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Issue No. 130 05 April 2002  

Lights Out on The Hill
If it's any consolation, the Labor Party is not alone in tying itself into knots over what it stands for in the 21st century.


Interview: Change Agent
ALP national secretary Geoff Walsh on the changing nature of politics, the influence of the corporates and the upcoming review of the party.

Industrial: Balancing the Books
Jim Marr talks to one of the beneficiaries of the historic equal pay decision for librarians and archivists.

Unions: Breaking Out
When a bank executive stepped into the witness box to defend the gagging of a worker from talking to the media, the excuses collapsed into a sea of psycho-babble.

Politics: Pissing on the Light on the Hill
Paul Smith argues that those who don’t like the ALP's Socialist Objective should consider joining another party.

History: Of Death and Taxes
He was a conservative economist who became the darling of the Left. Neale Towart looks back on the myth and realty of James Tobin.

International: Now That's a Strike!
After one of the largest mobilisations of workers in history, Italian trade unionists are planning to do it all again.

Satire: Mugabe Voted Miss Zimbabwe: Denies Election Rigged
The newly re-elected Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, has officially been crowned Miss Zimbabwe, describing his triumph as “a victory for black fashionablism”.

Poetry: Flick Go The Branches
Once upon a time, the song “Click Go The Shears” could be heard echoing through the pubs of vibrant country towns.

Review: Red, Red Clydeside
Renowned folk singer Alistair Hulett is currently touring Australia with his new album ‘Red Clydeside’. He speaks to Nick Martin.


 NAB Gambles, Aussies Lose

 Brogden's Worker Creds On The Line

 Cole Cleans Up

 Melbourne Faces Budget Day Gridlock

 Equity Drive Gathers Steam

 Unions Call for Middle East Peace

 Queensland Casuals Step Forward

 Worker Stood Down for Dunny Action

 Zoo Workers in Wage Jungle

 Indigenous Jobs on Union Agenda

 Building Workers Honour Fallen Cop

 Robbo and Latham to Go Three Rounds

 ACT Health Workers Flex Muscles

 Small Victory at Shangri-La

 Casual Rights On Agenda As Full-Time Jobs Collapse

 Workers Health Centre Offers Affordable Care

 Activists Notebook


The Soapbox
What's Wrong With the Liberals
Liberal figure and ARM chief Greg Barnes argues that the modern Liberal Party has little to do with liberalism.

When The Axe Comes Down
Phil Doyle braved the crowds at the Royal Easter Show to witness one of the giants of the wood-chopping game.

Week in Review
Battle Cries
What an Easter – Sydneysiders soak up the sun saluting Sunline while, elsewhere, the dogs of war are slipping their chains.

Razor's Edge
Vince Caughley writes from Woomera where he participated in the protests over the Easter Long weekend.

 Puplick's Sermon
 Chikka's Legacy
 Socialists in the UK
 Organising Globally
 Grape Disappointment
 Union Resignations : Crisis or Opportunity?
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Change Agent

ALP national secretary Geoff Walsh on the changing nature of politics, the influence of the corporates and the upcoming review of the party.


You were on Bob Hawke's staff in the eighties. How different is politics today in the 21st Century from 20 years ago?

Obviously things have changed in many respects quite substantially. In other respects, not a great deal, let me elaborate. The changes can be seen in large part in the way in which economic and international political issues have evolved over that period.

In 1983, the Soviet Union was still intact, the international world was seen in that bi-polar context to some degree and that influenced a lot of the international debate and national attitudes to those issues. I think also that the economic debate was more polarised than it is today with stronger differences about the contending ideas about how to manage the economy. So in that sense the notions of Left and Right, both between the major parties in Australia and within the Labor Party were more distinct than they are today.

The similarities however remain as they have for most of Australia's life as a nation. What the electorate looks for from its political leaders is a clear set of policies which will deliver for them better living standards and opportunities for them and particularly for their children into the future. So in some senses it's the same sort of basket of issues, but being discussed and analysed in a different context and framework.

