Saturday, 5 March 2011

SOAPBLOG: TJ Norton: Labor's internal review - enshrining the value of member contributions

TJ Norton is a prolific community advocate who lives in Logan City. As a member of the Australian Labor Party since 1998, he's served as campaign manager on local, state and federal campaigns, and is running for Logan City Council at the next local body elections.

He subscribes to the adage that the welfare of the people is to be the highest law.

For today's SoapBlog, TJ reviews Labor's national review, authored by Steve Bracks, John Faulkner, Bob Carr. He looks at the way Labor party branches are enshrining the value of member contributions. There's some real lessons here for the Cairns branch of the ALP about selecting it's candidate, but can they read?

I'm now about 3/4 of the way through the 2010 Bracks/Carr/Faulkner ALP National Review.

An assessment of all points raised is far too difficult to address singularly. Nonetheless, there are some profound and self-evident recommendations throughout particularly with regard to the role of branches and the rank and file membership. I have views on some other notes but I would like to use this time to address issues about branches and membership specifically.

From the thousands of submissions there was a central theme: Acknowledging the power that comes with being a party member and assuring that their voice is being listened to - not just received.

The single greatest challenge for all branches is ensuring there is a contemporary feel and operation for maximum attraction. This is the best way to keep members active and engaged. However, my view is the goal markings have been formulated in a one-sided way. Whereas the desire of branches is to attract members, keep those members and build on that success, there is a real disconnect between the exercise of membership and empowerment of that to be recognised by the party machine at-large.

My take on this, whilst not intending to be overly simplistic or nebulous in meaning, is that when members do not feel their contribution and their skills valued by the branches and party respectively it discourages active participation. In other words - what is left for that member to do other than slip out the door?
It is true that democracy wins and this isn't a mere case of branch infighting - although it certainly doesn't help.

The evidence from the review is crystal: members are growing in their discontent of the machinery of the party - particularly on pre-selections, conference rules, policy development and partnerships in power with Labor governments.

This is in stark contrast to the well-oiled LNP machinery in Queensland and credit where its due is a large plus in their electoral column. In comparison, the ALP is severely hindered by a web of near impossible processes and lacks meaningful direction on such matters as social media engagement, community advocacy in each electorate and inter-unit communication. It's a bitter pill to take but one that cannot be refuted. Labor can no longer afford to rely on out of touch mechanics.

"Partnerships In Power" was a one-time Queensland Labor mechanism to act as a conduit between the party and the-then Beattie Government. This was where branches and other party units could submit policy ideas to the Government through the party. I can think of no other time during the course of my 13-year Labor membership that branches - and members in particular - had access to such a thorough, direct and timely process to submit feedback directly from Queensland communities and bring it to the attention of the relevant Minister. Within a matter of a few years this fell away from practice and - don't quote me on it - seemed to coincide with the Shepherdson Inquiry into electoral rorting and acts using public funds. It does appear to be the most logical reason for its discontinuance.

From there on in, party members maintained the usual accesses although it was often a long and truncated structure. In an attempt to fix the wrongs in the political system, the new process was untenable for any party's partnership with the government of the day.

For the ALP, members rose issues with branches, which raised it with State electoral councils, Federal electoral councils, which, if adopted, raised it with regional conference, which if adopted it resolved with state conference..... the process went on.

Debates on the issues affecting one community originally was taken on as a far removed proposal, if it succeeded at all.

Let's now sum up what members across the country have said and were acknowledged in the National Review:
  1. In order to survive, branches must be inclusive of its membership.

  2. All party units - branches in particular - should always be contemporary of its members, community needs and profile and their direction for the success of the party unit.

  3. The adoption of a single, uniform process where members and units can raise issues and make submissions to the party and the respective Labor Government, complementing electoral laws and regulations with regard to the use of public funding.
It is absolutely critical that all members and the wider community have the assurance that Labor is working for them, by opening up the doors and developing a system that is responsive to the electorate.


Richie Bates said...

The recent Labor report into party reform is a long awaited breath of fresh air for many traditional Labor voters and rank and file members.

The outcome of this review represents hope for many "true believers" who consider modern Labor to have lost it's way and connection with its own people.

No less that 31 proposals are contained within the review covering issues such as community engagement, internal structure and policy making.

Myself and local union organizer Stuart Traill were fortunate enough to meet with the report's co-author Senator John Faulkner last year as part of the process.

Stuart and I have both received criticism in recent times over our opposition to Queensland Labor policy. Policy that is at odds with the party's platform and values.

While some have falsely perceived that our argument is an attack on
the party itself, the reality is that we have only sought to uphold
Labor principles and traditions in a robust debate.

I look forward to acceptance of the party review and implementation of it's reforms.

Leigh Dall'Osto said...

While I am still unsure of the value of the idea that 20 percent of those involved in voting for the pre-selection of candidates come from the wider public (Labor sympathisers) the bulk of the report is only stating what many within the party have been trying to say for years.

The disenfranchised members of the party would like to see the return of the party's core values and beliefs and in the process create a structure that will allow all party members a voice that is not just heard, but heeded.

It remains to be seen if these ideas will be adopted and if anything at all will change in the short term. As a member of the party, I would like to believe that the process by which this information was gathered would be enough impetus to make those changes.

T. J. Norton said...

It's a start, but it was hardly the terms of reference needed for a full and frank look. Kevin Rudd brought Labor out of 12 years in opposition - then all of a sudden the Class of 2007 was pushed out the door after he was knifed. Go figure.