Transcript of Joint Press Conference - Federal Intervention into NSW Branch

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Subjects: Intervention into NSW branch of ALP

PM: … Today, I want to focus on business of the Australian Labor Party.
The Labor Party I intend to lead will be a modern Labor Party.
I want a more Democratic Labor Party.

I want one which is more representative of the face of modern Australia and I want a Labor Party which is free from the taint of some of the things we have seen emerge in ICAC in NSW. 

That is why today I’m announcing federal intervention into the NSW branch of the Australian Labor Party and I have corresponded with the General Secretary of the NSW branch to that affect and copied that correspondence to members of the National Executive of the Australian Labor Party.
This is not a decision that's been taken lightly, it's been taken in full consultation with other senior ministers of the government, the Treasurer as well as the Leader and Deputy Leader in the senate and also the subject of conversation, discussion and dialogue with the full Cabinet early this week. 
The last such intervention into the NSW branch was conducted more than 40 years ago but this is not a usual occurrence. Like all Australians, I have been appalled by the allegations arising out of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption.
These allegations have also appalled the tens and thousands of genuine hard working Labor Party members right across NSW and right across Australia.
I have met so many of these folks in the time I have been elected office, good, salt of the earth people out there labouring year in, year out to get Labor Governments and Labor members elected.
It's those folks who feel this as badly as any of us in terms of what's been put before the nation through the lens of ICAC.
While these specific matters before ICAC have been dealt with through the appropriate legal channels I feel as the national leader of the party to ensure that the party is reformed.
As a party we must stamp out a culture which has allowed this type of behaviour to take hold and that is why I have written to the General Secretary today.
These reforms include, number one – zero tolerance of corruption; calling on the NSW branch to impose new rules so that any person with the finding of corruption is immediately expelled from the party and that anyone being investigated for improper conduct can be removed from the party.
At present the rules do not explicitly permit this and this has been a problem for the NSW branch in recent times.
Number two – there will be a ban on property developers as candidates; instructing the NSW branch to impose a ban on property developers from standing as Labor Party candidates in the future.
Number three – establishing independent judicial oversight to restore confidence in the dispute mechanism processes of the NSW branch; and so I've asked the NSW branch to dissolve the disputes and credentials committee which has been too controlled by factions and establish a new NSW internal appeals tribunal.
This tribunal will be chaired by a retired judicial officer or senior legal professional and comprised of individuals of utmost integrity who must not be actively seeking elected public office.
Furthermore, I have written requesting the establishment of a Labor Ombudsman so that rank and file members of the Australian Labor Party can have their complaints heard and properly investigated in timely fashion by an independent and trusted person and authority.
Finally, I have written to ask that we have an assurance in the future of at least 50 per cent of the administrative committee of the NSW branch, the major decision making body of the NSW branch being made up of rank and file members as well as containing three independent directors with board experience.
Also, the establishment of a charter of rights and responsibilities making a clear statement that the rules are binding on all members.
I regard this as a necessary set of reforms.
I also reserve to myself the right to make a further request in the future should further reforms be necessary in the light of any subsequent findings by ICAC.
I would like to acknowledge the role so far of John Robertson and what he has put forward in terms of early reforms to the rules which govern the parliamentary party in NSW.
I would also acknowledge the initial reforms undertaken also by the General Secretary Sam Dastyari.
This is the beginning of the reform program and I will have asked the national executive through George Wright, the National Secretary, to report back within 30 days on the implementation of this federal intervention.
As I said before, I also reserved myself the right to request further reform measures should they prove to be necessary.
The time has come to modernise the Australian Labor Party.
We need to open the windows and the doors of the great Australian Labor Party to the Australian community.
We need to give people full voice, fair opportunity; we want of course continued full participation from members of our great Australian trade unions.
We must also recognise there is a broader church in Australia who must be represented within the Australian Labor movement as well.
Of course, therefore, another task of wider reform of the Australian Labor Party beyond NSW lies ahead of us and I will have more to say on that in the future.
Before taking your questions, I’m going to ask the Deputy Prime Minister to speak on the NSW intervention and then take the questions that you have.
 
DPM: Thanks very much Prime Minister.
Can I say that from the perspective of a member of the NSW branch and a former official of the NSW Australian Labor Party, it has been very clear for some time that there is a problem with the culture and structures of the NSW branch.
The structures have allowed a situation to develop whereby a small group have been able to have, who are a majority within a sub-faction, then go and become a majority within a faction and then impose their will on the party.
Those structures must be reformed.
The days of fact factional dominance in NSW must also be reformed because they have clearly led to an abuse of power.
 
