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Major organisational reforms for the ALP, proposed by Bob Hogg, facing significant opposition; resource security legislation

PETER THOMPSON: The Labor Party celebrates its centenary this year, but the mood inside the country's oldest political party is not exactly warm and congratulatory. Key factions, principally the Victorian Left and the New South Wales Right, are set to oppose key organisational reforms which have been suggested by the party's National Secretary, Bob Hogg. Mr Hogg has proposed that union representation at ALP State conferences be reduced, that the National Conference be more than doubled in size, and the National Executive be split. A larger executive would meet annually, and a smaller administrative committee would run day-to-day affairs. Mr Hogg has also proposed that the Executive be given power to vary the party's platform.

But the reforms are looking shaky. A leader of the New South Wales Right, Senator Graham Richardson, has dismissed the reforms as a wish list that simply won't happen. He spoke to our chief political correspondent, Maxine McKew.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Why would you want to push your way, to any extent, the trade unions who still represent the vast mass of working people in Australia? If we want to retain our identity, then we've got to stick to where we are.

MAXINE McKEW: But don't you have to look at changing the rules regarding trade union representation when you look at the fact that only 30 per cent of the work force is now unionised. How representative are they?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, 30 per cent of our work force still amounts to an awful lot of people and a hell of a lot more than 30 or 40,000 Labor Party members. So, as far as I'm concerned, I'd like to see that figure much higher and get back to 50 per cent. But there's much more chance of that happening than there is of Labor becoming some genuine mass party. And I would have thought at a time when the unions are under attack ... activities all around the country, when the party itself isn't travelling brilliantly, then it's the time to band together and to make sure that your traditional base is as solid as a rock. It won't become as solid as a rock if we push trade unions away.

MAXINE McKEW: You don't think you could be accused of protecting vested interest here?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well I think, with great respect to those who are pushing these proposals, there's a fair bit of self-interest in the pushing.

MAXINE McKEW: Why is that?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, the reality is the one faction which has little or no union representation around Australia is the one that wants to embrace the new concepts. The truth is that by embracing a concept which forces factionalism on party members by electing, by proportional representation, delegates from electorate councils to a new national conference, I think you can make factionalism worse and not better. You are far better off leaving it as it is. I might say that national secretaries have had a habit over the years of deciding that the best way to make the party more representative, the best way to make it more efficient, is to double the size of annual conferences. These proposals have never worked in the past, and they won't work in the future.

MAXINE McKEW: You're suggesting Bob Hogg is trying to entrench more power for himself here?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, I think this cunning little new body that sits above an expanded national executive, that will actually run the party, would be a very convenient tool for a secretary. I can understand why, in the interests of efficient administration, a secretary might think it's a good idea. But by making conferences triannual instead of biannual, I think you're just making life much more difficult for those who want to see the party given more access to our decision making. They get no more access under this plan, and if they're not going to get more access then none of the complaints that are around in the party will be satisfied. All you'll finish up with is more people to voice them.

MAXINE McKEW: So, as far as you're concerned, these reforms have no chance?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, I'm not one of the world's great punters, given my record on the golf course with the Prime Minister a couple of weeks ago, but I'd say that Hoggie's got less chance of getting this than the 2000 : 1 I gave Hawkie for the chip. Mind you, Hoggie won't be sinking anything on this plan.

MAXINE McKEW: Senator, just a final point. As a former Environment Minister, I imagine you saw the quoted comments of Senator Peter Walsh on the weekend, who dismissed the greens as a gaggle of kindergarten Marxists who've been appeased by this Government. Are they about to be appeased again with a rebuff to the timber industry which wants resource security legislation?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Making pro-environment decisions is not about the appeasement of any individual, or group of individuals. I hope it's just about making the right decisions. And Peter Walsh's rhetoric now matches almost exactly the rhetoric of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Hugh Morgan. I'd have thought there were other stars that Labor ought to have followed than their ilk, and I'm always wary of voices from the past who pretend to be font of all wisdom now but who remained curiously silent on too many issues when they were in Cabinet.

MAXINE McKEW: Well, are you opposing resource security legislation?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, I haven't made my mind up, yet. In fact, I'm carrying in my briefcase for my trip around northern New South Wales and Queensland in the next few days, a paper from Alan Griffiths, a few pages from Michael Field in Tasmania and a few pages from some environment groups. I'm going to read it all and make up my mind.

MAXINE McKEW: As you know, quite a number of the economic Ministers are supporting it.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Yes, well that doesn't come as one of the world's great shocks, does it? That doesn't mean, of course, that it will be carried. I noticed the Prime Minister's remarks a few weeks ago. But, in any event, I haven't read the material yet. I'll read it, I'll make up my mind, but I think I might inform Cabinet of what my decision is rather than you.

PETER THOMPSON: Senator Graham Richardson, the leader of the New South Wales Right Wing faction in the Labor Party.