Submission to the Participation Review

John Kilcullen

 

Participation will increase if members can contribute more effectively to the goals they seek in joining the ALP. At present there seem to be several obstacles to effectiveness that make people feel that their efforts are frustrated:

*        party processes are too indirect (people elect other people who decide);

*        the policy-making process is constipated (each item has to be approved by an annual Conference; things that don’t get considered are referred to Council or are left in abeyance for a year, a proposal rejected or tabled has to wait another year);

*        sub-branch meetings are too formal and the rules of debate make the meeting too adversarial—there should be an ethos of friendly cooperation.

In this submission I suggest the following main points:

(1). All members who meet reasonable eligibility requirements should be members of Conference, i.e. they should participate directly, not through representatives.  

(2). All members who meet the eligibility requirements should vote directly in a secret ballot to elect a range of ACT Labor officials.

(3). The eligibility requirements should include attendance at sub-branch and policy committee meetings and also (under the Regulations) participation in certain other activities.

(4). Policy Committees should work closely with representatives (MLAs or staffers) appointed by the leader of the Labor party in the Legislative Assembly to continuously edit the Party’s ACT policy—policy making should not be an annual cycle, but should be ongoing, intensifying as an election approaches. Policy Committees should be required to notify the Council of changes to policy document(s) before publication, but the changes should take effect after a certain interval if the Council has not objected. (On national policy see (33) and (34) below.)

(5). Any set of people above a minimum number should be able to register a sub-branch, no questions asked; any member should have the right to join any sub-branch, no questions asked. Sub-branches should be allowed to meet at times and places their members decide and to conduct their activities as they decide.

Below are more details.

 

Conference, Council, Administrative Committee

(6). The key idea here is that all eligible members should participate directly, in person, in the Conference. (On eligibility requirements see (35) below.)

(7). Members’ representatives on Council and Administrative Committee should be elected by direct election of members (see (12) below). Union representatives to Council (maybe also to the Administrative Committee) would be nominated by the unions, as now.

(8). The 50/50 rule would be preserved for both Conference and Council. The current Schedule B would remain in force, with references to “sub-branch delegates” amended (substitute “eligible members of sub-branches”, i.e. eligible to attend Conference) to reflect the fact that conference attendees would not be delegates of sub-branches.

(9). Here is one way the 50/50 rule could be reconciled with direct participation. Some time before the date of the Conference the Administrative Committee or the Council would decide the total size of the Conference.[1] Half that number would attend as nominees of an affiliated union chosen by the affiliated unions, the other half would attend as individual ALP members; no one would attend in both capacities (i.e. no one would have two votes). The unions would notify the Secretary of the names of their nominees by a set date. Eligible individual members not nominated as union delegates who wished to attend would notify the Secretary by a set date, and the appropriate number would then be selected by lot. (Choice by lot is an ancient democratic practice, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sortition.) Eligible individual members not selected by either unions or by the lot would be available to be proxied; they would be invited to attend the Conference and speak but could not vote unless proxied. Additional voting members could be selected by lot while the Conference is in progress if some of those earlier selected did not show.

(10). Perhaps the Rules should say that Conference should meet “at least every two years, at dates set by the Council”. The dates set should avoid ACT election years. The Conference agenda would be lightened, and policy-making freed up, by giving “delegated legislation” powers to Policy Committees (see (28) below). Special Conferences could be called as needed.

Direct elections

(11). Preselection for public office will be as at present.

(12). A secret ballot of all eligible members to elect President, two VPs, Policy Committee Convenor, National Policy Forum representative, delegates to national Conference, Council and Administrative Committee members (except union delegates), and whatever other positions are to be elected directly, should be held annually.

(13). Terms of office would be 1 year; casual vacancies would be filled by countback or by Council.

(14). As far as possible the positions should be grouped, so that the affirmative action rule (Schedule J) would apply.

