Labor Party Conference...dealing with unfinished business

Labor Party Conference...dealing with unfinished business. By Andrew Giles MP.

This Saturday Labor members will come together at Moonee Valley.

This ALP state conference will take place in a celebratory context: 100 days into the Andrews Government, and with Federal Labor taking up the fight in Canberra.

But it will have to deal with unfinished business.

This conference must grapple with Labor Party reform, and must produce a vision of a party that is fit for purpose.

It's this 'vision thing' that's most important. When we talk about changing the way Labor works eyes glaze over quickly, as the debate becomes arcane and alienating - all about the world of the party insider.

Lists of proposals are talked up, and down. Sometimes in terms of terms of their revolutionary impact, more often in terms of who benefits.

How power is distributed within parties is of course vitally important. For members, and anyone concerned for democracy.

But this can't be the whole story. It denies the prospect of radical change.

Which is what is needed.

All around the world political parties are grappling with declining membership and declining civic engagement.

For a reformist party this is a particular concern. There is increasing evidence those least engaged with the political process are those whose lives are insecure. This, in the context, of more and more Australians choosing not to vote, deliberating voting informal, supporting the parties of 'anti politics' or even not enrolling to vote in the first place.

Re-engaging with the concerns of these people must be a bigger priority for Labor reformers than gaming our systems to win extra delegates to party conference.

So, what is to be done?

Let's start at the start. With first principles. I believe in a bigger, more representative and more democratic Labor Party.

To realise this vision we need to think about how Labor's structures, and our culture, support this aspiration on the one hand, and constrain it on the other.

There are signs of hope.

I think of the enthusiasm generated by the leadership election between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese. A contest of ideas that brought thousands into Labor, and gave all of them a real say in our direction.

I think of the work of community organisers in last year's state election. The hundreds of women and men who told Labor's story in their neighbourhoods, and who made a real difference. Who helped change a government.

These are promising foundations, but they need to be reinforced and built upon.

It can be a big come down from choosing Labor's federal leader to arguing over the minutes of last month's meeting. Likewise for community campaigners post the election. They aren't selling Tupperware, they are activists in a movement of change and deserve a say in its direction.

So let's open up our Party.

Let's be confident enough to make space for more voices to shape Labor's future.

Let's ensure that these voices better reflect the community - in particular, that half of them belong to women.

Let's celebrate our union relationship, and that connection to so many workers who might otherwise be shut out from making decisions which shape their lives.

Let us always be a Party of integrity, building trust and rejecting cynicism. This is a fundamental precondition to being a successful movement of change.

We can make real progress towards these goals this week. Delegates can choose to:

ensure that members have their say - always - in selecting Labor candidates, in both houses of our Parliaments. Branch members haven’t had a voice in choosing representatives for the Senate or in our reformed Legislative Council – this can’t continue.

grant members a direct say in decisions that really matter to them, like who leads Victorian Labor and in selecting the delegates that represent Victoria at ALP National Conference – in determining our National Platform.

make a clear statement about what it means to be a member, about the rights and the responsibilities of membership and elevate integrity in our of all processes.

We can also set bold targets around representation and participation – setting a clear pathway to more closely reflect the people we represent. We can’t shirk the question of what sort of party do we want to be.

Tony Abbott's government has demonstrated just how critical formal politics can be in this age of insecurity.

Protests are a critical part in defeating this regressive agenda, but they can't be the whole story.

This is where Labor reform comes in.

Realising an alternative vision means an alternative government - a Labor government. We sell this prospect short if we don't reach out to all those who need such a government and give them a real chance to make their contribution to setting its program and getting it elected.

If you read the rules, Victorian Labor today looks a lot like the same Party circa 1970.

But Victoria doesn't look the same. It's just not good enough for Labor delegates to say to those who might support us, 'it's not me, it's you' when they don't come on board.

We need to stop tinkering at the edges and be as bold as those who founded our Party were 120-odd years ago.

It's time.


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  • FYI. The following has been recently posted in Lock the Gate Alliance Inc on Facebook. Given Pyne’s repetition and endorsement of Mr Ferguson’s comments today in Question Time and his treacherous criticism of Luke Foley in the media this last week, the Victorian State Conference should issue a ‘please explain’ to Mr Ferguson?

    ‘WE SMELL A LARGE GINGER RAT: FORMER FEDERAL LABOR ENERGY MINISTER MARTIN FERGUSON SLAMS NSW LABOR LEADER LUKE FOLEY FOR ’POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM’ – AND THE AUSTRALIAN MEDIA LAPS IT UP.

    We have a few extremely serious questions to ask the Australian media in their reporting of this story.

    1. Are they running the story because Luke Foley is going after the CSG industry in NSW because the Australian people – and those living in NSW – simply do not want it to destroy their farmers, their prime farmland and their water?

    2. Is the Australian media also reporting that Martin Ferguson has an extremely serious ulterior motive since he was appointed Chairman of Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association barely six months after he left Federal Parliament?

    3. Is the Australian media also informing the NSW public that APPEA is the parent body for all CSG production in Australia?.

    4. Is the Australian media also informing the NSW public that Martin Ferguson was appointed to the board of British Gas on the 13 December 2013 as non-executive Director on its International board?.

    5. Furthermore, is the Australian media also informing the NSW public that Fergusons relationship with British Gas may be called into question when a Royal Commission into the granting of CSG licenses by the Bligh Government is ultimately announced, as well as any motivation for his actions on the night of 24 June 2010 when Prime Minister Rudd was rolled in favour of Julia Gillard?.

    6. Finally, what is the real level of investment in the CSG industry by the biggest shareholders in our major media companies?

    Just asking.’