More democracy in the ALP?

Issue 

By James Vassilopoulos

CANBERRA — In the same week that the federal ALP voted for corporate tax cuts and the new racist refugee laws, the ACT Labor Party voted to reintroduce rank and file preselection of its election candidates.

A special ACT branch conference voted on November 27 to replace the 50% rank and file, 50% collegiate preselection system with one in which all candidates will be selected on the rank and file system. The measure will give ALP members a little more say in what happens in the party.

The "left" faction, which has traditionally run the ACT branch, did not support the measure. It argued that rank and file preselection would marginalise unions and drive them away from the ALP.

The real reason it opposed the change is that the collegiate system, which was introduced by the left faction in 1993, gives it more say in preselecting candidates because it controls more unions than the right faction.

A collegiate system, which involves block votes by unions, gives union officials, not rank and file unionists, a say. Union members rarely have a say in whether their union is affiliated to the ALP, or in preselection and policy.

The ALP right's support for the change has nothing to do with democratic tendencies in that faction and everything to do with the change increasing the faction's influence in preselections. In many other states, the right does not support rank and file preselection.

The new system will probably help Labor recruit a few more progressive people who see it as a step towards reforming the party. But it does not make the ALP more democratic. The parliamentary caucus, rather than the members, still controls the party: how many ALP members were consulted before Simon Crean did the deal with John Howard on tax cuts for big business two weeks ago?