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ALP Review

February 19, 2011

A Federal Government Minister is quoted saying it is not party structure that wins elections but leadership and policy. Agreed. The contribution of Hawke and Keating and, before them, of Whitlam makes the point.

But the ALP structure is declining so rapidly that unless more members are recruited we won’t have supporters to run polling booths or undertake telephone canvassing. In other words, nobody to get the brilliant leaders a majority in parliament by getting the vote out. That is the case for more involvement and participation through direct rank-and-file election of national executive members, for example. Give people reasons to join branches and arrest the decline in membership. Without that the party might become a cadre party – no more than 25 members qualified to vote in a preselection, for example – rather than a mass membership party. Right now it’s probably positioned somewhere between these two models.

As for primaries, here’s an observation. I have serious reservations about the US primary system. It gives too much power to public sector unions. California provides a case study. You only get a seat in the State house by promising everything to the teachers, fire officers, prison guards etc and they turn out to vote for you and their pension entitlements are bankrupting the state. It invites small activist groups like the National Rifle Association to throw their weight around in the selection of candidates. And it requires big sums of money to get the vote out – which exacerbates the first two problems.

Aware of these, the review has taken a cautious approach and limited its recommendation to non-held or open seats and capped the percentage of party supporters ( as opposed to party members ) and union members who get to vote. I’m not sure of my colleagues Steve Bracks and John Faulkener but I would see our recommendation on primaries as an invitation to an experiment.

Putting all of this in context, think of the European social democratic and labor parties – big, 100 year old, broad church organisations based on the industrial working class. They have all
contracted as the working class itself has contracted. In some countries right wing populist parties running anti-immigrant rhetoric ( anti-Islamic rhetoric ) are pulling support away, in others the Green Party pulls support from the left ( in Austria it is both, in Germany there is a left party as well as the Green Party but no rightwing populist party ). Support for social democrats is falling to 20 something percent levels. And as a result of other social changes membership of most traditional organizations like churches is falling too. Political parties are not the only institutions in trouble.

But they are the institutions that concern me because history teaches that strong political parties are the mainstay of democracy.

I am happy for the ALP national executive to release the bulk of our review because the rank and filers who presented their opinions to us want to see all our thoughts. Nothing to fear in a bit of openness.

8 Comments
  1. February 19, 2011 8:59 pm

    Membership is in decline precisely because of the void of leadership and policy.
    I quit the party in early 2010 after 14 years.
    In my time, I slaved and bled for the party, perhaps more than most although probably not yourself Mr Carr. I’d certainly earned my stripes and proudly did my duty. But under Rudd and later Gillard, Labor was no longer a party I believed in. Instead, it had become driven by populism and focus-groups. Can any of the average membership stand up and really say what the party stands for, and why they are proud of it? “Not being Tories” seems to be about all we have now, and that was no longer enough for me, and many like me.
    The debate around the options for preselections is very much a case of rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. Instead, the party should look at why so many of its people, its true believers, have handed in their badges.

  2. Peter Pando permalink
    February 20, 2011 11:20 am

    Dear Mr Carr,

    Tragically, meritocracies always decline for the reason that after a short time their bureaucracies become bases from which standards and rules are re-invented to protect those in standardising and rule-making positions. The meritocracy then ossifies and subtle nepotism takes hold. In public service, this unfortunately can lead to favouritism in service delivery. One doesn’t need to look too far to see places plagued for millenia by this problem and understand why some are trying to urge forward the new bureaucratic post of ‘Mandarin’, complete with Constitutional reference in the Executive.

  3. Evan Williams permalink
    February 21, 2011 1:05 am

    An oft-repeated quote, but “we know what happens to those who stand in the middle of the road…”

    I’m sure there could be a graph drawn with a correlation between the ALP’s march toward the middle of the road and ALP members march away from the party.

    The media’s hyper-scrutinizing tendencies when combined with the capacities of 24-hour news and the internet have proven a fatal formula for inspiring politics.

    I believe it is this that would be the main factor influencing the ALP’s march toward the middle of the road. Important to remember though, the Coalition was also standing right there with them and they both got run over on the 21st of August.

    Would love to see more of the review released.

    Thanks,
    
Evan.

  4. lindsay allen permalink
    February 21, 2011 5:17 pm

    The current structure has not provided a Labor candidate in the NSW seat of Goulburn. No Labor Candidate for the Seat of Goulburn ? It’s time for the State Election. Labor is taking time out? The Greens, the Fred Nile group and the Liberals are already campaigning. Ms Goward in 2007 won the seat by preferences. In 2007, the Liberal winning margin was 1.3%.

