Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Why is party discussion so hard for the ALP to manage

Big blaring headlines today in the Oz that Australia needs 21st century philosophical shift reporting on the Wran Lecture delivered by Luke Foley.

Cutting to the chase Luke Foley has announced that he will be proposing to National Conference a replacement of the existing Objective of the ALP as enshrined in Clause 2 of the Constitution the following:

The Australian Labor Party has as its objective the achievement of a just and equitable society where every person has the opportunity to realise their potential. We believe in an active role for government, and the operation of competitive markets, in order to create opportunities for all Australians, so that every person will have the freedom to pursue their well-being, in co-operation with their fellow citizens, free from exploitation and discrimination.

I do not intend to debate that wording now - I just want to reflect on two things.

Firstly, despite the way it is portrayed by Troy Bramston, the resolution at the 2014 State Conference was NOT to delete the Socialist Objective but to start a process that would see a draft prepared by the NSW Policy Forum.  To that end I wrote for Challenge my own review of the Objective.

That article also highlights the second point which is that the Objective really includes both Clause 2 and the 23 points that follow "To achieve the political and social values of equality, democracy, liberty and social cooperation inherent in this objective, the Australian Labor Party stands for" in Clause 3.

Anyone who is proposing a rewrite of Clause 2 really needs to also rewrite Clause 3. Indeed it would be better if the two were combined in one clause.

I am happy to agree with the proposition Foley advanced in his conclusion that "The forum for this debate is this month’s ALP National Conference. We once held conferences where big ideas were expressed with passionate intensity. We were that party once. We must be that party again."

Yes, conferences should be places where debate occurs, not just stage managed outcomes. But that debate should be the pinnacle of an active Party within which the issues to be brought to the floor of conference have been actively discussed, considered and refined.

The Party also has a problem in that while its Objective is specified in the Constitution, Chapter 1 of the National Platform is devoted to Labor's Enduring Values. The current statement of Values is not succinct. Unfortunately the draft prepared for Conference is worse.

I also wrote for Challenge a short item that included a critique of just one obnoxious clause. I am hearing from people involved in the process that this is "the Leader's Chapter" and that it is hard to get any amendment to it.

How things have changed. In April last year Bill Shorten gave a speech Towards a Modern Labor Party. In it he had this to say about Chapter 1.

That is why I have thrown my support behind the decision of the last National Conference to undertake a major review of the ALP National Platform in time for our 2015 National Conference. 

Our National President Jenny McAlister and members of the National Policy Forum along with Shadow Cabinet and Caucus are all engaged in these consultations. 

But everyone needs to have a say in this process – and we should start with Chapter One. Chapter One contains Labor’s enduring values. 

We need a new Chapter One, a democratically-drafted statement that captures what modern Labor stands for. (emphasis added)

I agree with Bill, and Luke and even Chris Bowen.

The ALP needs both a statement of its objective that describes what motivates the party - and that differentiates it from the other mobs. It needs a statement of its enduring values that really does express the interests and motivations of the party members and affiliates.

Accordingly I believe that National Conference (to which I am not a delegate) should

(a) in regard to any motion to rewrite the objective - create a small group whose task it is to prepare a restatement of the objective (incorporating both Clause 2 and 3), that the drafting be conducted in an open consultative fashion, and that once it reports to National Executive a plebiscite should be held of all members and affiliates (using the 50/50 rules as being proposed by Tim Ayres for direct elections) and adopted if carried by a simple majority of votes.

(b) in regard to enduring values - acknowledge that there has not been the consultation on Chapter One called for by Bill Shorten and that whatever is submitted should be adopted but that a resolution should be passed that the new National Policy Forum immediately begin a task of drafting a version more useful in promoting what the party stands for to potential members and voters.

With any luck the two processes would work in tandem and the ALP would get coherence between its Objective in its constitution and its Enduring Values in its National Platform.