2014 marks a historic turning point for the Queensland Branch of our Party.
After decades of control by the right-wing Labor Forum faction, rank-and-file ballots in July saw the Left win a majority.
The Left’s victory in these Queensland ballots, backed up by our continued leadership on Party reform and progressive policy, gives hope to progressive Labor activists across Australia.
From crisis to opportunity
After suffering internal division through the last years of the State Labor Government, the Left in Queensland regrouped and led the charge on Party reform.
At our last two State Conferences, the Left pushed several rule changes to give more power to rank-and-file members. Given our minority status, only some of these efforts were successful, but we established the Left’s credentials on Party reform and positioned ourselves well for the ballots to elect rank-and-file delegates for this year’s State Conference.
ALP members responded by electing record numbers of Left delegates. Particularly notable was the success of Left tickets in regional areas and outer suburban Brisbane. Some of these areas had no real history of electing Left conference delegates. This time they voted Left in droves. Good grassroots campaigning and a record of supporting reform were critical to this result.
The end result was that the Left had a two-vote majority at this year’s Queensland Conference. At Conference we had two main aims: to extend Party reform and secure a more progressive Party platform.
Party reform extended
One of the highlights of the 2014 Queensland State Conference was the range of Party reform measures adopted.
We started from a good base, having previously secured a 50 percent say for rank-and-file members in the election of Senate candidates and the Brisbane Lord Mayoral candidate. This year we wanted to give branch members a vote to elect our State Parliamentary leader.
For the past three years, the Left advocated that the State Caucus, rank-and-file members and affiliated unions should all get a vote on the State leadership, but that has been resisted by the Right. This year we got it through, under a model where each of those three sections of the Party gets a third of the say. We believe this model respects the important role that each wing of the Party has in shaping the future of our Party.
Other Party reform measures adopted at this year’s Conference include:
- Branch members’ say in preselections jumps to 70 percent, while the legitimate role of affiliated unions is recognised in the Electoral College,
- Groups like Labor for Refugees and the Labor Environment Action Network, where members can organise around policy change, are officially recognised, and
- Our affirmative action rules will be more effective in achieving more women MPs.
Progressive policy entrenched
The other key action at this year’s Conference was the adoption of a new State Platform.
After our devastating defeat at the 2012 State election, our State Platform needed a complete overhaul. Rather than a prescriptive shopping list of detailed initiatives sought from an incumbent government, the Platform needed to become a more inspiring statement of our values and beliefs. It also needed to identify key areas for reform, on the election of a new State Labor Government.
Of course the Queensland State Labor Platform must also provide a strong alternative to the extreme right-wing agenda of Campbell Newman’s Liberal National Party Government.
With its single-minded pursuit of privatisation in breach of election commitments; savage job and funding cuts to hospitals, schools and other public services; and attacks on civil rights and basic democratic principles – the Newman Government has lurched back to the kind of politics we thought had disappeared with the demise of Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
At this year’s Conference Queensland Labor showed that there is a better way.
Ten key planks of our new platform include:
- Labor commits to building a society, not just an economy. We recognise the essential role of government in providing the economic framework and services our society needs to build a prosperous future for all.
- Labor opposes the privatisation and outsourcing of essential assets and services.
- Labor commits to economic growth built on the skills, creativity and participation of our people and industries, rather than low wages and conditions.
- Labor supports a high-quality, publicly-funded, secular, inclusive education and training system.
- Labor supports an industrial relations system that values collective bargaining and respects the right of workers to be represented by trade unions.
- Labor will repeal the Newman Government’s unfair workers compensation laws, which stop more than 60 percent of injured workers seeking compensation from negligent employers.
- Labor will restore a scientific approach to protecting Queensland’s unique environment, with specific commitments to protect the Great Barrier Reef and prohibit uranium mining.
- Labor will strengthen our publicly-funded health system so that all Queenslanders can always obtain quality, affordable primary, acute and chronic health care.
- Labor backs self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Labor supports key democratic principles, including the separation of powers and an independent judiciary.
The new State platform was supplemented with a range of urgency motions that demonstrate key priorities for the Left. All were passed, some despite the opposition of the Right.
The urgency motions supported a strong economic plan to create and protect jobs for the future, a more humane policy for asylum seekers and removal of the conscience vote for MPs on marriage equality. The Newman and Abbott Governments' attacks on the ABC and the public sector were condemned.
A Left majority future
Having a Left majority dramatically reshaped the 2014 State Conference.
In the past we had to cobble together a majority to support basic Party reform, or policies that simply reflected long-held Labor values. This year we could approach Conference with confidence that our reform program would be implemented. We also achieved for the first time the election of a majority Left delegation from Queensland to National Conference.
The question now is what we do with our majority. The reform push does not stop with a small number of rule changes. We must continue to open up our Party, inviting real participation to a wider range of Queenslanders and supporting their activism on the issues they are passionate about. We must look outwards, to groups who have become disillusioned with our Party, to seek the ideas that will provide solutions to contemporary problems.
More than anything, we must be proud of our Labor values that offer hope for so many in our community.
The Newman and Abbott Governments’ dramatic fall in the polls shows that Queenslanders, and Australians, reject a future based on the survival of the fittest. With a Left majority in Queensland, we are well-positioned to offer an alternative vision, where all in our community benefit from a fair economy, strong social cohesion and respect for our environment.
For anyone familiar with the Queensland branch of the ALP, to even contemplate this possibility is a sign of how much has changed.
We had internal divisions. We were seemingly stuck at around 40-45 percent of the Party. But now we have now assumed the position of leadership.
That shows what can be done with a sincere commitment to reform and good grassroots organising. It should give hope to Left activists in all our State and Territory Branches.
Murray Watt is a Brisbane lawyer and is a State Conference delegate from the Ryan Federal Electorate. Between 2009-2012, he was an Assistant Minister and the Member for Everton in the Queensland State Parliament.