December 11, 2003 | Peter

A More Inclusive ALP

There is a new spirit in the ALP. I’m not sure this is due so much to Latham’s ascendancy as a perception that the deadly days of saying and doing as little as possible under Beazley are gone.
And I’m hoping the change in the leadership will generate party activism at the grass roots and continue the job of party reform began by Crean. A glaring problem in the ALP at the moment is the strict bifurcation of the party into active insiders and mostly passive outsiders. The insiders are almost always politicians, political staffers, party officials or union officials. They hold virtually all the important positions and make nearly all the important decisions. The outsiders are all the other members, many with decades of service, who sometimes make it to the sub-branch meetings but mostly just get trotted out to work on polling day.They are often lauded at Xmas drinkies, but they have very little real power in the ALP.
When I first joined the ALP in 1982 there was a middle group made up of largely professional people and unionists who were primarliy interested in policy. They were well informed and often very knowledgeable about policy issues. They were active at various levels and especially in policy committees. Unlike the current insiders, they were not explicitly focused on power within the party and jobs for themselves. They wanted the ALP to be a political party representative of the best educated and most experienced elements of Australian society.
These people have largely deserted the ALP since then. Some went to the Greens, a few to the Democrats, and many just gave up on party politics. If Labor is to recover a capacity to generate innovative policy it needs to re-attract these people. But to do that the insiders will have to start sharing power with the rest of the party. The erosion of the faction system (so evident in the election of Mark Latham) is a step in the right direction, because genuine ability and party activism may become relevant again. But there needs to be a general revision of attitude on the part of almost the entire power hierarchy of the ALP.
The ALP needs to become more inclusive, but to do this the current party power establishment has to share power and responsibility. The old Labor boys and girls turn up on cold nights to poorly attended, boring sub-branch meetings because they recall when Labor fought for basic needs, like decent housing and a fair health system. For them, it was Labor or nothing. The younger, well educated and widely experienced people that Labor has to attract will only join and stay on if they perceive that work and ability do lead to meaningful influence on the party.

Posted by Peter at 2:02 am | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. That is a pretty accurate account.
    Myself, I cannot see it changing. Much better to go off and join an ngo(new social movement)in civil society than a political party.

    Comment by Gary Sauer-Thompson — December 12, 2003 @ 9:40 am

  2. NGO’s certainly have their place, and their growth in the latter part of the last century was important. But we can’t just ignore formal politics, as messy, corrupt and futile as it often seems. Anyway, these are not exlusive options.

    Comment by peter mcmahon — December 15, 2003 @ 1:22 pm

  3. I also joined the ALP 1982 and I do agree with the comments.
    My hunch is that the ALP membership still consists predominantly of professional people. The ALP needs to broaden its membership to include people that used to be ‘working class’ but now may be self-employed and non-unionised. I may disagree with Latham on many issues, but I think he has understood that the social fabric that Labor relied on 10 or 20 years ago has changed.
    In regards to joining an NGO vs a political party the two things are not exclusive. You can be member of a pro-refugee group, or an environmental group and be a member of a political party as well.

    Comment by Guido Tresoldi — December 15, 2003 @ 3:52 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.