A lot of people see government as having a lot less power to influence the big decisions today, that there is more power in the hands of the international corporates than there was when the Hawke government opened up the Australian economy. When you were involved in that decision making process did you see that trend coming?

Yes, people were very much aware of what was involved in, if you like, de-regulating or getting out of direct government decision making in a range of these areas. Interest rates, the exchange rate, and of course tariffs were all set to a very significant degree by government policy. The government and the bureaucracy played a much more deliberate role, a very deliberate role in setting the exchange rate. So, these were decisions that were taken out of the hands of Government and put pretty much into the hands of the market.

Now, to some extent the market had always had a say in those decisions, but this was a change in those circumstances and obviously you couldn't be certain what all the consequences would be. But, by and large you have to say that in terms of how the Australian economy has performed since those changes were made, you can make a pretty strong case for the benefits. These have come, not just for the economy as a whole, the incomes of people in the economy, workers in a whole range of industries, but also in terms of access to housing finance. It was a big set of decisions with a whole lot of implications. And while they may not have been understood absolutely as to how they would pan out, the general confidence was there with Bob and the senior ministers who took those decisions that they would be good for the country and good for Australian workers.

Moving to the present, your ALP review into the last Federal Election is moving apace, what as National Secretary do you want to get out of this process?

The terms of reference really identify the sort of areas that we'd like to see people talking about and proposing ideas to make us more effective and more successful both as an organisation, and also as a party contending to win Government.

There are six terms of reference and essentially they cover the range of things which people have been talking about, not just post-election, but over recent years.

- Firstly, the whole question of how we make sure we get the best possible candidate to contest Federal seats.

- How we make sure we get our policy review and development processes into the best shape, so that our policies are obviously, electorally attractive, but also policies that address the issues that concern people.

- Our relationships with the trade union movement and other community groups

- Strategies to see what we can do about increasing our primary votes and measures to broaden and increase the membership of the party

- And looking at the internal processes of the party to make sure they reflect appropriate and contemporary standards.

One would presume that any significant change would alter the power balance within the party. With the factional system still very dominant in terms of who gets into what seat, how difficult will it be to bring out any changes that go beyond window dressing?

Well I don't think that it will end up producing just window dressing. I think to some extent you've got to sort of stand back and look at the organization the party is over 110 years old and it's endured because it has adapted. We don't have to go back an awful long way in our history to think of things which the Labor Party wouldn't have a bar of today, but which were very central to some of the beliefs and attitudesin past times . So the Party has evolved and adapted, but in a structural sense, it is in many ways a bit like it was at the start: built around branch structures, with layers of reporting and all organisations need some sort of order and structure to them. I think we need a structure that is more flexible and more relevant to people in terms of the other organisations they might belong to or the other institutions they relate to in the community.

It won't be a window dressing exercise but getting change in the culture of an organisation takes time. It doesn't come because someone makes a decision or a group of people make a decision. It comes over time as you develop new ways of doing things. I think that in many respects is one of the most important tasks that Bob Hawke and Neville Wran have. Already we've had more than a hundred written submissions and it's getting into the thousands of contacts with people through forums and discussion. As many views of as many people as possible are being taken into account. We've just extended the cut off date for submissions until the end of May.

So it's not a hollow exercise, it's been more than twenty years since a review of this scale has been conducted and the fact that people are positive about it reflects that it does meet that need to modernise how we're structured and how we function.

On the organisational issues, as someone who is at the centre of the Party, what do you want to see branches delivering to the ALP?

I think the question is better put slightly differently, which is what sort of branch structure and membership involvement should we have so that people feel that membership of the Labor Party gives them a say in the affairs of the Party and in the sorts of policy debates that they may have an interest in?

what we want from branches are people t with energy,and ideas, people who have a commitment to the core values that Labor has and it bring to it their skills and contribution. What we've got to do is make sure that we've got a Party that allows them to do that.

