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The ALP needs to split to save its core values.

By Klaas Woldring - posted Friday, 2 December 2011

The continuous shift to the right by the ALP and the tragic opportunism of some ALP MPs are not the only considerations that may well prompt progressive ALP politicians to break away from the Party and form a new parliamentary party. The ALP Right has become a deeply conservative Party of the Centre that is out of touch with a growing number of Australian voters, especially the younger voters who, quite understandably, are turning to the Greens. There is more to it. There are plenty of examples of tokenistic reform, but very little of substance is tackled, especially in the area of structural and system reforms. The Report by Wran, Faulkner and Brack deals with intra-party issues only to counter membership loss and revive party democracy - but this is not necessarily the essence of the decline.

It would be a healthy move for left ALP Parliamentarians to split from the ALP, and form a parliamentary party under a different name. They could offer a coalition arrangement with the remainder of the ALP to ensure continuous government. Within that labour coalition, the new party can advance reforms that would be acceptable to parliamentarians of other parties including the independents, the Greens and even some Liberal/NP Coalition MPs. This would be a much better system than the behind closed doors factional strife and deal-making. Ending the factional hold can only result in much greater flexibility within the public arena of the parliament. The extremely undemocratic impact of factions was demonstrated in the federal parliament when, as prime minister, Kevin Rudd was virtually dismissed by a few right-wing MPs manipulating factional dominance. The situation for the left can now be stated as follows: Solidarity means the death of the ALP.

They have always been led to believe division meant death. It may well be a fundamental error to think that this is still valid.


Let me briefly list some examples of policies that have been frustrated by the conservatism, immobility and opportunism of the right-wing faction of the ALP in particular (and others that simply never see the light of day).

As the ALP's National Conference is being held next week, and very few real reforms can be expected from that factionally staged forum, the time has come to seriously consider definite alternatives. Australia cannot continue to stagnate over so many public policy areas and remain stuck somewhere in the previous century. That is what is happening now although, to some degree, the impact of the Greens' and independents are redeeming influences that moderate the stagnation. We need a lot more of this, not less. Key issues:

  • Major reforms to the electoral system.
  • Asylum seekers policies.
  • Executive salary packages.
  • Industrial relations/workplace democracy.
  • Federal-state relations.
  • Republic of Australia – constitutional change.
  • Media inquiry: concentration of ownership.
  • Gay/Lesbian marriage, effective policies.
  • ABC programs and staff representatives.
  • Internal party reform ALP.

Major reforms to the electoral system

The two party system in Australia is the direct consequence of two influences: The Commonwealth Electoral Act of 1918, which introduced the single-member district electoral regime on a compulsory preferential basis, and the 1924 Commonwealth Electoral Act that made voting at the federal level compulsory. These Acts are responsible for the two-party system as we know it. The second influence is the Westminster system, which is based on an adversarial parliamentary tradition. Neither of these conditions needs to continue - and they should not continue if Australia is to recover from the dismal condition that the parliamentary system is in. The Acts grossly favour the major parties making it virtually impossible for a minor party or independent to be elected to the House of Representatives. One should also reflect on the barrier that has been created this way to frustrate amendments to the Constitution.

The Electoral Reform Inquiry launched by Senator John Faulkner in 2009, aimed initially at undoing the changes made by the Howard Government in terms limiting exposure of donations (unsuccessfully) and, secondly, at minor system changes (although not specifically aiming at proportional representation). Nothing came of these plans and the status quo prevailed. Proportional representation is the major reform that is required to end the two party tyranny. If Kevin Rudd wants a debate, then that is the very one to go for.


The Asylum Seekers policy: This has been a disaster especially the Malaysia project that the PM still favours. A left parliamentary party would not support off-shoring processing at all.

The Executive Salary packages: These were also examined in 2009. Some very weak recommendations was the outcome of the inquiry. Shareholders were given some power to check the Remuneration Reports ("two strikes) but on the whole, this was a further instance of window dressing.

The industrial relations scene: This has barely changed with the Fair Work Act and certainly did not introduce any form of workplace democracy widely accepted in many western countries. Earlier, also in 2009, the reforms to the employee share schemes actually resulted in retrograde steps.

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About the Author

Dr Klaas Woldring is a former Associate Professor of Southern Cross University.

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