The SMH has reported on John Faulkner's Neville Wran Lecture at the NSW Parliament.
The story is reported under the heading "ALP must reform or die".
The perhaps unsurprising fact is that all elements of the ALP probably understand that; where they disagree is in what form this reform should take.
As Faulkner notes;
These days, as Party membership dwindles, ALP strategists talk about ‘reaching out’ to organisations active on particular progressive issues, ‘gaining endorsement’ of our policies.
That idea, with its implications of ‘us’ in Labor and ‘them’ in community organisations, is wrong. The frequency with which it’s raised by hand-wringing apparatchiks makes many wonder if Labor has lost its way.
Progressive, socially aware activists passionate about social and economic reform must never be outsiders to the Labor movement.
Against this he contrasts;
Activism, community engagement, commitment to ideas, policy debate, are not second-rate substitutes for getting into Parliament. Nor are they routine ritual posturing on the way to pre-selection. Committed members with ideals may complicate the lives of careerist Party managers but they are the life-blood of Labor. And the systematic efforts to marginalise and silence them in recent decades has brought us to where we are today.
Ladies and gentlemen, the principles of caucus unity and consistency with the party platform have historically meant that the decisions of the party, once debated and resolved, are abided by. They have not meant, and ought not to mean, an absence of debate or the appearance of an absence of debate. Labor needs to get better at explaining what solidarity and unity really mean – both to the general public and to those within the Party who have come to interpret it as acquiescence.
These comments made me think of the annual conferences I attended this century and the approach to them. I was extremely disappointed that the Left - as then represented by John Watkins and Luke Foley - was as pleased as the Right was to avoid any meaningful debate on a position of policy. The eagerness for a deal saw one conference adopt completely opposite resolutions about nuclear power under different parts of the program - both moved as amendments from the floor and neither being debated (instead being incorporated by the mover of the motion).
Faulkner's prescription, building on the national review, is;
In my opinion, and I believe in the opinion of many other members and supporters of our Labor Party, whatever specific changes are adopted, they must be guided by five key principles:
* Labor must be a Party of values and ideas;
* We must have a growing, not a declining Party;
* Labor must return real power to its members;
* We must engage and involve our supporters in the community; and
* Labor must have a culture of inclusion and innovation, not exclusion and unbridled factionalism.
I agree for the most part. However, all this introspection made me look wider and I found a document from the UK Fabian Society called Facing Out. It contains many of the ideas of wider engagement, online policy forums, differential grades of membership, that would seem to accord with a re-activated party.
But when you visit the ALP national website you will find under the tab "Get Involved" a whole slew of these activities.
The distinction is that these activities look like the "us" and "them" model that Faulkner talks about. These programs need to be at the heart of the party, not add ons to it.
But ultimately there are two big simple reforms necessary.
The first is the one Rod Cavalier has championed for about forty years...the complete end to any block union vote. The party needs to be a democratic party of individuals.
The second is to return to what I think the NSW Left under the rubric of the "Steering Committee" originally held dear - the prosecution of the objective;
The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.
What needs to be defined is what "democratic socialisation" means in the context of an embrace of a market economy.
I have two distinct views on this. The first is to recognise that the goal of economic efficiency as taught in market theory is anti-egalitarian. Markets work for some things, but they don't advance equity.
The second is to understand that "socialisation" means to work to social not private goals, not necessarily social rather than private ownership. A consequence of that is that the objective is the restraint of power.
Great speech by Faulkner - but will it have an effect.
By the way a reminder - the Latin text at the bottom says "The NSW Right must be destroyed". By that I mean the version of the right that believes the purpose is to gain power, that through power you can exercise patronage, and through patronage you can gain future power.
There is a strong argument that the ALP as a party of ideas was as effective in opposition as it was in Government .... until 1996.
Novae Meridianae Demetae Dexter delenda est