The desire for more open democratic party emerged as a strong theme in the first round of submission to the Victorian ALP Administrators, Jenny Macklin and Steve Bracks.
A party of progress and success in Government is strengthened by the ideas, ideals and activities of its members and supporters. This discussion paper examines ways in which members and supporters given greater a say in the processes and deliberations of the party, all of which will contribute to a stronger party culture.
Removing barriers to participation
Current barriers to democratic participation include: practical difficulties attending meetings for many members e.g. mothers of young children getting away of an evening; older members with transport difficulties, young members with limited time but passion for specific policy areas unwilling to attend meetings and country members required to travel distances.
Other processes that get in the way include: slow notification to branches of the identity of new or transferred members to branches; delayed email lists for advertising activities and no central accessible notice of party meetings and seminars; no effective secret ballots, non-transparent factional deals.
To remove these barriers the party could: approve online meetings and validate attendance by registration/ image photo; adapt to a mix of times and locations for valid branch meetings; trial open government formats to discuss and decide policy and for candidate training and selection; and develop a professional website for communication.
The party also needs to consider equal representation of all FEAs at party conferences; designating First Peoples positions at Conference and on decision making Committees, training for members and potential candidates via the Labor Academy and adapting policy committees to include unaffiliated unions such as the ANMF.
The ALP was formed to provide political representation for working people and to achieve political and industrial benefits that could only be won and defended through Parliaments. There are a range of models to give a greater role to individual party members and working people at a local level and across the party.
Party processes and decisions need to reflect the spread of views across the membership (both individual members and working people). This requires proportional representation to reflect the views of all members and, as far as is possible, direct voting by members. The disproportionate weight given to factions and other groups in the selection of candidates and in party processes must be reduced. Change could occur by:
- direct and proportionate voting by members for bodies such as State and National Conferences, selection of candidates for public office, Administrative Committee and Public Office Selection Committee (if not replaced by direct voting);
- members of affiliated trade unions being able to vote directly, by proportional representation, for their delegates to State and National Conferences. (This would deliver three main benefits: the party would benefit from hearing the full spread of views of working people and increasing their input at a local level as well as centrally, unions could concentrate on their industrial roles without worrying about being taken over on a “winner takes all” basis for their political numbers, and the blocking influence of factions would be reduced). Models could include all members of affiliated trade unions voting together (by PR) or separately in their respective unions.
- one State Conference delegate being nominated by the Secretary of each affiliated union so as to guarantee that each affiliated union is represented;
- eligible Union Members being able to vote directly in pre-selections for local ALP Candidates in the electorates where they live and for Senate ALP Candidates. (It will be essential to ensure that eligible union members are genuine, live where they say they live and pay their own membership fees by their personal traceable means. Voting allocation could, for example, be 50% for local ALP Members, 25% for local union members and 25% for the Public Office Selection Committee);
- extending the representation of working people to include members of all trade unions (including those affiliated and not affiliated to the Labor Party) or all working people. (This could include unionists in industries such as nursing and teaching who currently have no direct role in party processes and decisions but who provide a lot of volunteer effort for Labor campaigns. Measures to encourage unions to be affiliated to the party would still be important.)
Branches and culture
1. Provide support for branches
ALP State Office should provide materials and ideas to assist Branches to increase their active role in their community and to reach out and increase active members.
There should be monthly advice of local membership changes and of Central Branch members in the local area so Branches can invite them to participate in local activities. Similarly, information should be provided to Branches about union members who live or work in their local area so the Branches can invite them to participate in local activities. Further, efforts are needed to bring Branches and the Community Action Network (CAN) closer together so they can be mutually beneficial in increasing active members and co-operation in community and election campaigns.
2. The location of branches
Members should be able to belong to any Branch in the federal electorate, state electorate or municipality in which they live. This would align with member preferences and require minimal change when electoral boundaries change. Branches should be encouraged to actively reach out to their local .community in order to increase active ALP membership and pursue community issues.
Similarly, Members should be able if they wish to belong to an interest Branch on the basis that they will reach out to other interested people in order to increase active ALP membership and pursue that policy issue.
All Members would continue to vote for State Conference delegates in the federal electorate in which they live and to vote to preselect candidates in the electorate where they live.
3. Changing the size or location of branches won’t solve branch stacking
There is some correlation between safer seats in Parliament, larger Branches and Branch stacking. Forcing Branches to be bigger or to cover all of some geographical area will not reduce Branch stacking by factions – other direct measures are required to achieve that.
The proposal by faction leaders to shift to having one Branch per State electorate is a Trojan Horse to increase factional control and a diversion from real action against Branch stacking. Shifting State Conference delegations from larger federal electorates to smaller state electorates would increase the voting percentage required to win a quota and therefore reduce the diversity of delegates not from the big factions.
What do you think?
The suggestions outlined are aimed at revitalising membership and branches, the party’s links with the trade union movement and therefore making the party an attractive one to join, a party with a culture of integrity, democracy, and transparency, strengthened by the ideas, ideals and activities of all its members and supporters.
These suggestions are not comprehensive, so what do you think?
What would improve your experience of and engagement with the party?
Do some groups carry disproportionate weight in decision making?
Please comment her below the line.