How I get heartily sick of people trying to portray the Australian Labor Party as puppets of the union movement or the poker machine lobby. So, for the last time, I hope, I’ll try to debunk this nonsense.
Before I go on to show how decisions are actually made in the Labor Party here in the ACT, let me say that the information I give below is the same as given to any prospective member of a sub branch in their own decision to join the Party.
But firstly, on the pokies issue, how do the proponents of the ALP-dependent-on-pokies explain the vicious attack that ClubsACT made during the last election campaign when they opposed pokies for the casino. They said it would send the club industry broke. Was the ALP trying to kill the Golden Goose?
The well over 1500 members of the ACT ALP enjoy a process which in inclusive and consultative. And while all members of the ALP needed until recently to be members of a union, it needs to be said that not all members of a union are members of the ALP. An example is the CPSU (Community and Public Sector Union) which is affiliated to the ACT ALP but from which only a fraction of its overall membership are members of the ALP in the ACT. The same is true of the CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union) and the SDA (Shop Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association).
The Branch structure is one of sub branches, responding to geographic areas, and the business of which is conducted by members elected to an Executive by the sub branch members, with no other criterion than membership for a specified period. Members of a sub branch are generally members of a union, residents in the ACT and eligible to vote here. In this forum, issues of the day are discussed, debated. The conclusions are conveyed to ministers, MLAs, the Party hierarchy, the Federal Party and the National Executive. Sub branches elect delegates to the Annual Conference.
The sub branches are part of a wider Branch, whose Executive is elected at the Annual Conference from delegates eligible to attend that Conference. This eligibility is membership of the ALP for a specified period and elected from a sub branch or appointed by an affiliated union. Issues are referred to Annual Conference by sub branches, unions, policy committees or the Administrative Committee, which is charged with administering the Party between Annual Conferences.
Policy committees have a range of areas of interest and are charged with examining current party positions on issues, developing proposals for changes in policy, and are an ideas exchange forum for interested and involved members of the Party. Members of policy committees are only elected from sub branches ensuring rank and file involvement in the contemplative stage of policy development.
Factions are not an official arm or organ of the ALP in much the same way as factions are not in the formal structure of the Liberal Party. A faction is defined where a group of people come together to discuss issues and come to a common conclusion, sometimes binding their membership to specific positions and sometimes not. They exist because like-minded people wish to collect to develop ideas around a particular ideology or contest. They are unofficial vehicles which are good training grounds for the development of political debating skills outside the formal processes. The factions divide into left, right and non-aligned. Some members choose to be independent of any faction at all.
The union movement divides into two broad groups collecting together under the ACT banner of Unions ACT. These are unions affiliated with the ACT ALP and those which are not affiliated. Non-affiliated unions are not represented at the Annual Conference. Unions also unofficially divide into factions – left, right and unaligned.
It is reasonable that an ALP government (or Opposition for that matter) develop a working relationship with the union movement to progress common concerns. This picks up the views of a specific cohort of society whose advice is valued by the developers of political outcomes. The private sector is disparate and not cohesive. It is becoming so with the amalgamation of the Chambers of Industry but still there are many sectors not represented in a pinnacle grouping such that one voice can be heard.
An example of how a rank and file idea for change became Australian law is the following.
A member of an ACT sub branch was a member of an unaffiliated airline industry union and a regular crew member on overseas flights. He saw the international sex trade up close and saw Australian citizens travelling to Asia for sex with underage children and determined to see what could be done about it. These predators were safe because of the jurisdiction issues of behaviour overseas.
He moved a motion calling on the federal government to enact legislation making it an offence at Australian law to engage in such activities overseas and declaring that the penalties which will apply will be the same if the offence were committed in Australia.
After passage through the ACT system overwhelmingly, the motion was referred to the National Conference and again overwhelmingly supported. The Prime Minister of the day instructed such legislation to be enacted and so it was. Such is the power of an individual member of the Party to right an obvious wrong but also a political vehicle was available for it to happen.
As I said earlier, this information is available to anyone who wishes to join the ALP here in Canberra. The Party is not a secret society, it is not masonic, it is an inclusive and constructive vehicle for ordinary people to get involved with political decisions which affect them, and at the contemplative stage.
So, the challenge is out there. Come on Libs! Show us all how I, if an ordinary member of the Liberal Party can have my views taken seriously, regularly and effectively. The same goes to supporters of the Greens. Show us how the collective decision making in a committee-of-the-whole system works.
And to those who perpetuate the myth of union control, have another think about it.