||Issue No. 138||31 May 2002|
Interview: The Star Chamber
Politics: The Odd Couple
Media: Audiences Before Politics
International: The Off-Side Rule
Economics: The Fake Persuaders
History: Terror Tactics
Poetry: Food, Modified Food
Review: Spiderman Spins Out the US
Satire: England's World Cup Disaster: Star Hooligan Breaks Foot
The Locker Room
Week in Review
In Defence of Latham
Swans A Pathetic Con-Job
By all indications, the ALP's representatives in Canberra are gearing up to cut trade union influence within the Party, regardless of the views of the trade union movement or the party's rank and file. Within 24 hours of the NSW ALP State Conference they were back-grounding media that the federal executive would be rolling over the top and imposing their change.
Their problem, of course, is that Simon Crean has turned the 60-40 rule into his own credibility test; although as Neville Wran pointed out the rule is largely irrelevant - conference is a showpiece; the so-called control of the floor is illusory.
Anyone doubting this need only look at the federal leadership's dismissal of the only meaningful policy debate emanating from the weekend's NSW Conference. In an historic shift, unions and rank and file members voted to reject 'mandatory detention' of asylum seekers. The response of Crean and his immigration spokeswoman Julia Gillard to this significant shift? To deny it had any effect and vow to carry on regardless.
This passage of events highlights the real problem in the current relationship between the political and industrial wings of the Party. Once they have secured the numbers to be elected into Parliament - either State or federal - MPs become a law unto themselves. They see themselves as being above the rabble, as they see it, of the labour movement.
It is in this context that the Crean push has created disquiet within the labour movement. Normally in negotiations, it's up to the proponents of change to offer trade-offs. But given that there has been no sign of any real willingness to negotiate around 60-40 on the part of the federal MPs, now is probably the time to put a few counter-claims on the table.
1.Pre-selections: The real power in the ALP lies in the ability to select candidates. This is currently dominated by the factional warlords, whose branch stacks deliver them the ability to anoint their chosen followers. Those involved in the trade union movement who have neither the time nor the inclination to immerse themselves in local branch politics, are locked out of these elected positions. Trade unions currently exert little influence in the choice of candidates; accordingly few candidates see themselves as owing any allegiance to the movement.
If we are going to have a genuine 50-50 partnership debate, maybe this should include a debate on the choice of candidates. If Crean insists on reducing union control to 50 per cent on the Conference floor, he should also create a mechanism for unions to participate in the pre-selection of candidates. The participation of a trade union panel in all pre-selections would build a level of accountability for all MPs. Given the 50/50 conference split; a 50 per cent weighting in pre-selections would seem appropriate.
This should go hand in hand with genuine branch reform as outlined in the Wran Inquiry.
2. KPIs for MPs: Elected Members of Parliament must be held accountable to their labour movement constituency. The Wran Reports calls for a requirement that all MPs establish consultative processes with rank and file union members within their electorate to be convened regularly. This should one of a series of Key Performance Indicators that MPs must demonstrate they have met when they seek to have their preselection renewed.
All these initiatives would allow the union movement to have some genuine influence, not control, over the Party it created. It would also provide the solid foundations that would give unions the confidence that a broadening of focus, as proposed by Crean, would not lead to a trashing of the historical ties.
The trade union movement does not have a closed mind to reform of the ALP. Indeed, the message we get from our members is that they want the ALP to change the way it operates, to start listening to its core constituency rather than acting like a law unto itself. If some of these ideas are incorporated into a Crean reform package, he can expect the ongoing support of the union movement.
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