These reforms advanced by the Prime Minister today will do just that.
What they do is will ensure that decisions are taken on merit.
The situation whereby you could know the outcome of a meeting of the ALP Credentials Committee, or the ALP Disputes Committee, or the ALP Review Tribunal before the meeting was held has to end.
These structural reforms will end that and hence end the power of those who are in a position to know the outcomes before the meetings are held.
That's why meetings this is the most significant reform into the NSW branch in 40 years; 40 years ago when the reform established the review tribunal of the NSW branch, that was meant to do the job.
Unfortunately, over a period of time, what happened was that the culture that had dominated the culture that had dominated the lower echelons of the branch went further up and the same pattern of behaviour emerged with consequences for the actions of Labor members of government.
We are seeing that played out in NSW at the moment.
What these structures are necessary also through the national executive because the NSW branch isn't in a position to change its own rules.
The national executive must impose these rules in order for them to be done in a timely manner.
As a citizen of the great state of NSW, I believe that the electorate want these reforms to happen and they want to see and actually see the response and the reality of a change in the way that the NSW Labor Party operates.
So this reform imposed from the national executive, the ALP Administrative Committee will remain in place to oversee these changes but they will be imposed at the national level in order to ensure that it gets done.
We need to have the rights and responsibilities of every member of the Labor Party respected.
Overwhelmingly there has been such great disappointment, great disappointment, from ALP rank and file members, the people who staff the polling booths, the people who put things in letter boxes, the people who go out there and advocate at their local pub or their local footy team or the local P&C for the cause of Labor have been let down.
What we are saying through these reforms is that your rights will be respected.
Your work for the cause of Labor will be respected.
We'll put in place structures that ensure that the circumstances that we have seen recently in NSW can never happen again.
PM: Thanks very much Deputy Prime Minister. Happy to take your questions
JOURNALIST: You have copied this letter to state secretaries in all branches, is that because even though they might not have the problems identified by ICAC, they are still something other branches should consider in terms of reforms to greater transparency?
The second question is, the last couple of years we have seen problems with the union culture like the HSU, do you have any concerns about that?
 
Is that something that needs action as well?
PM: The first point I'd make is the reason for copying this letter to the NSW General Secretary and to other state and territory secretaries is explicitly to ask them to review their own rules and practice to make sure it is up to standard.
My initial priority of course is NSW for the obvious reasons which Anthony Albanese has just referred to. 

On the question of unions, of course we have seen problems in recent times highlighted within the HSU and let us be very clear about that.
These are very, very difficult questions.
I'll have more to say about those matters in due course but we also have institutions available to us through state industrial registrars as well as federal authorities looking at
these things as we speak, but I am attend attentive to the needs in this area as well.
JOURNALIST: Are there any property developers who are seeking preselection in the Labor Party and why single out this one profession?
Shouldn't any business person whose business might benefit from government decisions divest themselves before seeking public office?
 
PM: On the question of people's businesses, I am actually in the businesses of attracting people who have commercial experience into the ranks of the Australian Labor Party because we need those voices around the table.
We are at our best a broad church, we want people from small business, we want people from big business, we want people from the trade unions, we want from the community sector.
As a general principle we deal with those questions through the normal provisions of pecuniary interests.
That is, you give the government, a full statement of declaration of pecuniary interests is made to the Prime Minister at the time and secondly the normal declarations by all members occurs in this place as well.
Let's just be frank. 

There is a particular problem when it comes to the property development industry.
This applies particularly to the local government level and applies particularly to the state government level across the state of NSW and I hazard to say potentially more broadly.
The reason is you have such enormous discretionary powers available.
I'm just calling it for what it is, rather than trying to be too pure about it all. 

This is a problem. It's not just a problem for the Labor Party either.
I think the other mob should have a look at themselves as well.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if the NSW Labor Party is so sick that it needs federal intervention and if the federal Labor Party is so sick that it needs to change its Prime Minister, why should anyone vote for the Labor Party at the next election?
PM: Well, can I say that the values of the Labor Party are longstanding and enduring for 120 years or more and we have provided great government of this country in the past and we will continue to do so in the future.
The values are constant.
The policies which have been put into practice over the years including under this government have, by and large, been strong, good policies for the future as well. 

What I'm addressing is a problem of the institution.
Therefore, and it is part of the institution that we are addressing as far as the need for reform is concerned.
Therefore any party worth its salt from time to time has a look at itself and says ‘this needs to be fixed, that needs to be fixed,’ or you just brush it under the carpet. 