In terms of trade union involvement, and I know it's under the microscope, what would the ALP gain from having a lower union influence?

Again I think we need to deal with this question in two parts. The first part is to say that the trade union movement has a vital, essential role in the Australian economy and society in its own right. The role that Trade Unions play in advancing the conditions and pay of working people and protecting those conditions and entitlements is absolutely fundamental and the Labor Party recognises the importance of that. Simon Crean is a former ACTU President as was Bob Hawke, so the link is pretty organic in that regard.

The debate about what role the Trade Unions play in the Labor Party is a different question. And I think that the two issues have sort of got, unfortunately, a bit tangled up. Simon said just the other day "I can't imagine the Labor Party without a relationship with the Trade Union movement". And I know from talking to Bob and Neville that they have a similar sort of fundamental commitment to that relationship between Labor and the trade unions.

But it is an appropriate thing to look at in the context of what Simon describes as "modernizing the Party". It's not the only element of the modernization that he wants to see, but it is an element. So I think it's quite an important part of the review, but it's not the only part. The other thing to stress is that in no way is anyone saying, by putting it on the agenda in this context ,that the reason we lost the last election was because we have a relationship with the trade union movement..

One of the things you've probably noticed over the last couple of years is the sliding Union membership has actually bottomed out now and that's been because of the fairly vigorous strategy of grass roots organising. Is that something you'd be looking at in terms of addressing the ALP own issues with membership levels?

Let me just use that as an opportunity to say that the other point in this discussion about Labor and the Trade Unions is the Trade Unions of course have got their own distinctive set of interests and their own distinctive agenda. Sharan Burrow and Greg Combet have been very effective as John Robertson has been in giving the Trade Union movement a contemporary relevance and importance and those figures represent that.

I think that the strategy that they follow is obviously one that has been effective for the Trade Union movement, but for the Labor Party I think the sorts of things that I was talking about before are probably going to be the most effective in getting the Party into a better shape in attracting and retaining members.

One of your responsibilities is to raise the money that funds the advertising campaigns around election time. Has the reliance on the corporate dollar effected the way the political parties operate in a detrimental way?

Well, I'm fortunate in having inherited a fundraising regime or fundraising set of practices which are guided by a fundraising code which my predecessor put in place. I'll make the point by way of a little detour. Some companies say - look we are happy to support you in terms of policy development and other general sort of development activities but we don't want to give you support for election campaigns. So you get different types of corporate support. With that code we've gone as far as we can. I think though, that you can always keep these things under review and try to make sure that there isn't an inappropriate influence through fundraising on party activity and policy.

There have been calls in NSW to actually sap the corporate financing of the party, would that be something that you would support?

I think that is an issue that we need to have under continual review. Clearly there have been instances in the past year or two where there has been very large donations and it's legitimate to ask questions about the appropriateness of particularly large amounts of money being given to political parties. By and large we depend to some degree, although not absolutely, on corporate support and I guess in the end I'm always open to discussions about that.

Finally, there has been talk in the press this week about the socialism principle within the ALP platform and the idea that someone needs to wrap up what Labor stands for in the 21st Century into a form of words that people today can relate to. As a former journalist yourself, have youe gone through this process - what in your mind what does Labor stand for today?

Any consideration of the socialism principle does bring you back to a fundamental consideration. I think that what we are about is what we have always been about. That is equality of opportunity, access, fairness, the sorts of things which find different ways of being expressed in different generations.

I think it probably isn't a bad thing that we are looking at how we formulate that statement of Labor principles and values in a contemporary way, I think it's got a lot of value both in terms of what we get in the end and what the process of talking about those things produces along the way.. So I think all of these are elements of the review process that we have initiated and I think the prospects are that it's going to be a very positive and constructive period for us.


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