By Lisa Macdonald
PERTH — About 120 people from a variety of progressive movements and organisations attended the conference here over the Easter weekend.
The agenda, which comprised more than 30 panel, feature and workshop sessions, brought together activists from the DSP, the Greens (WA), the Aboriginal community, Resistance, the WA Forests Alliance, various solidarity organisations for South Africa, Latin America, Indonesia and East Timor, the lesbian and gay rights movements, and more than half a dozen trade unions.
The lively and at times intense discussion and debate reflected a frequently expressed feeling by participants that it had been far too long since progressive activists in Perth had had an opportunity to come together and discuss a wide range of issues and concerns with each other in an open conference. As one 60-year-old veteran of the socialist movement put it, the conference was "the best thing to happen in the Perth left for a couple of decades".
While taking up a large number of separate issues in workshops and panels, the conference tended to focus on the general question of how to link and strengthen left and progressive movements and organisations in Australian politics today. The need to discuss the possibilities for electoral alliances for the next federal elections, for example, and the need for greater ongoing cooperation among single issue movements were repeatedly raised by participants.
The conference was marked by a unanimous agreement that we must build a political alternative to the Labor Party in this country and that this task is an urgent one. Around the questions of how to do that and what type of alternative was needed — now, in the early stages of rebuilding the left, and in the longer term — there was rich and wide-ranging debate.
In facilitating a broad and detailed sharing of views about the development and prospects of left politics nationally and internationally, as well as providing a forum for introducing and educating new activists about socialist theory and practice, this conference made a significant contribution to the green and left movements in Perth.