Incoming ALP president Mark Butler intends to use his speech at Friday’s opening of Labor’s national conference to press for party reform, as a petition from about 1000 members calls for “substantial and concrete changes” to the ALP’s “culture and organisation”.
Butler, who was elected president on a platform of internal reform, will argue for the election of a substantial portion of conference delegates by branch members and for branch members to have a say in choosing Senate and state upper house candidates.
The petition urges a controversial change in the relations between the ALP and affiliated unions. It says individual members of these unions should be able to opt in to full party membership, while “bloc union votes” in party forums should be ended. This would be “the first steps in the renewal of the union-party relationship”, it says.
Advocates of such a change, which goes well beyond anything being considered in the short term, say it would greatly increase party membership and make it harder to branch stack.
The petition’s signatories include former premiers Carmen Lawrence, Geoff Gallop, Peter Dowding and John Cain, and former federal ministers John Kerin, Gareth Evans, Michael Duffy, Neal Blewett and Barry Jones.
It has been organised by Open Labor, a grassroots group dedicated to party reform. It says that the ALP must face up to the challenge of renewing itself. “If it refuses to change, the pressures of cynicism, indifference and vested interest will continue to hold back both the party and the nation.”
The petition also calls on the party to:
Enfranchise members with at least a 50% of the vote in preselecting candidates for the House of Representatives and the Senate;
Develop grassroots models to create open discussion of policy and act in partnership with other community groups to achieve change on issues that matter to Australians;
As part of a concerted effort to stamp out branch stacking, establish a standard joining process and accept membership payments only by traceable means such as credit card or bank details; and
Allow all federal electorates to elect a delegate to national conference.