Some observations about Trump, Sanders and the radical moment

In case you missed our last meeting, here are the opening remarks from the chair, Martin Kamener:


At Open Labor we are seeking the renewal of the Australian Labor Party and a more open, optimistic and decent politics in Australia.

We want an open Labor Party: open to change, and open to new ideas.

For all that it has achieved over the years, the ALP has in recent years struggled to find the ideas and ideals needed to inspire Australians. Inertia and entrenched self-interest are powerful forces inside the party, as are disengagement and cynicism outside of it, but at Open Labor we believe that in the widespread despair with our politics there lays an opportunity.

Which brings me to tonight’s meeting, its central question, a truly Open Labor type of question, “what does the radical moment, represented by the rise of Trump, Sanders and Corbyn mean for the ALP?

In trying to make sense of this radical moment, I am reminded of Alice trying to decipher her new world after having gone through the looking glass.

Definitions that once seemed certain are suddenly no longer so.

Assumptions which underpinned our political sub-conscious cannot now be assumed, some things that were deemed Left, might now perhaps be Right and vice versa.

And suddenly we find ourselves asking do Left and Right have any meaning in the 21st Century?

In fact much of the political discussion in this radical moment is like having a discussion at the Tea Party with The Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Cheshire Cat? 

Different as Trump, Sanders and Corbyn might be, they are all a result of this radical moment that is shaking the political systems of many countries, disrupting normal political business and challenging mainstream parties to justify their existence into the 21st Century. The ascendancy of each of these politicians is a reflection of community concerns at the rapid pace of social, economic and cultural changes that is challenging our daily lives.

And in this rapidly changing political world, people are clearly asking new questions, questions which the traditional mainstream politics of Left versus Right is struggling to resolve itself, let alone reassure anxious voters that they may have an answer.

So how does a "mainstream" political party like the ALP find the right response to this radical moment?

Rebecca Huntley on Australians' attitudes to politicians and politics

Rebecca Huntley is one of Australia's most respected social researches, and a good friend of Open Labor.  Here is the footage from NSW Open Labor's state conference fringe event, where she and David Hetherington from Per Capita discuss the suspicion, indifference, nostalgia and optimism that Australians have felt about our leaders in the last fifteen years.

Rebecca's opening remarks:

Watch the full conversation here:

NSW state conference fringe event

Report on NSW Open Labor state conference fringe activities

The combination of our banner and T-shirts, prominently displaying the Open Labor logo, meant that we were certainly noticed as we distributed flyers advertising our fringe event to delegates as they arrived at the Town Hall.  We had decided to conduct our event at a pub about a block away from the Town Hall with the venue hire off-set against bar takings exceeding $250 which we managed to achieve.

There were four other events at the same time as ours (5-7 pm) including one on Labor and Innovation and the one for the Chifley Institute; furthermore the conference itself was not scheduled to finish until 6.30, so we were a little anxious as to whether we would draw a reasonable crowd.  In the event around 70 attended so we have a fair number with which to start our local mailing list.

Our speaker was the Social Researcher, Rebecca Huntley, on the topic “Why should Labor Party reform matter to voters”.  After a brief address on the topic she was then engaged in conversation by David Hetherington, Executive Director of the Per Capita think tank before a number of questions from the floor.  We engaged a cameraman to film the whole event and will be able to provide a record of proceedings.

The following notes by one of those present capture just a little of the content that was covered:

  • Rebecca’s research indicates that public interest in politics and standing for office is very low.
  • The Party treatment of the Bracks et al review after the last election reflects the more general negative view of the Party and its processes.  The nature and location of most Branch meetings present a fundamental barrier to women, migrants and younger voters becoming engaged.  In essence the Party presents as dominated by white, older males with boring meetings which are very un-family-friendly.
  • Research shows that people want leaders who are values-driven and consistent in what they stand for rather than ‘flip-flopping’, a la Rudd on the ETS and Abbot on multiple promises.
  • Public cynicism about politicians being poll-driven is exacerbated by the fact that those who do the interpreting of poll findings are drawn from such a narrow perspective of society and appear to be so short term in their focus.
  • Policies need to be integrated and coherently linked to a narrative which shows a broad strategic approach to what the Party stands for.

One question from the floor involved the observation that we spend too much time navel-gazing about democratic pre-election processes when the real need is for coherent and attractive policies.  Rebecca’s response to the ‘question’ went to the need for appropriate selection processes to ensure we obtain the most competent people in policy-making.  The public perception is that Labor perpetuates the selection of people based on factional support rather than policy competence.

