First published in The Australian.
LABOR’S powerful Right faction has prepared an ambitious 20-point plan designed to seize back the party reform agenda from the Left at national conference and empower party’s rank-and-file.
Under the plan, prospective members will be able to sign up to the party online and join issues-based “policy action caucuses” rather than local branches.
More trials of US-style primaries are also proposed, as well as reduced head office intervention in candidate pre-selection.
The Right’s reform push is outlined in a 18-page draft plan, a copy of which has been seen by the Australian Online, and is being masterminded by NSW state secretary Sam Dastyari, Victorian Senator David Feeney and Victorian state secretary Noah Carroll.
It says the party “must once more be a party for new people and new ideas”.
The document, which backs Julia Gillard’s plans to recruit 8000 new members, reveals the ALP is currently recruiting about 4500 members annually but losing about 6000 people every 12 months.
“Labor’s objectives must be driven not by its paid officials but by its 40,000 members,” it says.
“The experience of putting a policy motion through a local branch only to have it ignored by the rest of the party is entirely unsatisfactory at every level.”
The document is being circulated among senior Right faction members and comes as Julia Gillard has called for a “passionate” and “noisy” debate at national conference in a fortnight.
The Australian revealed one element of the document last weekend – that the party’s nine-member national policy committee, which is currently chosen by the national executive, should be replaced by a 60 member national policy forum that included 20 rank-and-file members.
The reform document is an attempt by the Right to head off the Left, which it believes has stolen the march in claiming the party reform mantle in the wake of the Bracks-Carr-Faulkner review of the ALP.
The Right believes its reform proposals go further than the Left and will help solve declining party membership and disengagement among rank and file.
A senior Right faction member said that while the Bracks-Carr-Faulkner review had correctly diagnosed the challenges facing the party, it had not offered the best solutions to the problems facing Labor.
“In February 2011, the national review called for even more policy consultation,” the document states, addressing the proposal for a new national policy committee.
“While consultation is important, the party must recognise that it’s not the same as a seat at the table.”
Other proposals in the 20-point plan include more support for issues-based activism, closer links with unions, new mechanisms for member feedback, and state and territory policy committees that would mirror the proposed national policy committee.