Matt Martin is the Deputy Chair of NSW Country Labor
On Saturday 26 September 2015 a meeting of rural members of the Australian Labor was convened in Casino, NSW by the Federal Parliamentary “Country Labor group” also known as the office of Member for Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon.
For years now there have been efforts to establish a federal version of Country Labor. The 2011 National Conference passed resolutions to this effect but intransigence at the state branch level meant nothing ever happened.
It's important to understand that this gathering of around 150 members was not an official function of the Party as we would understand it. It wasn't a conference or forum or the like. Rather it was a series of MPs speaking to Party members and a number of workshops on policy and campaigning.
Rather than a formal plenary session where the workshops reported back and there could be discussion of issues relevant to rural members, the day was topped off by “90 second members statements” along the lines of those given in the House of Representatives prior to Question Time each day.
Like other progressive activists in Country Labor I held grave doubts about the purpose of this gathering. It had the distinct whiff of an over-reach by the parliamentary party into the affairs of the organisational wing. We were also concerned that this was an attempt to erect a national Country Labor structure modeled on NSW Country Labor – which is undemocratic, unrepresentative and firmly under the control of Sydney-based operatives in Sussex St.
With this in mind the rural Left resolved to participate with a view to ensuring that whatever came out of Casino it wouldn't be just another dress circle for the spivs, shonks and carpet baggers of the NSW Right to parade around.
At the end of the “90 second statement” session, following extensive negotiations, Member for Richmond and Forum chair Justine Elliot and I moved a motion calling on ALP National Executive to model a federal Country Labor along the lines of the National Labor Women’s Network.
A working group consisting of representatives of each state and territory branch that wishes to participate would meet to convene a national forum for all rural members of the ALP on a triennial basis. Any financial member who lives in what is deemed by their branch to be a rural or country area would be able to participate.
There are still many unanswered questions, not least of which is how to address the considerable expense many rank-and-file members face in attending such events, but the Left will work diligently in ensuring that a federal Country Labor will be properly representative of rank-and-file members not just another cretinous prattle-fest for the ambitious.