Party members know that party officials are being appointed on the basis of factional allegiance rather than their skills. They know pursuit of personal advancement has overtaken policy commitment and maintaining a broad support base and membership, and that their party has allowed blatant branch-stacking to take place unchecked. They know our governance structure has failed.
Neither the Administrative Committee nor party officials seem to feel any obligation to include members in party decision making processes or to provide members and constituent units with key information necessary for the operation of a democratic organisation. Nearly all 33 Administrative Committee members have not seen their primary responsibility as being to the party and its members but to their factions.
How do we get from a not-so-well run party that doesn’t value members to a well-run party that does?
The current party structure is remarkably complicated. Key central decision makers include the elected State Conference, Admin Committee & Party Officers Committee, the Campaign Committee and the Agenda Committee and the non-elected arty officials and Community Action Network (CAN).
Administrative Committee: The operation of the Administrative Committee has serious problems. The attendance rate of elected members is low. Papers are rarely provided before meetings, and decisions are neither reported or explained to the membership. Information about the work of the Campaign Committee or CAN is rarely reported. Member preselection rights are regularly stripped away and given to the National Executive.
A change in culture and operation (supported by rules changes) at the Administrative Committee is needed. The following rules changes would significantly improve the responsiveness and transparency of the Committee to Party members:
- dispense with proxies for absent members
- provide detailed papers to members at least three days before meetings
- mandate that all Admin members be members of one of its subcommittees
- require a report with explanations of the decisions of each Admin Committee meeting be included in the Members Update.
- introduce a Membership Growth & Development Sub-Committee, which would be required to report to every Administrative Committee meeting and to State Conference.
- hold an AGM that all members can attend either in person or via zoom or like platform
The structure, size of Admin Committee, its role and its relationship with party officials
Some believe that a management structure that would see Labor operate more like an incorporated association with a small board (Admin Committee) of around 12 members to whom the CEO (State Secretary) would report would be more accountable and transparent.
State Office would have departments covering particular functional areas. State Conference might be significantly smaller. An AGM which any member could attend would be part of this structure.
However, any reduction in size of the Administrative Committee and/or State Conference would make it challenging for any representatives of non-aligned Party members to be elected.
Most Labor members and supporters would say that winning elections in order to implement progressive policies for which Labor stands is the party’s most important goal. State Office officials certainly have this view.
However, party members and branches play an essential role in building support, promoting and contributing to our policies and winning elections, yet they are well down the list of priorities for State Office Officials.
Support for members and for branches has been allowed to erode over the years and the resultant aging branch membership is making it harder to ensure that a new generation of members enters the party to continue local campaigning. Not enough State Office staff are assigned to servicing the needs of members, branches, Federal Electorate Assemblies, State Electorate Campaign Committees and other committees.
The independence of employed officials
About a third of party officials are appointed to State Office on the basis of their Faction. Some lack the skills and experience necessary for the positions they occupy.
Rule 184.108.40.206 states: Party Officials are expected not to play an active role in intra Party factional activity. The rules need to be tightened to specifically exclude activities in order to prevent party officials from being drawn into factional activities and to ensure they are appointed on the basis of their skills.
Proposals to facilitate increased participation and openness
- Victorian Labor’s online presence
Our party’s online presence must be interesting and promote Labor as a progressive, caring and inclusive party. It should include a positive pitch for new members, info about how to join (Local and Central branches), contact and meeting details for every branch, and calendar of party events and party rules.
- Improve the members’ newsletter and email it fortnightly or monthly
Important and membership-wide matters must lead the newsletter. It should include all important party decisions and the reasons for them, pre-selection outcomes, imminent events, involvement opportunities, as well as notice of local events. It should offer members broader ways to contribute through LEAN, Rainbow Labor, Associate Policy Committee membership, door-knocking, phone banks, and so on.
- Empower Branches and members
To assist branches to engage, grow and retain their membership, State Office must send them information about applicants, transfers, central members, and more. Branches must be sent lists of their own members, essential start of year forms, the Party Rules Branch Executive handbooks, fundraising guidelines as an automatic right not just on request.
A month before renewal deadline State Office should send Branch Execs a list of their members who are yet to renew so that membership retention is maximised. Input should be regularly sought from Branches and members on key matters, as is now being done by Steve Bracks and Jenny Macklin.
- Introduce a private website login to enable access to key information and materials
Although most key materials should be emailed to party units as a matter of course, other important information should also be available from a private login website. Such a website should contain State Conference Papers to allow member input to delegates, contact details for policy committees etc
- Make more use of tools like Zoom to hold briefings, seminars and policy forums
The COVID lockdown has introduced most people to these platforms, and how easily they can be used to engage members, compared to travelling long distances or evening meetings in cold halls. Remote access to events such as State Conferences and Policy Forums should also be made possible.
- Improve the dismal functioning of State Conference
Attendance often diminishes sharply after lunchtime on the first day of State Conference. Many delegates see their only duty as voting in ballots. They vote and then they leave.
Important debates such as those on rules changes are often debated too late to ensure the statutory majority require for their passage. These matters must be addressed.
- Make information about policy committees more available
Attendance at policy committees is variable. Associate members are often better attenders and do more work than members who are there simply because they were on a factional ticket. Many members are unaware that they are entitled to be associate members of Policy Committee – the party must remind them of this regularly, and who they need to contact to become an associate member.
- Better integrate Community Action Network (CAN) and local party members
The activities of CAN are not reported to the Administrative Committee so there is little oversight of its activities, which are directed by State Office. When properly integrated with the local campaign elements the work of the CAN Field Officers can significantly add to local election campaigns. Yet State Office has preferred CAN volunteers to party members for activities such as street stalls, door knocking and phone banks. Local campaign workers often feel excluded, and their skills and knowledge overlooked. Better inclusion of local members in the CAN part of the campaign is essential.
Even after elections State Office does not help to recruit CAN volunteers into branches, for fear their recruitment would diminish factional power. Elections must be used to bring CAN volunteers and other new members into branches and the party.
- Introduce an annual membership report to State Conference and the AGM
Just as the party rules stipulate the need for an annual financial report, they should also require an annual membership status report. It would include the total number of party members, the number of members by FEA, the number of new members gained in the past year and the number or lapsed members over that year. It would also include the age and gender profiles of the Party. Such statistics are never reported – not even to the Administrative Committee.
These recommendations should help focus the party at its highest levels on the need to value its members.