(15). The Vice Presidents should be the two runners-up in the vote for President, the Administrative Committee members should be the first elected of the Council delegates (any who indicate that they are willing to serve in only one of these bodies can be passed over at the appropriate point in counting the votes).

(16).Voting should be confined to members who meet eligibility requirements, one person one vote, one vote one value.

(17).Voting should take place in at most two sessions, one being at the Conference (if a Conference is being held in that year). There should be no postal voting.

Branches

(18). Branches should be formed freely and should be much freer to experiment.[2]

(19). Sub-branches (let’s rename them “branches”[3]) should not need anyone’s approval; i.e. a set of people should become a branch simply by registering as such with the party office. (But there should be a minimum size, say 15. Members signing up to form a new branch would not be able to transfer to any other branch within a certain period.) Branch stacking and “pocket branches” would be no problem, since Conference participation is direct.

(20). Branches should be free to operate as they decide and with minimal formality (e.g. no required agenda, no requirement to meet every month, permission to use internet for meetings (it may not work!), etc.).

(21). An ALP member who wishes to join a branch would not need the permission of the existing members; i.e. one would join just by notifying the party office, which would notify the branch secretary.

(22). Branches should be campaign centres, giving more attention to door-knocking and other ways of establishing contact with the public. Each branch should elect an Organiser with the job of organising the recruitment of more Party members. The positions of President and Chair might be separated, to make it clear that the President has other more important functions. The positions of Organiser and President might be combinable.

Policy Committees

(23). The key idea here is that policy committees should be able to edit the policy documents in cooperation with the parliamentary leadership, subject to disallowance by Council and Conference. Individual changes should not have to go to Conference or Council.

(24). Policy committees should continue (as now) to be open to any Party member who chooses to join. A person can belong to several policy committees.

(25). The number and scope of policy committees or policy working parties should be determined from time to time by the Policy Coordination Committee (delete Rule G.2.8).

(26). The policy coordination committee should include someone (preferably an MLA or staffer) nominated by the leader of the ACT Parliamentary Labor Party.

(27). Each Policy Committee should have editorial responsibility for a section of the ACT ALP platform.

(28). Alterations made by a policy committee to the ACT platform should require the agreement of the Parliamentary leader’s representative, but not the prior approval of Conference or Council (so in relation to Conference and Council policy committees would have a power of “delegated legislation”).

(29). Council should be notified of a decision to amend the platform before the amendment is published, to give the Council an opportunity to disallow. (Disallowance would presumably be followed by dialogue between the Council and the policy committee(s); the Council meets quarterly.)

(30). Within the notification period Council or Conference could disallow a policy committee decision. Conference could also direct an alteration to the platform (this should not be done routinely), and that direction would remain in effect until cancelled by a Conference. Council and Conference could pass Special Resolutions, as now.

(31). The Policy Coordinator, the ACT representative(s) to the Federal Policy Forum and the delegates to the Federal Conference would be directly elected by the members and would ex officio belong to the Policy Coordination Committee. The Policy Coordination Committee should also elect a Secretary, whose job would be to arrange meetings of the policy coordination committee, to re-convene inactive committees and to facilitate the flow of communication.

(32). All members of all Policy Committees (not only those who can attend meetings, but also those who register to be on the mailing list) should have access to a password-protected website [currently Basecamp] and access to all material on that website. This enables everyone to take part in coordinating policy.

(33). The policy committees would (as they do now) try to establish communication with the federal parliamentarians and give advice to ministers/shadow ministers. One (or more) of the federal parliamentarians should be added to the Policy Coordination Committee. Federal policy matters would also be the topic of special resolutions at Council and Conference.

(34). We should try to amend the Federal rules so that State and Territory Branches can put matters onto the Federal Conference agenda, just as our branches can put matters onto the ACT Conference agenda: at present it seems the only way for us to get things onto the Federal Conference agenda is to persuade our delegates to raise them from the floor.)

