Tuesday, 15th April 2014


Bill Shorten appears set to join the long list of ALP leaders who have embarked on party reform programs. His set-piece speech was due to be delivered just before his mother unexpectedly passed away last week. What we already know is that he had planned to announce changes which would reduce membership costs and drop the requirement that members also belong to a union.

The Age this morning is running with James Massola’s exclusive, drawn from draft notes of the speech, which appear to signal more far-reaching changes. Last year Kevin Rudd, after regaining the federal parliamentary leadership, forced the party to split leadership ballots 50-50 between caucus and the rank-and-file membership. Now Shorten apparently wants the members of large branches to have a 70 per cent say over pre-selection to the Lower House, on the way to 100 per cent in the future.

It’s all about democratising the party, broadening its appeal, attracting better talent and reducing the power of the factional bosses. Gough Whitlam was among the first to realise, in the mid-1960s, that the party had little future unless it expanded its base from the old (and declining) working-class to include the (growing) suburban middle-class. It’s been a familiar story ever since.

But it’s not clear how even these radical changes will arrest the party’s long-term decline. Its structural problem is that its traditional base – the industrial working class – forever shrinks, while the two growing demographic bases – the educated middle class and the suburban aspirational class – have no great allegiance to any party. And political scientists say that any strategy for party renewal which relies on hopes of a growing and active membership is all but doomed. 

Labor’s most significant problem is that it no longer projects with any confidence a clear reason for its existence. It is thus increasingly pulled between the demands of focus groups and sectional interests. If Shorten’s changes can address these larger, existential issues, then all power to him.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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Bill Shorten’s plan to democratise Labor

"Bill Shorten will announce sweeping Labor Party reforms that empower rank and file members, rein in powerbrokers' say over candidates and call for fewer factional bosses to be pre-selected for the Senate… In excerpts of the speech published before he had to withdraw, Mr Shorten flagged changes to make it easier and cheaper to join the party and dropping a requirement that party members also belong to a union. But the ALP boss was preparing to go much further."

Also: "Careful what you wish for: the pitfalls of internal party reform" (Nick Economou, The Conversation)

Culture is key to tackling suicide epidemic, Elders say

"Indigenous Elders should be put in charge of arresting an epidemic of youth suicide in Aboriginal communities, according to a report… The report, based on interviews with more than 30 Elders from communities in northern and central Australia, calls for suicide prevention funding to be directed to elders to help young people connect with their land and culture."

Also: The Elders’ Report into Preventing Indigenous Self-Harm and Youth Suicide (download report)

Badgerys Creek expected to be approved by Cabinet as site of Sydney's second airport

"For decades the airport has been a political hot potato. Both major parties have been forced into backdowns and backflips in the face of intense community opposition. But senior government sources say this time they are determined to get the project underway."

NBN hypocrisy confirms contempt for process

"With the Abbott Government not only breaking repeated election promises around the National Broadband Network (NBN) – but also this week engaging in unconscionable hypocrisy about its planned expenditure of $41 billion without appropriate oversight – it's important that even the most jaded political observer take note."

Make it racist

"Social media just got trickier if you're a public servant; any post critical of the department, minister or PM will get you fired. Yet in Australia, everyone has the right to be a bigot. So if you're upset at work, it's clear what you should tweet instead." (video)