News

Party news: another failed opportunity for reform, but the fight goes on

Joel Kennedy, Open Labor state conference delegate

I was one of two non-factional delegates (the other was Linda Condon) representing Melbourne Ports at the 2017 Victorian Labor State Conference last month. This report focuses on party reform. Sadly, once again no material positive rule changes were achieved. 

The big issue was whether the state party would finally make good on federal leader Bill Shorten's 2014 pledge to introduce a vote for ordinary members in Senate preselections, among other democratic reforms. A motion from the Left faction to give ordinary members 50 per cent of the vote, with the other 50 per cent going to union delegates, gained about half the vote on the conference floor, but the vote was never counted because it fell well short of a statutory majority (a majority of all delegates eligible to vote at the conference, regardless of numbers on the floor). 

The Right and the National Union of Workers opposed the motion. Non-factional delegates, including Open Labor, supported the motion, because while we believe that it would be more democratic if the other 50 per cent of the vote was exercised by the Public Office Selection Committee, which is elected by State Conference, we see the Left motion as an important step forward for ordinary members and party democracy, and for electing a higher calibre of Senate candidate.

The only conclusion that can be reached from this non-event is that many delegates, from both factional groupings, were not present to vote. I strongly encourage pro-reform rank and file members to ask their delegates whether they attended and how they voted on this key issue for party reform. 

I moved a rules change (seconded by Linda) on mandating traceable means for payment of party membership. Despite having been debated many times, this rule change was inexplicably referred for further consideration.

 The whole rules debate was conducted with very little energy or enthusiasm, without even speakers in opposition to the Senate reform. Grassroots supporters of the ALP need to get more vocal, and demand the party continue the process began by Bill Shorten in 2014, but one that he has sadly walked away from. With the national conference just a year away, we must prepare to put party reform front and centre of the 2018 agenda. Lest we forget, here is what Bill Shorten said about Senate preselections in his party reform speech in 2014:

"Giving our members more of a say in pre-selections doesn’t end with the House of Representatives. Friends, we need to change our Senate pre-selection process.

Labor has always been well served by our Senators- and we have a motivated Senate team. But the rancour over the recent Western Australian process shows that in the future we need a method that provides a local voice – in addition to a central component – so that we can select the best possible candidates.

There a range of views on the best way forward, but there is no dancing around the truth. Local Labor voices need to be heard in Senate selection across Australia – and the first steps must be taken now."

 

 

We're fighting for the right to vote for our Senators: join us!

We came so very close at the last Victorian State Conference to seeing much-needed reform of Senate preselection voting rules.  Ultimately, meaningful debate on the floor was thwarted by a cynical misuse of formal procedure.   But all is not lost: the next Victorian State Conference is coming up in only a few months, and we want to make it impossible for the guardians of the status quo to justify ignoring members' calls for democratic reform.

Since 2003, Victorian members have not been allowed to exercise their right to vote for their state Upper House candidates.   Too often, preselections are worked out behind closed doors, and unworthy candidates are chosen for politically expedient reasons.  

Open Labor, the Independents, Local Labor and 32 branches across Victoria called on delegates to allow 50% of the vote in preselection contests to be given to ALP members.  Given voters' growing disillusionment with politics and politicians, both here and abroad, our leaders would be wise to learn from Brexit and Trump, and make it easier for loyal, committed ALP members to participate meaningfully in our party's processes.

32 branches signed up in the weeks leading up to last year's conference.  This time, we hope that you and your branch will add your voices to call for this much-needed change.

Below is the motion that we are sending out to branches.  We hope that you will take this motion to your branch, and join us in this fight.  If you would like someone from Open Labor to come and speak to your branch, please email info@openlabor.net.au

 


 

Motion for Victorian ALP branches

That this branch of the ALP writes to:

1. the ALP’s State Secretary requesting him to advise the State Conference of the Victorian ALP and also

2. to the elected conference representatives from this FEA expressing our support for a rule change regarding the method of preselection for Upper House seats.

That the rule change be to provide a 50% rank and file member’s component to take place in Senate preselections for this state, with the vote held by optional proportional representation and a secret ballot.