Eligibility

(35). There should be one eligibility, entitling a member to attend Conference and vote in preselections and elections of officials. There should be no restrictions on who can vote for or be elected to offices in branches and policy committees. (Or if there is, it should be defined simply by the time the person has been a member of the branch or policy committee.)

(36). Eligibility should be defined in terms of attendance at meetings of branches, policy committees and other approved activities (specified in Regulations). Attendance at one branch meeting at least should be required (the regulation could say “at least so-many meetings over the previous twelve months, at least one of which must be a meeting of the branch the member belongs to”).

(37). The administration of eligibility requirements will need attendance books or the equivalent. Some thought should be given to computerised management of these records. (Perhaps secretaries could be given password-protected access to a web site into which they could enter attendances, generating a .pdf report that could be attached to the minutes.)

(38). Members who show up for a meeting that does not get a quorum should be able to sign the attendance book, or (if the book is not available) sign an attendance sheet, so that their attendance can count toward eligibility.

(39). The Administrative Committee should be able to confer eligibility rights on individuals who cannot fulfil the ordinary requirements for good reasons (disability, family circumstances, etc.).

(40). Credentialing members would mean declaring that they have met the eligibility requirements by checking records of attendances and other approved activities. If union membership is not required at joining (see (43) and (44) below), but is required for eligibility, a check of union membership would be added to the credentialing process.

Rules and regulations

(41). According to the current rules, Council has the power to amend the Regulations, but only Conference can amend the Rules; this should continue.

(42). The Rules should include only the essentials; lesser matters should go to the Regulations. The point of this is to make the organisation more flexible. Whatever is done through this Participation Review will need fine-tuning, and in any case the Party’s structures and processes need on-going review and adjustment.

Other matters

There are some other issues raised by forum participants:

(43). It should be possible to join online, with immediate effect: membership should not have to wait for Administrative Committee approval (vetting could be done later, say at credentialing). See comments by Chris Steel, https://basecamp.com/2118763/projects/4573607-participation-review/messages/19536881-belconnen-and

(44). It was suggested that union membership should not be required for membership, but should be added to the eligibility requirements.

(45). One of the participants at the Belconnen forum strongly urged (with reference to the SDA) that members may have a reasonable objection to joining their appropriate union. Perhaps there could be an exemption for “conscientious objectors” provided they pay a contribution to another union of their choice. There is also the problem that some unions (CPSU) have high membership fees.

 

How would the measures I suggest encourage participation? Individuals joining the ALP could freely join any existing branch or join in forming a new one, and each branch in informal and friendly discussion would work out proposals to be put to policy committees. Individuals could also freely join any one or more policy committees, which would give them a direct say in writing the ACT platform. The sub-branches would also be campaigning centres at election time and between elections. ACT Branch officials would be directly elected by the members who participated in branches and policy committees.

The ACT platform would be written by the Parliamentary leadership and policy committee members working together. I hope they would prune it drastically and make it an interesting and well-written document that could be used to win electoral support.

 

John Kilcullen
john.kilcullen@mq.edu.au
20 January 2014



[1] They would decide by estimating how many of the totality of eligible members were likely to be able and willing actually to attend. They would also consider the availability and cost of venues. The unions might also have views about the number of delegates they could find (according to rule E.6.1 they have to be members of the union: this requirement could be deleted, so that the unions would decide on the qualifications of their delegates). The larger the total size of the Conference, the closer we would come to direct participation by every eligible member.

[2] A sub-branch includes a diversity of members—various ages, occupations, genders, life experience—and it is part of the strength of the Labor Party that diverse members get to know one another and learn to think together from various points of view. For internal party democracy this is important. Members need the opportunity to get to know and influence the thinking of people who may stand for positions within the party. In giving eligibility points for other kinds of participation we need to be careful not to undermine the sub-branches.

[3] Other terminology: Let’s call Branch Council the “Council”; maybe the Conference should be called the “Convention”. The term “rank and file” should be replaced by “members”.