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."