This branch also requests that the party ensures that the Administrative Committee of the Victorian Branch does not take away members’ existing rights to vote in the imminent pre-selections of Legislative Council candidates for the next State election, as has occurred in the four previous elections.

That this branch also writes to Open Labor to advise of its support for their position on preselection voting.

 

Moved: ………………………………

Seconded: ………………………………

 


 

Here are the branches that have already signed up to support members' voices in Senate preselections:

Albert Park
Bacchus Marsh
Ballarat West
Bass
Bentleigh
Brighton
Canterbury
Castlemaine
Clayton South
Diamond Valley
Elsternwick
Fitzroy/Collingwood
Frankston North
Glenhuntly
Glenroy
Ivanhoe
Kilmore
Kyneton
Manningham
Newport
Pascoe Vale
Reservoir
Seymour
Stawell
Strathmore
Thornbury-Croxton
Wangaratta
Westernport

As you can see, the support for democratic reform comes from all quarters, from the city to the bush.  We hope that you join us, and that our leaders will respond with action, not platitudes.

Victorian ALP conference votes down party reform...again

Yesterday the Victorian ALP conference voted down a motion to give ordinary members of the party 50 per cent of the vote for Senate preselections, a change that Open Labor has campaigned for in partnership with the Independents and Local Labor. The party’s internal alignments and votes are always shifting and opaque but in essence the Left and independent delegates backed the change, the Right opposed it. Expected support for the Left position from the right-wing Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association did not materialise, and the Right won the day.

No doubt, the result is a blow for party democracy. An hour or two after Bill Shorten made a speech attacking the trickle-down economic policies of the Turnbull Government, his faction took a trickle-down approach to party reform. As the world shudders and shifts on its axis, threatening social democratic parties everywhere and demanding they take brave steps to reinvent themselves, the Victorian ALP settled for business as usual: deals done behind closed doors, prime positions in parliament doled out as factional favours, one more tick for mediocrity.

The conference also removed the right of central branch members to vote in parliamentary preselections and state conference delegate elections in their electorates – unless they join a local branch. The Left proposed this motion on the ground that it would stop recent and widespread stacking of electorates through central branch. This is a good aim, but the change also disenfranchises the many legitimate members of central branch, and will slow down the growth in party membership, which everyone claims they want to see. About a third of the Victorian party’s 14,000 members belong to central branch; it is the fastest growing membership category.

The conference wasn’t a complete disaster for reform. It reaffirmed the National Conference’s decision ensuring that women make up 50 per cent of public office and internal positions by 2025. It further opened election of National Conference delegates to ordinary members, and it ruled that the party must start preselections for the state Upper House at least 17 months before an election, a change that increases the chance that ordinary members will get 50 per cent of the vote in these preselections (a right they already hold but that has not been granted to them since 2003).

But the reform to Senate voting is vital because, perhaps more than any other on the table at present, it reduces central and factional control. As democracy tends to do, it introduces an unpredictable element, the wishes and views of the voters. It would enable and force Senate preselection candidates to speak directly to the members: to explain what they stand for, and which policies they would pursue. It empowers the members and gives them a greater stake in their own party, a reason to go out year after year and campaign. It would almost certainly ensure a higher calibre of candidate than the party is producing today for the House that should be the home for our best policy minds.

What were the arguments put against the rank and file having a voice? Rosemary Barker and Garth Head, who led the Right’s case against the motion, said that a postal vote of members would be cumbersome and expensive. Barker, who on Saturday energetically moved procedural motions that seemed designed to shut down debate on this issue, said that a statewide vote would favour candidates with money. In the internet age it is hard to see how that argument holds. Last year the party held an election for national president. Candidates made their main pitches to members via email and online; all answered a Local Labor and Open Labor questionnaire on their commitments to democratic reform. Moneywise, this was hardly Clinton versus Trump. A more plausible reason for Right opposition is that on recent history, the faction tends to lose local ballots. Setting loose 50 per cent of the Senate vote may surrender up more power than the faction can bear.

