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Gillard promises factional reform but critics -

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Gillard promises factional reform but critics not convinced

Sabra Lane reported this story on Friday, September 16, 2011 08:06:00

TONY EASTLEY: The Prime Minister Julia Gillard will outline later this morning reforms to the ALP
which she'll take to Labor Party's national conference later this year.

She wants her party to trial so called 'primary' votes where party members and registered
supporters select a candidate.

Joining us now with some more details on this is our chief political correspondent Sabra Lane.

Sabra, good morning.

Kevin Rudd tried to curb the power of the factions and look what happened to him. Is this a serious
attempt by Julia Gillard to fix perceived problems with the Labor Party?

SABRA LANE: Well, Tony the Prime Minister will paint this as an attempt to modernise the party,
that she has personally been involved in looking at the party. She instigated the review into it
last year following the election result.

She'll call for, today, the trialling of so-called primary votes in some electorates around the
country where non-Labor Party members can be involved in choosing a candidate.

She'll also talk about things like harnessing more community involvement and extending membership
into the online world.

We wait to see if she'll say anything about tackling the unions and watering down union influence
in the party in her speech later today. But on these brief snippets that have been released ahead
of her speech, some would argue it is just tinkering around the edges.

TONY EASTLEY: Well, as we mentioned, others have tried and talked it. Does she stand a better
chance for some reason or another?

SABRA LANE: Well, Simon Crean tackled the unions famously when he was leader. He watered down their
influence at the National Party conference level, and some say that really that was quite a
minuscule reform of the party.

Does she stand a chance? Well, given the state the party is in at the moment over the policies it
is trying to pursue and bed down, one would argue that she probably won't try and tackle that at
the same time as well, that it is too much trouble to ask her to do.

But there are some in the party who are quite critical of what has been released to date. I spoke a
short time ago with Labor Party historian and former Labor minister Rodney Cavalier about the Prime
Minister's ideas.

RODNEY CAVALIER: None of these ideas matter at all. What matters and all that matters is ending
union control of the Labor Party. Unless you end union control, bring back democracy - a party very
similar to its foundings in the 19th century, a party that endured and prospered before the
conscription speed (phonetic) of 1916 - then there is no meaningful role for members to play. And
that is why a party that was 92,000 in New South Wales alone in 1911, a party that was about 50,000
just 30, 40 years ago is now a party that has dropped below a critical mass.

People do not see any point in belonging because they realise that power resides outside the
membership.

SABRA LANE: How do you end that influence?

RODNEY CAVALIER: You ask, of course, the essence of the question, as Mao put it so well, "No ruling
class gives up its power without a struggle". It would help if a parliamentary leader recognised
the essence of the problem is union control.

Why should the party be based on a social force that now amounts to only 8 per cent of the electors
of Australia? So 8 per cent - most of them playing no role at all of course in the affairs of their
own unions - control the Labor Party lock stock and dividends.

SABRA LANE: The Prime Minister says that the party should set itself a task of recruiting 8,000
members next year, and it should also try to tap in online membership to try and bolster the party
and make it flourish. Do you think those things are credible?

RODNEY CAVALIER: Firstly, 8,000 is an incredibly unambitious number. It will represent- if that was
to be achieved it would bring us back to fewer members than at the start of Kevin Rudd's
leadership.

And why would anyone join the Labor Party now with the crystal clear spectacle of the behaviour of
those in control of the party outside the Parliament, when they have a very good example of what it
means to be a modern trade union official and how union affairs are conducted? This is the reality
that the electors are seeing.

SABRA LANE: Simon Crean tried tackling the union influence when he was the leader. He managed to
water down the union influence at the national conference level. Kevin Rudd was highly critical of
the factions and some say that it came back to bite him in a serious way.

Do you think that Julia Gillard can tackle the factional leaders and that union influence?

RODNEY CAVALIER: That is a very good question. I see no evidence that that is her intention. Simon
Crean certainly did reduce union proportion of the floor of conference from 60 per cent to 50 per
cent but I assert to you, that makes no practical difference - nor does reducing them to 40 or 30.
All of those are, in corporate terms, the potential to control.

Unions have to be indexed to their actual size in Australian society and the electorate, and that
is somewhere between about 8 and 12 per cent. Only that will achieve the substantive shift in
power.

It won't result in the party moving from Right to Left or the party taking a dramatically more
progressive direction.

It will mean a completely different set of people come forward. It will mean the end of the careers
of almost every senator and every member of an upper house in the State Parliament. It will mean
the end of the careers of those who presently control the machines.

The machine operatives will change, and that is why there is not a lot of people who oppose the
democratisation of the party but they are, in every instance, people who control the machinery in
the parliamentary parties.

TONY EASTLEY: Rodney Cavalier speaking there with our chief political correspondent, Sabra Lane.