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    Time to re-engage with the community

    Posted: Wednesday, 15 June 2011 | By: Sam Dastyari

    Published in The Australian, June 15, 2011
    By Sam Dastyari
    Twitter: @samdastyari

    On June 22, 1891, the leaders of the newly formed Labor Party in NSW woke to read, in a daily Sydney broadsheet, of the end of their political party. The Labor Party, the editor noted, "must necessarily be neutralised or eliminated in the end". Since that first article 120 years ago, claims about the death of the Labor Party have been greatly exaggerated.

    The Labor Party has survived three serious splits, 20 federal leaders, several ideological realignments and occasionally a unique ability to be its own worst enemy, all of which is a remarkable achievement. The political success story of Labor, the oldest surviving labour party in the world, has been shaped by an ability to reform at critical junctures; an ability to engage with new voices, new faces and new ideas. With a declining membership and a potential crisis of identity, the Labor Party now finds itself at one of those critical junctures, particularly in NSW.

    There are three paths available. First, we can continue as we are. Some argue the party should simply engage in a few cosmetic changes at its national conference in December and move on. For some, there is no real internal crisis; identity and membership issues come and go. They argue that the structure of the Australian Labor Party is the same today as it was when we were in power in every state and territory a few short years ago, and engaging in significant reform risks throwing the baby out with the bathwater. This is a path I reject as failing to recognise Labor has survived because of our ability to change rather than resist it.

    Second, we can engage in the wrong reforms and become a shrinking party of inward-looking activists. The Labor Party of the 1950s will never be the Labor Party of 2011. For some, however, the answer to all our challenges rests in the pursuit of a mythical structural purity that can never be achieved, an endless maze of internal ballots and introspection, driving out anyone whose passion for ideas and debate stretches beyond debating the mundane inner workings of the ALP.

    All NSW party members who lived through the NSW Labor government's last term can attest first-hand to the dangers of falling into the trap of becoming an inward-looking organisation.

    Finally, we can take the tough decision and open up our party to include the community in our candidate selection and decision-making. We can recognise that the answer to our internal identity crisis will not be found by introspection. We need to reach out and directly engage with the community and those who rely on Labor governments.

    At the NSW ALP conference on July 9-10, I will be proposing a series of significant party reforms to challenge our inward-looking focus and to engage directly with the community. It will also begin the path towards creating a stronger organisation where promotion through patronage is a thing of the past.

    At the heart of these proposals will be shifting our candidate selection process towards a US-style primary model. Under these changes, the local community will have a direct say in deciding who the Labor candidate will be for their area. Beginning with some local government elections in NSW next year and five winnable state seats at the 2015 state election, voters who are prepared to identify themselves as Labor supporters will be able to participate and vote for who they think should be the Labor candidate for their area.

    Primaries are a logical progression of the principles the founders of the party espoused; that our representatives should be chosen by a large cross-section of our members and supporters.

    The process for identifying ideas also will be opened up to the community. A new body, the state policy forum, comprising the entire shadow cabinet, trade union leaders and rank-and-file representatives will be charged with open community engagement in ideas. New ideas are needed for a vibrant Labor Party and these ideas cannot simply come from within. Our policy development process needs to recognise the power of harnessing external ideas.

    John Faulkner identified the challenges for Labor in his Wran lecture last week. The solution is a party prepared to reach out and engage with the community, a party not afraid to open itself to new ideas and new people. If party reform simply makes us more inwardly focused, then we have failed.

    The challenge that awaits us today is no different from that facing our party's founders 120 years ago: to create an open, relevant movement focused on the community and not itself. Those doomsayers predicting our decline will again be disappointed.

    Tags: John Faulkner, NSW conference, primaries, reform, Sam Dastyari
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7 Comments

  • Posted: Wednesday, 29 June 2011, 14:19 | By: Norman from Narara , NSW

    At last night’s Central Branch meeting, it was heart-warming to see the community of interest which has developed between Sam and new A/Sec, the ‘left’ winger, John Graham. There were people there criticising Sam, but John leapt in to defend Sam, talking about how well they co-operated, and worked together. One could see first-hand how successful the factional ‘leaders’ found common ground --- especially if long-term perspectives such as, say, career prospects weren’t lost sight of. Sam is succeeding in showing the way will be a win-win outcome [i.e. a win for BOTH the right and ‘left’ factional bosses.] Local Branch members are being fed a constant stream of deliberately confusing/contradictory messages, plans, enquiries, whatever, so that we’re kept busy sorting through irrelevant band aid panaceas, and little attention can be paid to basic problems such as Branches being made increasingly irrelevant, ALP Rules being made less coherent and more open to ‘interpretation’ by Party Bosses. Might it be time to start worrying about basic changes to our Rules, rather than letting them distract us with diversions such as the flawed (but carefully vague) proposals re introducing primaries? Unless, of course, you don’t mind this as just one more step in their planned eventual destruction of a viable rank and file participation in the selection of candidates? It could, I suppose, be argued that their plans would make matters simpler. We’ve already seen them appropriate policy, so why not let them take away the remaining significance of Local Branch members by giving them even greater pre-selection control as well?

