Members deserve a say in party leadership
Nearly two years ago, I wrote in The Punch a piece that suggested the current way we select our political party leaders should change.
Under the present system, members of parliament in the major parties determine their own leader. However alternatives are being considered.
The recent NSW Labor Party state conference passed a motion to further consider how they select the NSW Labor State Leader. That decision, if implemented, has the potential to impact the entire Australian political system.
With the new age of openness and transparency in democracy, in part fuelled by the digital age, choosing our own political leaders will be the norm not the exception.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has said that MPs should have votes in leadership contests as well party members.
He argued earlier this year “In this era of transparency, it is important that the public also demand more of our political parties. Having an open process with a series of debates between potential party leaders, for example, will have its messy moments. But if the leader of the party is able to claim the legitimacy of a broad charter and a transparent process, this will give Labor an advantage over our conservative opponents.”
Comparisons can be made with the United Kingdom. The Labour Party in the United Kingdom is a membership organisation consisting of Constituency Labour Parties, affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and the Co-operative Party, with which it has an electoral agreement. Members who are elected to parliamentary positions take part in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
The party’s decision-making body on leadership takes places at the Labour Party Conference. Delegates to the conference are elected by Constituency Labour Parties, affiliated trade unions and socialist societies. Currently, affiliated trade unions hold 50 percent of the votes at the conference. The PLP also have representation at Conference.
The Labor Party needs to be careful not to be drawn into the debate of the model, and proceed with an agreed principle, otherwise you could have a debate similar to the Republic issue. The focus then became the model not the principle.
The other overriding concern will not be the role of MP’s or party members in leadership votes, but the weight given to unions in determining leadership contests. At the moment their influence is not as transparent as it could be.
This is not only donations to the Party itself, but to individual MP’s which influences leadership votes when restricted to MP’s only.
It’s clear that by giving members an opportunity to vote directly in leadership contests, they are more likely to be engaged with that party.
Former NSW Minister Rodney Cavalier has said: “The structures that prevailed over 70 years are no longer serving NSW Labor. Structure is everything. The structure of the ALP has not changed and is not likely to change.”
Governance structure reforms need to be expanded to a national level as well.
If a successful model can be found, it has the potential to impact other Australian political parties as well. We will have to wait and see.
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