Bill Shorten’s failure to push for democratic reform is puzzling and disappointing. Of course, the national leader has bigger concerns than a vote for democratic reform in one state. But as Open Labor delegate Joel Kennedy pointed out in yesterday’s debate, it was Shorten himself who, in a landmark speech in 2014, not only embraced reform but explicitly called for rank and file members to gain 50 per cent of the vote for the Senate. Shorten based his case on the need to get more good people into the party and into parliament. But when this reform was fiercely debated at National Conference last year, Shorten took no part, walking back onto the conference floor minutes after the debate was done and the motion lost. A year later Shorten has not only maintained his silence on reform, he actively intervened last month to ensure the victory of a Right factional ally, Kimberley Kitching, in one of the murkier Senate preselections of recent memory. Where are all those fine words on democracy and building a party of 100,000 members now?

Reformers should not lose heart. The next State Conference, just six months away, may vote again on Senate preselection reform. In the past few weeks alone, Open Labor, the Independents and Local Labor have signed up 28 city, suburban and country branches (see list on the Open Labor website) to support the reform. The three groups will keep that campaign going – by May we want to have at least 100 branches, and more pro-reform delegates on the conference floor. How long can the wall against party democracy stand?

***

Voting has begun for Victoria’s four rank and file delegates for Labor’s National Policy Forum. Independent Eric Dearricott has posted the following message: “I have already been contacted by several members seeking advice about the candidates. Tom Cameron, Jamie Gardiner and Michael Wheatland are independent/non-aligned candidates. I know both Tom Cameron and Jamie Gardiner personally. They have outstanding policy development qualifications and experience, are good party members and well and truly worthy of support.”

Report written by James Button, Open Labor operating group member

November newsletter

In dark times, some good news beckons at tomorrow’s ALP state conference in Victoria. (It’s at Moonee Valley racecourse from 9am – all ALP members can attend.) The conference seems poised to give ordinary party members 50 per cent of the vote to preselect Labor’s Senate candidates.  

This is a vital reform that will strengthen party democracy and the quality of Labor Senate candidates. It will give rank-and-file members a chance to assess the policies and personalities of the people we work for and who work for us. Over the past few months Open Labor has worked hard for this change in partnership with Local Labor and the Independents. Twenty-six branches have voted for the reform since the three groups held a well-attended public meeting on the issue last month. The branches are inner city, suburban and country (see list below) – the demand for change spans the party.  So if you can, come to the conference tomorrow and support it.

While you’re there, the Chifley Research Centre – Labor’s think tank – is running an event on Inclusive Prosperity: why inequality matters and what to do about it. Michael Cooney, Linda White and Godfrey Moase will speak about why our economy is becoming unequal, why that threatens future growth, and how the political system and Labor should respond. The event takes place at 2pm at the State Conference at Moonee Valley.

If thinking about the present is too troubling, then you can look to the future of inner-city education in Melbourne.  Education Minister James Merlino and a diverse panel of parents, academics and community leaders will discuss plans for three new inner city schools in an open forum.  This will be held in the Community Hub, 107 Victoria Harbour Promenade in the Docklands on Monday 21st November at 6:15.

Here are the branches who are calling to increase the rank and file vote in Senate preselections:

Albert Park
Bacchus Marsh
Ballarat West
Bass
Bentleigh
Brighton
Canterbury
Castlemaine
Clayton South
Elsternwick
Fitzroy/Collingwood
Frankston North
Glenroy
Ivanhoe
Kilmore
Kyneton
Manningham
Newport
Pascoe Vale
Reservoir
Seymour
Strathmore
Williamstown
Wonthaggi
Woodend
Upper Yarra

More Victorian branches sign up to Senate reform

Ahead of this weekend's State Conference, the groundswell to democratise Senate preselections is growing stronger.  Many of Victoria's strongest and most active branches have signed up, and the message couldn't be clearer: rank and file members need a greater voice in choosing the Senate candidates who represent us.
Albert Park
Bacchus Marsh
Ballarat West
Bass
Bentleigh
Brighton
Castlemaine
Clayton South
Elsternwick
Fitzroy/Collingwood
Frankston North
Glenroy
Kilmore
Kyneton
Newport
Pascoe Vale
Reservoir
Seymour
Strathmore
Westernport
Williamstown
Wonthaggi
Woodend

