Labor’s Left launches reform bid

Prime Minister Julia Gillard supports some proposed changes to the Labor Party but will come under pressure as the Left seeks sweeping reforms.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard faces pressue from Labor’s left. Photo: Sylvia Liber

LABOR’S Left, which has raised its voice strongly in caucus in opposition to Julia Gillard’s Malaysia people swap, is putting more pressure on the PM with a public campaign for sweeping party reform.

With a new website that went live at midnight, the national Left is launching its first public campaign in 20 years, urging fundamental renewal of party structures at the December ALP national conference.

It aims to mobilise the grassroots to try to convince conference delegates to support an overhaul. A petition will urge extensive change to give members and supporters more say in how the party is run; it calls for the implementation of the recommendations from the 2010 review by Senator John Faulkner and former premiers Steve Bracks and Bob Carr.

These include direct election of some national conference delegates and changes in the way candidates are preselected. The Left will launch its campaign next month in all states.

Ms Gillard recently embraced some of the review’s blueprint, saying, ”I’ll move that we embrace the party members’ empowerment reforms” that it proposed. ”We have to offer a richer experience for members of the Labor Party, including by giving them more opportunities to have a say and a direct vote in important decisions,” she said.

She backed a trial of plebiscites giving party supporters a vote in choosing a candidate in some seats, extending the party president’s term from one to three years, setting a target of 8000 new members next year, and online party membership.

But she did not explicitly back the proposal for the direct election of some national conference delegates. Nor did she go as far on primaries as the review, which said that these should begin in open and non-held lower house seats and be considered for held seats in the future. The review did not put a figure on the proportion of conference delegates that should be directly elected by the rank and file. The Left says it should be 50 per cent.

The convener of the Labor renewal campaign, Darcy Byrne said real change ”can only be achieved from the bottom up. This campaign will mobilise thousands of rank-and-file members in every state to demand reform of our party and more respect for members.”

ALP national president Jenny McAllister said the campaign was a ”rank-and-file response” to the PM’s call for renewal.

In a pointed reflection of increasing concern in the Left that the government has been veering away from Labor values on issues such as asylum seekers, the Left’s model resolution on reform refers to the need to embrace ”new policies and ideas grounded in solid Labor values”.

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