992 and as the state minister for police and emergency services and the arts from 1982 to ’88. (“Merge them, it’s the only way!” Barry Jones famously advised Mathews in a memo when he was allocated the curious dual portfolio.)

The survey, the results of which will be released to rank-and-file Labor voters who make up 50% of the leadership ballot, is due back with Race at 5pm sharp this Sunday.

Peter Fray

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