Thursday, April 03, 2014

The stirrings of Labor Reform - yet again.

Interesting tweet by Troy Bramston tonight
This follows a week of media discussion of reform - starting with three separate articles in The Australian  on Monday.

The first picked up some  comments from Tanya Plibersek on Sunday television which followed on from an earlier discussion about the rules where Bill Shorten had suggested weakening the union ties - by no longer requiring party members to be members of a union.

The second was a contribution from former NSW General Secretary and Senator Stephen Loosley.  After a discussion about Tony Blair's UK reform - notably the jettisoning of the Rule 4 nationalisation platform - he goes on to suggest Shorten needs to find something similarly iconic. He rejects the idea that this might come by reviewing the "socialist objective" because "it is so old, it now has mould growing on it".

The genius recommendation is to make a rule that the decisions of conferences are only advisory and no longer binding on the parliamentary parties. This we are told "At a single stroke it would eliminate any claim that Parliamentary Labor is subject to the dictates of trade union affiliates." The funny thing is though it wasn't following a decision of conference that Paul Howes got his head all over TV taking credit for the knifing of KRudd.

The third contribution was an editorial that smeared the ALP for the Williamson and Thompson convictions and called on Labor to "think carefully about its future ties to the union movement." It also called on Labor to throw its support behind the royal commission into union corruption.

No one unfortunately pointed out to the Oz that the ordinary legal processes had already worked just fine, and that what Labor had called for was a police Strike Force - which would be more likely to result in prosecutions than a Royal Commission.

There have been further dribbles since. The Victorian Fabians had a forum on the issue, based on which Latika Burke interviewed Andrew Giles.
The speech Giles gave to the Fabians was thin on specifics. In the interview he defended the union association and spoke very generally about the need to create extra ways for people to "have a say" in the party. He really is trying to encourage discussion leading up to the National Conference in 2015. But everyone is crazy if they think Bill Shorten's address to the National Policy Forum provided much insight.

My own views are very straight forward - the most essential reform is breaking union control of conferences and party structures. Not all unions are affiliated, so when people talk about there being 2 million trade unionists, remember that only half of those or less belong to affiliated unions (or more strictly affiliated divisions of unions). But really it is the union movement that has as much to gain by breaking the ties as it is the ALP.

But the real risk we face now is a re-run of reform under Crean and Gillard. The leader will make a pronouncement, that will not have been consulted on widely. Very rapidly the party power structure will enforce a position that it is more important to appear to be unified than it is to have a meaningful debate. As a consequence "party reform" will rapidly be defined as doing whatever Bill says.

I will hold the rest of my fire until I see what pronouncements are made tomorrow - or at least what has been dropped by Shorten's office to Bramston. This may be more of a kite flying exercise, a trial run to see the reaction to the proposals when written up by Bramston as what Shorten will announce.

No comments: