||Issue No. 224||11 June 2004|
The Passion For Power
The Passion for Power
Interview: The New Democrat
Bad Boss: The Ugly Australian
Unions: Free Spirits and Slaves
Industrial: National Focus
History: A Class Act
International: Across the Ditch
Economics: Home Truths
Review: No Time Like Tomorrow
Poetry: Silent Note
The Locker Room
Sick Of This Job
Office Junior’s Secrets
The Passion for Power
Twenty years on, Peter Garrett could well be commentating the impact of Labor leader Mark Latham's desire to draft him into his election ensemble.
At issue is the age old argument about the merits of imposing a high profile candidate into an electorate regardless of the wishes of the rank and file members.
There is little doubt Peter Garrett is a glittering prize for Labor - a dynamic activist with a social conscience and a proven ability to build a bridge between politics and popular culture.
Some amongst the local rank and file of the Kingsford Smith electorate don't see it that way, arguing they have the right for a home-grown representative, several of whom have been spending their waking hours shoring up branch numbers in the expectation of Brereton's retirement.
The brewing shit fight puts the very nature of the ALP's branch structure under the spotlight.
Some, like a certain state Treasurer advocate the effective corporatisation of the ALP
basically a central 'brand' choosing the most marketable candidates, with the branches confined to the volunteer functions at election time.
And if this doesn't sustain the branches, a cost-benefit analysis would say you'd be better off just doing as the Liberals do and paying people to hand out on election day, rather than have to deal with all the dramas of a vibrant democratic party.
At the other extreme are those who argue, sometimes with a straight face, about the sanctity of rank and file preselection.
While stacking branches is undeniably a life skill requiring perseverance and the fostering of community ties, the question is whether this is the particular skill set for a political party putting itself forward as an alternate government
In the age of personality politics, the quality of a political party's candidates are just as important as its policies; and it is hard to argue that the ALP's structures always deliver the best outcome.
In other democracies, the USA for example, the leader can choose his front bench from the real world - but Australia has a popularly elected executive and getting yourself elected in Parliament is the requisite first step.
This can only be achieved in one of two ways; through the branches, or through the party's central structures, dominated by union representatives who, despite Simon Crean's best efforts, still have a stake in their party.
And it is here that the public reporting has missed an important point - while much has been made of Garrett's eleventh hour decision to join the Party, less comment has been made about the fact that only now has he decided to join a trade union - a requisite to party membership.
If Pete Garrett is to be a Labor MP, it is fair to expect him to be not just a card carrier, but a committed unionist.
If Garret is to win the support the labour movement, an important step will be to enter a dialogue with them us, get an understanding of the union renewal agenda, and maybe even contemplate how someone with his obvious talents can offer practical help to working people.
We look forward to that - there is no doubt we have a lot to learn from a man who has translated political issues into our cultural history and community consciousness.
If he does, it will be fair to say that the checks and balances in the current unwieldy party structures will prove to have been of some value and the budding member for Wedding Cake Island will surf onto the national stage with the blessing of the comrades.
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