  • Posted: Friday, 24 June 2011, 14:40 | By: Norman from Narara , NSW

    Sadly, Glenn, not many Local Branch members are as optimistic as you. Those who were have very largely fled the Party.

  • Posted: Friday, 24 June 2011, 11:29 | By: Glenn from Hurlstone Park , NSW

    From Ducker to Dastyari,says it all really,what a drop and it only took about 20 years for the whole thing to fall over. Regardless of what we thought of the old right/left divide, Ducker and his generation understood what we were about,knew where we came from and always protected the party to protect the interests of those we represent. It will take 20 years to get rid of the O'Farrell majority, it took Carr three years to get a hung parliament, and the platform for a return in 95 because Unsworth fought the good fight and they knew what they were about, and Carr brilliantly picked up the pieces. The generation of officials and parliamentarians that produced the current mess, including this bloke and the people who put him there, have condemned NSW to 20 years minimum of Tory***** While ever the factional system produced Keating and Carr it worked, but now this? This bloke is of a generation alright, the one that says it all about "us", which is nothing to do with us members. Have a look at the evil genius he employs where he purports to be taking a stand against those who "oppose" reform,quite brilliant. Have a look at the YouTube video where when asked what the ALP stands for, he says without any hint of irony; "opportunities" . Ah but opportunities for whom ,blokes like you? The NSW Branch Secretary of the ALP can best articulate all the party stands for as "opportunities". Does it get any better than that? We are not just being taken for a bunch of mugs, we are a bunch of mugs. They are just waiting for us to drift off and go away, and its working I have to say. Watch the pantomime of the next conference unfold, as they lecture us on how the culture must change, but then how calls for change are empty rhetoric, how the party must reengage with the community, and then use their numbers from the unions to close down debate of any real reform motion. And then the latest review will give its findings, we all know what they will say, and the officials will nod sagely, talk up how important it is that we embrace the findings, and then close down debate with their union numbers....we are mugs. Here is another scary thought, try and contemplate who or what is coming next when the Branch Secretary wanders off to whatever LC or Senate vacancy he is waiting for....

  • Posted: Wednesday, 22 June 2011, 15:32 | By: Norman from Narara , NSW

    I'm shocked, Kevin, that you say, "The lunatics are running the asylum." Not only is this comparison a tad harsh on lunatics, but it the analogy is grossly inaccurate. The theoretically opposed factional 'leaders' who run the ALP carry out their co-operative career development campaigns extremely well, and should be congratulated for their willingness (not always found among past factional leaders) to work behind closed doors to bring about whatever needs to be done. It's possibly the only area in which they can be acknowledged world leaders, and are applying world's best practices methods. As for your outrageous implication that their planned sneaky and gradual implementation of prmaries is anything but a masterly stroke to weaken Local Branch influenvce even further, have you never heard the expression, "Softly, softly, catchee monkey?" And our beloved 'leaders' all know, even if they pretend otherwise, that rank and file members are nowadays treated like monkeys --- except that there's no effective equivalent of an ALP branch of the RSPCA to help protect us. If you want something to really worry about, surely a good start would be the fact that so many supporters are deserting the Party because the 'leaderships' have made us irrelevant? Perhaps that also explains why so few Branch members even feel it's worthwhile responding on this site?

  • Posted: Tuesday, 21 June 2011, 10:04 | By: Ben from ALEXANDRIA , NSW

    "there is a whole package of ideas designed to deliver better outcomes for rank-and-file members." Can you post a link to it?

  • Posted: Friday, 17 June 2011, 16:21 | By: Kevin from BELLINGEN , NSW

    Comment just an addit so you believe in the one with the biggest pockets wins. the US can't even get universal health care because it is seen as Socialist please.... and how influential is the tobacco lobby NRA oil christian right what are you thinking????? and who is writing your speeches and heading the agenda?

  • Posted: Friday, 17 June 2011, 16:17 | By: Kevin from BELLINGEN , NSW

    Comment It would appear you do not believe in the maxim you have to know where you have come from to know where you are going. A US style primary is not the way to go and not showing leadership or initiative but following other to who knows where. I cannot understand why you and Arbib and co have embraced US style electioneering polls and focus group, economic rationalist style campaigning. It is not all about numbers oddly enough. The only winners are the staffers and admin in my view a pernicious rising third faction of the party whose ideology is concentration of power. with your crew of gen x and y devotees to push your message and report back all they see you are selling the Labor party out for your own personal gain. The lunatics are running the asylum. what you are suggesting is not a logical progression and is not a Fait De Compli far from it. this is nothing short of a liberal conservative union busting type assault to undermine the rank and file destroy the branches, patricks and reith would be proud of you. please spare me (us) the platitudes and just tell the truth. ideas philosophy and policy win the hearts and minds and compel people to join and support the party. not parlour games. you want to remove membership voting rights and conferences relevance as the arena of debate for a bureaucratic think tank of similar minds intoxicated on each others stench. fair dinkum sam the man what are you thinking. it is not another 120 years of the labour movement. i hope you fall flat on this and then allow a rank and file vote on your position and lets see of you can win the hearts and minds of the membership. It appears to be very much in line with what you are proposing except one major difference we are committed paying members not associate/pseudo members which you appear to want to attract, the swinging dependent. not now not ever. kevin

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