On the Labor Day long weekend members of the Young Labor Left from across Australia converged on Adelaide for a national organising conference - two days of workshops, training, and socialising with friends and comrades.
This was an opportunity not only to reinforce the fundamental values of egalitarianism and collectivism which drive the Left, but to also ensure that we have the policy knowledge to meaningfully engage in debate, and the organising skills to turn our vision into reality.
We heard from inspirational figures like Penny Wong about the importance of young activists pursuing progressive change within the party.
Tim Ayers and Paul Erickson, the new Assistant National Secretary, spoke about the current state of the party reform debate and the Left’s agenda at the 2015 ALP National Conference.
We also had excellent workshops from policy advocates like Kellie Tool, who spoke about the challenges in legislating around domestic violence, and Brad Chilcott, the National Director of Welcome To Australia, on the need to radically rethink our priorities when it comes to asylum seeker policy.
While the value of an event like this will no doubt lie with the fresh skills and new friendships that attendees take back to their home states, it’s worth reflecting on what drove the Young Left to organise this forum in the first place.
The irony is that the resurgence in the National Young Left over the past few years, embodied in national organising conferences like this, and one in Newcastle last year, would never have happened but for the spectacular failure of another conference altogether - National Young Labor.
Anybody who has attended a National Young Labor conference in recent memory can tell you it is a farce.
Delegates to the last conference received their notice paper only hours before conference began, and were delighted to discover they would be debating proposals such as “Hawke > Keating,” which insisted Young Labor should write to Paul Keating and remind him that, indeed, Bob Hawke was the better Prime Minister. Past conference attendees can fondly remember debates about which is the best colour of highlighter, or the fundamental importance of standardising pint sizes.
Young Labor elections are democratic in only the loosest possible sense - rather than allowing all members of Young Labor a direct vote over their national office-bearers, only those who make it through the arcane delegate election process in each state are enfranchised.
Even if you assume that Young Labor is debating substantive policy, its policy document is never publicly distributed. Young Labor has no power to implement its policies, and makes no effort to refer them to a body within the party which does have that power. So long as National Young Labor is organised this way, it will provide only the illusion of importance while fundamentally failing to engage with the processes of the party which do affect change.
The Young Left walked out of the last Young Labor conference. This was never our preferred option - we wanted to see a conference which was democratic, engaging, and which allowed speakers to be heard with respect, if not agreement. A conference worth travelling across the country for. However it was clear the organisers had no intention of reforming the organisation.
Instead, the Young Left organised a fringe conference. Much like our organising conference in Adelaide, it featured a wide range of party figures and policy advocates running workshops and training sessions. Nobody was excluded, and we gave an open invitation for all conference delegates to join us. As a result we saw one of the largest turnouts to a Young Labor conference in many, many years, with young activists returning home energised and enthusiastic, rather than deflated. This was the conference Young Labor should have been.
Today the National Young Left is more united, organised and enthusiastic than ever before. We are committed not only to reforming Young Labor but also, through organising conferences like the one held in Adelaide, engaging and activating young progressives and providing the skills to organise more effectively in their own states and territories.