Join a political party, be a preselector

John Kilcullen

The following remarks relate to the ACT, but they apply mutatis mutandis elsewhere.

·       In the ACT 276,398 people are enrolled to vote in the 2016 Federal election.

·       The membership of ACT Labor is a small fraction of the electorate, fewer than 2000 members;  the  ACT membership of the Liberals and the Greens is  smaller.

·       Members’ most important function is preselection, i.e. deciding who will be the candidates for three safe ACT Labor seats (2 House of Representatives, 1 Senate)  and the one (pretty safe) Liberal Senate seat.

·       In the most recent contested pre-selection, in 2010, the ALP candidates for the House of Representatives seats was decided by fewer than 250 voters: see herehere and here.  Andrew Leigh was preselected by 144 votes to 96,  Gai Brodtmann by 123 to 109. In 2013 ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja was preselected by 114 to 84.

There is no reason why nominations should be left in the control of such small numbers of people. 

As a friend commented to me, we need to “break down perceptions in the community that joining a party is such a big deal (a bit like joining a cult) but instead something people should consider getting involved in like any other community activity they might join.”

If you want to make a difference in politics, become a member of a party. Don’t join a faction, don’t be discouraged by what happens at Conference, but be sure to participate in preselections.That will have much more effect than a protest vote.


To join Labor go  here, Liberal here, Greens here.  

In short, if you want to have a real say in politics, join one of the parties. You don't join for life. If it doesn't work out, walk out.

More information on ACT Labor

Each ACT Labor parliamentarian has to face preselection every three years. Every “rank-and-file” member of the ALP in the ACT can vote in preselection provided they have been members for twelve months. You do not need to attend any meeting or participate in any way: being a member for a year is all that is required to vote in preselection. To become a member it is not necessary to belong to a union.

Every member’s vote counts equally; unions and factions have no special weight.

MPs and Senators are influenced by the views of members even when pre-selection is not due for some time. They can be influenced by indications of possible loss of support. If a significant number of new people join and express discontent (for example, with Labor policy regarding Manus and Nauru), the behaviour of incumbent Parliamentarians will begin to change.

Are there drawbacks to joining? There are two: (1) you must pay a (significant) membership fee, and (2) you promise to vote for the preselected candidates--but on the other hand, you have a say in preselecting the candidates. A protest vote at a general election achieves little or nothing in comparison with the opportunity to make your protest within the party as a potential preselector.

Are political parties evil?

Bob Douglas “Has party politics become destructive to the public interest and the public good?” asks: “What would happen if every electorate in Australia did what the Indi electorate did in 2013 and elected an independent to the Parliament?” My answer: Once they got to Parliament they would form alliances, i.e. parties, behind the scenes. I would rather they openly declared their connections beforehand. Independents often say that they will stand up for the interests of their district. To win government a party has to get support for the same policy package in many districts, so they have to work out a reconciliation of a wide range of interests. Independents may work for some undeclared objective and then not seek re-election, but members of a party care about its long-term reputation. Members of a party go hostage for one another. If some behave badly it reflects on the others. For more on the party system see here.

Malcolm Turnbull: "This is going to be a very close election. Every seat matters, every vote matters. And I say to every Australian... that every vote counts and they should treat their vote, regardless of what seat they are in, as though it was the vote, the single vote that decides the next government. Every vote counts." As Mr Turnbull knew, and everyone knows, this statement is simply false. That is why parties run "marginal seat" campaigns and take a lot of notice of the presumed wishes of swinging voters in those seats; see Barrie Cassidy, "Pork barrelling and the hoax of 'every vote counts'". See also Peter Martin. The parties tend to neglect the safe seats.

Politicians in marginal seats have to pay attention to swinging voters. Incumbents in a safe seat have to pay attention to the views of their preselectors. As a preselector your vote really will count. 

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