Rudd challenges Labor 'to get real'
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd throws his support behind John Faulkner's calls for reform of the Labor party.PT0M0S 620 349
John Faulkner frequently lets fly at factionalism in the ALP and what he believes to be its corrosive effects on the party. He's been at it for years.
In June last year, for example, the elder statesman , as he has now become, used the annual Neville Wran lecture to basically warn Labor would die unless it increased and invigorated its membership by democratising its processes.
''People were attracted to the Labor Party because they wanted to make the world a better place,'' he said of the days of yore.
Illustration: Rocco Fazzari
But top-down control and focus group-driven politics had pushed away people who wanted to make a difference towards activist groups such as GetUp and the Greens.
''We have lost a generation of activists from Labor and, if we do not face the challenges and opportunities of reform in both structure and culture, we will risk losing a generation of voters as well,'' he said.
''Labor cannot thrive as an association of political professionals focused on the machinery of electoral victory and forming, at best, contingent alliances with Australians motivated by and committed to ideals and policies.''
In November last year, as the party geared up to debate reforms at its national conference, Faulkner fired up a meeting of 150 MPs and organisers, all members of his own Left faction.
''We are a small party getting smaller, we are an old party getting older,'' he said.
''We have lost some of our base and could lose more. We are facing our first electoral challenge in history from the Left, in the Greens. And we are a declining political force. It's time to act. It's time to reform.''
Faulkner, along with the former premiers Steve Bracks and Bob Carr, authored the 2010 post-election review, which found Labor's membership atrophying and the party in need of urgent reform.
He despairs at the current state of Labor in his home state of NSW, especially the behaviour of the dominant Right faction. He blames the corrupt culture of protection and patronage not just for a more clinical and less connected party, but for allowing such disasters as Craig Thomson to be preselected again when the allegations of his behaviour as an official at the Health Services Union had been plastered across the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald.
He believes, as he outlined in the speech he gave in Melbourne on Tuesday, that the factional culture enabled the likes of Eddie Obeid to operate unchallenged for years.
''A culture has developed in the NSW branch where, for some, being caught out at sharp practices is worn almost as a badge of honour. Our party would be immeasurably better off without such people.''
Until now, Faulkner had been railing against the corrosive effects of factionalism on the party's structure and membership. This week's contribution drew the link with corruption and the extraordinary damage it is doing to Labor in the broader electorate.
''It is clear that the current power balance, the current power structures, have enabled too much disgraceful conduct and arrogantly corrupt behaviour.''
Ask any federal Labor MP in Western Sydney fighting for his or her life and they will tell your the Obeid and Ian Macdonald business before ICAC is causing enormous damage by reinforcing the already negative perceptions voters have of the ''Labor brand''. They don't differentiate between state and federal.
And the NSW branch has been angering other state Labor branches, too.
Factionalism exists in the ALP everywhere but it is nowhere near as overt as in NSW. For some years, there has been growing anger over the antics of the NSW Right and the damage it has inflicted on the party outside the state. It played the lead role in toppling Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard and the damage caused by that is still manifesting itself throughout the federal caucus.
Outside NSW, they are angry at the constant navel gazing NSW provokes, again, something which casts a pall over the party nationally.
Faulkner listed seven key reforms he thought NSW Labor must undertake.
Many are similar to those which hit the fence at national conference in December last year.
Each of Faulkner's reforms seeks to diminish the power of factions inside the branch, increase accountability and empower the rank-and-file. There would be a ''one-strike-and-you're out'' policy for corrupt behaviour within our outside the party.
The members, not the unions and factions, should directly preselect members of the state and federal upper houses, the Legislative Council and the Senate.
Party rules must should be capable of being judged, he said, and all internal ''machinery committees in the NSW branch should be abolished'' and replaced with an independent appeals tribunal headed by a former judge. And no longer should an MP be bound by their faction when voting.
All are noble suggestions and Faulkner received widespread general support from both sides of the factional fence for his speech.
Sam Dastyari, the NSW ALP general-secretary, is a senior member of the NSW right and a believer in the need to reform. He knows Faulkner well, was aware of his speech and backed it in. Dastyari has ushered through incremental change in recent years (the trialling of primary-election style preselection ballots) but he acknowledges far more substantial reforms is needed.
''Whether or not we reform is no longer an option, it's a necessity,'' he said.
Kevin Rudd has been calling for the diminution of factional power for ages and was out backing Faulkner today.
But at the end of the day, Faulkner, himself a former factional powerbroker, is asking people addicted to power to relinquish that power and that is where previous pushes for change have foundered.
Simon Crean's leadership was mortally wounded by his attempts to usher in incremental changes.
It is less likely, therefore, that Labor will embrace wholesale change than gradual reform.
The most apt observation Faulkner made on Tuesday was ''support for reform in principle melts away when specific proposals that would change the power balance within the ALP are put on the table''.