Open Labor NSW will continue to promote rigorous conversations on important topics such as these.

Stability pact makes a mockery of Party democracy in Wills

Eric Dearricott, leader of the Independent faction and member of the Admin Committee, offers this analysis of the results of the Wills preselection:

Wills Pre-Selection
We can be pleased that there was a local member plebiscite as part of the process to select the candidate to replace Kelvin Thompson in Wills and that, at least in the local vote, the principle of the secret ballot was observed.
Beyond that, the stability pact reduced this pre-selection, as it has with almost all other recent pre-selections, to a mere shadow of the democratic process Victorian pre-selections once were.
Under the stability pact agreement Wills was allocated to the Right. Whoever the Right anointed as their preferred candidate all Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) members tied to the Shortcons or to the Left would be bound to vote for that candidate. Consequently 5 candidates connected to the Right (Peter Khalil, Mehmet Tillem, Anna-Maria Arabia, Lambros Tapinos and Meghan Hopper) nominated along with one non-aligned (Josh Funder). No one from the Left nominated because Wills had been given to the Right.
The outcome of the local vote on primaries was: Khalil 224, Tillem 151, Arabia 142, Funder 94, Tapinos 51 and Hopper 32. Around 190 votes of Peter Khalil’s 224 votes were delivered in a block to him by virtue of a deal brokered with local sub-factional chieftains.
On Wednesday afternoon Shortcon POSC members met and decided that Khalil would be their anointed candidate. All other candidates of the Right were required to withdraw which they obligingly did.
This meant only Peter Khalil and non-aligned Josh Funder went before the POSC.
In an embarrassment for the Right the distribution of the preferences of the candidates who had withdrawn placed Funder on 332 votes ahead of Khalil 315 in the local count. No matter: at the POSC (which has under the rules has equal weighting with the local vote)  all but the 3 Independent members were bound by the Stability Pact. The vote of its 100 members: 92 Khalil, 3 Funder with 4 informal converted the outcome into the clear pre-selection of Peter Khalil.
 - Eric Dearricott

How should Labor select its candidates for parliament?

Ideally, there would be a healthy range of candidates, who offer a wealth of experience and who are known in the local community.

The candidates have the chance to present and debate their ideas in open forums, and engage party members and the community directly to explain their credentials.   The candidate would be chosen democratically, in a free and fair vote.
Open Labor called for a local members ballot in the Wills preselection, and it was encouraging to see a ballot of members confirmed in Wills.

Open Labor NSW: unions and the ALP

It’s time to revitalise the Trade Union movement and its relationship with the ALP. Current scandals and decline in union density underscore the problem.

Open Labor NSW: a winning strategy for Bill Shorten

This brief paper outlines a strategy for Bill to gain the upper hand on the Liberals by taking the debate away from the personalities and the media images of the leaders of each party and focusing it on the substance of what both parties envision as Australian Society (not just the economy) in the near and distant future.


Renewing the relationship between the ALP and the unions

In case you couldn't make it, here is the audio for our November meeting, where we discussed the future of the relationship between the labour movement and the Labor Party.

Our terrific panel included Bill Kelty (former ACTU Secretary), Tim Lyons (former ACTU Assistant Secretary) and Luba Grigorovitch (Rail, Tram and Bus Union Secretary).  The panel was hosted by Tom Bentley, from the Open Labor operating group.

Tim Lyons: the future of the union movement

Historian Arnold Toynbee said civilisations don't get murdered, they die by suicide. After the release of new ABS statistics on union membership, we will soon find out if the dictum holds for organisations. Australian unions have only a few years to change or die.

After a brief period of stability, union density in the workforce is again falling sharply.  Under 14 per cent of workers now hold a ticket. The headline number is propped up by the public sector (of about 39 per cent) and strong performances in the health and education sectors.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Reform Hopes Dashed at ALP National Conference

The 2015 ALP National Conference will be remembered for historic decisions on affirmative action and marriage equality, for an intelligent and at times moving debate on asylum seekers, and for the Labor Environment Action Network's well run grassroots campaign that influenced the party's decision to set a target of 50 per cent of power being sourced from renewables by 2030. The commitments that 50 per cent of Labor MPs will be women by 2025 -- with sanctions to back it up -- and that a Shorten Government would introduce a bill for marriage equality within 100 days of taking office also underscored the effectiveness of well-organised campaigns for change inside the party. EMILY’s List has fought for more than 20 years for yesterday’s decision; its activists richly deserved their moment of triumph