Stephen Paul writes: If the ALP is to be saved from itself this time, its needs to take a good governance approach rather than the failed rules-based ‘deficit model’ approach.
Once again, the Australian Labor Party is focusing on rule changes to save itself from itself.
However, rule changes to make the Party more democratic often fail because the party culture is directed more to deals that provide an armistice to factional wars seen as preventing the ALP from winning elections.
This armistice is achieved by a divvying up the winnable seats on offer. It fails when the factional deals no longer represent the political fortunes of the various Party groups. When agitation for realignment is rejected open warfare erupts.
Administrative reform and the good governance approach
The current ‘deficit model’ of organisational development is where experts come in, determine the problem, and provide the solution, and then disappear. When the solution fails, it is seen as the fault of those who were left to implement the solution. This approach doesn’t allow ownership of either the problem or the solution.
The alternative is asset-based community development where the organisation looks at the assets and strength of its people and the organisation as a whole, conducts a detailed SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), and then clarifies and determines its vision, its values, purpose or mission, aims and objectives. These together tell the story of what the organisation believes in and what it wants to achieve.
Every action of the organisation is then be governed by its values and focussed on achieving the mission and vision. Everyone is held accountable. When people come into the organisation they are asked to understand the organizational values and commit to them.
This is the model the ALP should adopt. The modern ALP is a multi-million-dollar national organisation. It needs to embrace corporate governance.
The ALP employs people to run the Party and they should allow them to do so. The Administration Committee (AC) and National Executive (NE) should act more like a Board of Directors and not interfere in day-to-day administration, or micro-manage such things such as branch membership processing. The AC should ‘steer’ and the paid staff should be allowed to ‘row’. In this model, party members are the shareholders and owners of the Party. Party officials are then accountable to the members and not their factional or union allegiances.
Too many people are appointed to the AC on the back of factional deals and farcical Party democratic processes. They often see their prime focus as looking after their factional interest, with the hope of future factional rewards, rather than looking after the interest of the Party as a whole.
One administrative change which could help delineate the roles and responsibilities is to separate running the Party from running election campaigns. The State Secretary should be responsible for day to day Party administration, as well as organising the servicing of Policy Committees, State Conferences, Party Branches, Party Members and all election and ballots for Party positions.
The Campaign Director should be responsible for the Campaign, fundraising, the ensuring of appropriate candidates and the development of the Party’s Policies and Platform.
While there is and remains a need for the National Executive to have the overarching power to intervene in the decisions of a State organisation, particularly when these decisions are egregious, there needs to be protocols for when and how the National Executive intervenes and overturns a decision. These interventions need to have references to the values, vision and mission of the ALP. It cannot simply be as a fiat by those in charge.
We must clarify what the ALP stands for
The rules, behaviours, administration and actions of an organization derive from its culture. Rules cannot create culture, only values can. In my view, there are only four rules for morality:
- Two wrongs do not make a right
- The ends do not justify the means
- If you reward bad behaviour, you will get more of it
- The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
How we get somewhere is just as important, if not more so, than the getting to there. Until we clarify what we stand for – our values, our vision and our mission – we will always go from one existential crisis to the next.
The current ‘deficit-model’ approach does not address these issues and is therefore fundamentally flawed.
We would all benefit if the Administrators did a literature review of all past Party reviews and rules changes and explained why these rule changes have largely failed. Unless the reason for past failures are understood and acted upon the Party will go through yet another process of rules change and then over time go back to winnable seats and Party offices being been divvied up by factional warlords and union chieftains in secret ‘backroom’ negotiations.