  5. Mr Francis O'Neill permalink
    March 1, 2011 4:13 pm

    Dear Sir/Madam

    I have been a Labor voter all my political life and now at 62 the last Federal election was the first time I voted the other way. I have been a Labor party member, a union delegate and shop steward during my working life. I am also a Disabled War Veteran from two tours in Vietnam. I have held senior positions within a number of Ex Service Organisations and against the consensus I have supported the socialist side of politics within these organisations saying a soldier is only a worker who carries a gun for a while. I have hosted both Bob Hawke and Paul Keating at my RSL while they were on the hustings and applauded the rise of the Rudd Government with its full of promise Minister for Veterans Affairs, Alan Griffin.
    Now why do I no longer support the current policies of the ALP and why did you loose so many voters in the last election ? From a Disabled Veterans perspective there is only one answer. The ALP policy of singling out the DVA Disability Pension as the only, repeat only government pension to be legislatively excluded from the one off “Maintaining the Purchasing Power” increase afforded to all other pensions in the nation on 24th September 2009.
    From March 2009 when the exclusion policy was announced there has been a continuous e mail campaign raging between the Veteran community and Government Ministers and Department in an effort to rectify this blatant injustice. Individuals and Service Organisations have repeatedly asked for the reason for the denial of the increase. 14 Service Organisations including the RSL have the rectification of this injustice to the sickest and most wounded of our ex ADF soldiers on their priority list however their submissions to various levels of government have gone unanswered.
    There are 123,000 DVA Disability Pensioners, 23,000 of these are totally reliant on government replacement income as they are unable to work due to war caused wounds or trauma. There are 360,000 clients of the DVA. These numbers in voting terms impact and made the difference in key marginal seats such as Canning where ALP candidate Alannah MaTiernan lost but swung 2.6% to her and away from the Libs against the prevailing national trend. Canning for the first time had within its boundary the costal city of Mandurah which has a huge ex service community. I told Alannah when she announced her change from State politics that she would loose if the ALP did not change its policy towards Disabled Veterans. Tim Hammond ALP in Swan went backwards far more than the national trend by 5.7% again I told him he would have no chance if policy was not changed. These and many other seats nationally were targeted by the Veterans “Fair Go Campaign” organised by the Defence Force Welfare Association and other Service groups with the support of almost every veteran and ADF member so great was the outrage against the ALP policy of denying the increase and in support for our Disabled Diggers.
    I will finish with the then Minister for Veterans Affairs, Alan Griffins electorate of Bruce. You will understand that in the climate Alan’s electorate came in for special treatment from the Veteran community. Alan went backwards by 2.6% in his personal vote this against the tide of a pro ALP swing in Victoria of 1.3% (if memory serves me) in effect he lost nearly 4%. As he was not in the caucus he had no influence on the policy he was to administer. He was the patsy and paid the price of the turmoil within the DVA clients group by being demoted to the back bench foregoing $75,000 in Ministerial salary.
    The policy of denying the DVA Disability Pension recipient the 2.7% of MTAWE increase is based on ideological not fiscal concerns. As I have already said all pensions were increased by 2.7% except DVA Disability. However the 2.7% is an arbitrary figure. For arguments sake all government pensions including DVA Disability could have been increased by say 2.5% thus maintaining the overall and forward budget forecast at the same monetary amount. No this is a deliberate policy of the inner caucus of the ALP the consequences of which have removed votes from every candidate and undermined confidence in the ALP to act in a fair, just and equitable manner.
    The next election will be even more difficult for the ALP the rage of the Veteran and ADF community is being maintained at an ever increasing pace as the word spreads through the most disciplined and loyal to each other cohort in the Nation. They are information savvy and are now expanding from e mail circulation lists and blogs into the social network sites. This even before the Nations sympathy and patriotism for our Anzac Disabled has been brought to the attention of the greater electorate via the print and electronic media.
    At the cost of $560million over a four year forward estimates period the ALP has unnecessarily lost the good will of the Veteran/ADF community and jeopardised vital votes in key marginals.
    To conclude I recently had a meeting with The Disabilities Discrimination Commissioner a Mr Innes. He asked me how much the forward estimate was for correcting the injustice when I proffered the DVA’s own figure of $560million over four years he responded by saying” it has nothing to do with the money then, it is a policy decision”.
    This policy will throw the Australian Labor Party out of Government. Change it, rectify the injustice and you will be rewarded with votes.

    Yours truly,

    Frank O’Neill
    Perth, WA.

    15.12.10

  6. Bill Dobell permalink
    March 2, 2011 5:58 pm

    Frank O’Neil presents a very well constructed letter that gets right to the heart of the veteran community’s feelings of betrayal and lack of respect coming from the policy makers in the Labor party. Veterans are getting more and more angry at the arrogance shown against them and feel they have been seriously betyrayed.

  7. Wayne Sissing permalink
    March 3, 2011 3:09 pm

    Mr O’Neil has set out, so eloquently, the views of all returned service men and women. Labor seems to have no difficulty in sending our best into harms way! Yet they can’t raise a tear for the Deceased, or honour statements, such as you’l be ok, we will look after you, and yours, if your injured. Swan told the Q’land RSL that there were no votes in looking after Veterans. Well, Labor is going to learn a savage lesson, as we oldies become more computer literate, we are communicating more with family and friends. It is interesting how we are now able to influence the opinion of not only our children, but now our grand children, as they begin to vote. Nearly ever Veteran has a family, so it’s not 130,000 votes they stand a chance of loosing, it’s 130,000 families, many of 3 generations. In the 1950’s, the T&PI rate was the equivalent of 100% Total Weekly Earnings ( average weeks wage plus average overtime), today its down to 43% of Average Weekly Earnings (average income for 38 hours), that over $150 less per week, and still falling. Under just the Rudd and Gillard Governments, Disabled Veterans income has reduced by 3%, even when compared with an Aged Pensioner. Labor has no honour, unlike the Veteran community, who signed a blank cheque to this Country, that included their life.

  8. Kenneth Taylor. permalink
    March 4, 2011 5:21 pm

    Frank O’Neil has laid out the complaint that Veterans have been wrestling with for some time in a very orderly manner. Both Political Parties have treated the Veterans poorly, but Labour told the Biggest Lie, then actually Openly Discriminated against those who placed their trust in them.
    I for one will never trust any Member of the Labour Party again, be they State, Federal or Union.

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