21 branches and rising call for Senate preselection reform

Branches across the state are joining together to call for a fairer and more transparent process to preselect Senate candidates.  Note the spread across rural and metropolitan branches: rank and file members agree that democratic processes need to be strengthened to give ordinary members more voice in choosing who represents us.
Albert Park
Bacchus Marsh
Ballarat West
Bass
Bentleigh
Brighton
Castlemaine
Clayton South
Elsternwick
Fitzroy/Collingwood
Frankston North
Glenroy
Kilmore
Kyneton
Newport
Pascoe Vale
Seymour
Strathmore
Williamstown
Wonthaggi
Woodend
If your branch would like to sign up to support our motion, or if you would like someone from Open Labor, the Independents or Local Labor to come and speak to your branch, please email us.

ABC Lateline reports on undemocratic Senate preselections

Open Labor's Tom Bentley spoke to Lateline, expressing our shared concerns about the murky and undemocratic process that led to the most recent Senate preselection.  Watch the video here: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2016/s4564804.htm

Twelve branches (and rising) sign up to ALP grassroots campaign for Senate vote

Open Labor, Local Labor and the Independents are calling on the Victorian ALP to give ordinary party members 50 per cent of the vote in preselections for the Senate and the State Upper House. The three groups are signing up party branches to support the campaign for greater party democracy.
 
Last week the Albert Park branch unanimously passed two motions supporting the campaign. A star-studded meeting was attended by former Minister and Federal Opposition Leader Simon Crean, senior state minister Martin Foley and former Victorian Education and Planning Minister Mary Delahunty. Twelve branches are now supporting the campaign. They are: 
 
Albert Park
Bacchus Marsh
Bentleigh
Clayton South
Elsternwick
Glenroy
Kilmore
Kyneton
Newport
Pascoe Vale
Strathmore
Woodend

October 14 preselection of new Labor Senator

The Victorian ALP’s brief and furtive selection process for a new candidate to replace retiring Senator Stephen Conroy highlights the urgent need for ordinary party members to have a vote in picking Labor Senate candidates, three ALP reform groups say.

Open Labor, the Independents and Local Labor pointed out that ordinary members played no role in the preselection, they were given no information about the range of candidates, and no chance to discuss and compare candidates’ views on policy or the direction of the party.

The three groups called on delegates to the party’s November State Conference to vote for giving ordinary members a 50 per cent say in selecting Senate candidates via a statewide secret ballot - a vital step toward a more democratic, and open ALP whose candidates are more representative of the party and the community.

On Thursday night the state party’s Public Office Selection Committee, which has 100 per cent of the vote for Senate candidates and which is controlled by the Right and Left factions, chose Kimberley Kitching to replace Senator Conroy in the number one spot on the Victorian Senate ticket.

Open Labor, the Independents and Local Labor are not objecting to the choice of any particular individual but to a process that locks out ordinary members.

“Party members get no say, they’re not even told what is going on, then they are expected to faithfully roll out and campaign wholeheartedly for the successful candidate in their communities,” said Open Labor spokesperson Tom Bentley. “The Labor Party must do better than that if it is to gain and retain the support of ordinary Victorians.”

An open meeting of ALP members last week unanimously called upon ALP reform groups to launch a campaign to ensure a vote for ordinary Labor members in the preselection of Victorian Senate and Upper House Labor candidates. The meeting urged ALP branches to move a motion before State Conference supporting this position.

Independents spokesperson Eric Dearricott said that the Senate should house Labor’s best policy thinkers but the party for years had failed to provide a transparent preselection process that ensured the best people were chosen.

Local Labor spokesperson Gavin Ryan said: “Creating a statewide ballot for Senate preselections will help to revitalise the party by giving ordinary members a chance to vote for candidates whose policies they support.”

For more information about the campaign, or to invite a speaker to your branch, contact Tom Bentley (Open Labor) on 0400 930 525, Gavin Ryan (Local Labor) on 0403 336 829 or Eric Dearricott (Independents) 0419 357 192.