I'm not into brushing things under the carpet.
As I said, I'm about the face of modern Labor with the doors and windows of our party thrown wide open, increasingly democratised and for the sorts of things that we have seen emerge from ICAC in NSW to become things of the past and never to be things of the future.
 
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, the allegations against Craig Thomson have been in the public domain since 2009. I'm aware that's completely separate, obviously, to the ICAC process in NSW. Why has it taken the federal arm of the Labor Party so long to intervene given it has been profoundly obvious there have been cultural interests in NSW?
 
PM: On the individual case, I will not comment. Secondly, I am not about to rake over decisions which were taken or not taken in the past. I have been Prime Minister of this country for a week.
 
This is something I have been determined to address, had I the opportunity to do so, for a long, long time.
 
I have spoken more broadly on the need for party reform for a long period as well. Our challenge is to turn us into the party of the future.
 
The party which is a modern Australian Labor Party, which embraces diversity, which has internal and transparent democratic processes and which frankly can take the fantastic values for which we have stood for 100 years - values of freedom, values of a fair go, values of opportunity, values of enterprise, values of compassion - and to make sure the institution matches those values.
 
That's what I'm on about, and it requires some surgery. I am not going to walk away from it and say it's all too hard. We’re going to get on with it.
 
JOURNALIST: If these changes are so urgently required shouldn't federal Labor have acted earlier and shouldn't Julia Gillard have acted earlier?
 
PM: I have not the slightest intention of criticising my predecessor on these matters.
 
What I face as the reality as leader now, now the Prime Minister of Australia, with a particular responsibility to act.
 
Authorising the first intervention in the NSW branch of the Australian Labor Party since the 1970s, when Gough Whitlam was then the Leader of the Opposition, is not an ordinary step. We have got to make this intervention work.
 
As I said, we'll get a report back within a month on implementation. I expect these proposed rule changes to occur. As I said also I don't resile from requesting further rule changes if anything else emerges.
 
JOURNALIST: On the Labor Party reforms, at what point would an MP be expelled or suspended? Would it be a newspaper report of corruption, would it be a tribunal like Fair Work Australia launching an investigation? Would it be a finding in a report from a tribunal? Would it be a contravention being LAID in the civil court or criminal charge? At what point?
 
PM: That sounds like you are appearing in a legal matter yourself with that range of possibilities.
 
What I'm doing is recognising the current deficiencies of the NSW rules which do not permit a person charged or convicted of corruption to be expelled as an automatic consequence, nor do they provide the administration of the NSW branch of the party the ability to remove someone from the party temporarily or permanently on the basis of an ongoing investigation.
 
On the latter, of course, judgment will need to be made in terms of the full spectrum of investigations which may be under way.
 
JOURNALIST: That doesn't clarify at what point.
 
PM: I think giving the NSW branch those powers is an enormous step forward. At present they do not have such powers, to the great frustration of the current Secretary General and to John Robertson, the leader.
 
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, just back on property developers, how does that change the culture of the NSW Labor Party and particularly do you also need to do something about donations from property developers and how will it have affected the events that unfolded in ICAC for example? And also, who did you actually talk to, what range of people did you talk to in coming up with these recommendations and do they reflect some of the findings of Carr, Faulkner and Bracks review?
 
PM: Can I turn to the Deputy Prime Minister first to answer the first part.
 
DPM: There have been changes already made under NSW legislation which is why the letter from the Prime Minister to the NSW branch refers to the definition in the NSW legislation.
 
What this does, though, is particularly to go down into local government as well as state government where you have had – and it is across the spectrum, it must be said, not just in the Labor Party, but certainly in the Liberal Party and the independents have sought to gain, particularly local government office, but some in terms of state office.
 
That will be ruled out in terms of the NSW rules to be adjusted by these changes.
 
PM: In answer to the second part of your question Laura, I don't intend to go through the detail of a whole range of internal conversations but can I say this has been the result of discussion in the cabinet, full consultation with senior ministers - not just those from NSW like the Deputy Prime Minister and the Treasurer - and a range of other folks as well.
 
As I said before, you don't take these decisions lightly.
 
JOURNALIST: Mr Albanese, had intervention been discussed at the very least at any stage within the branch, and if it was proposed who resisted?
 
DPM: I long ago stopped being an activist in the NSW branch administrative committee, or indeed it is a long time since I attended a factional meeting.
 
I have distanced myself from those processes some time ago but it was pretty clear - I think certainly can I say, at the branch member level.
 
At the branch member level, your average branch member of Marrickville Central Branch will welcome this change, because at the branch level they have been quite rightly embarrassed by the behaviour of a few bad eggs.
 
They're overwhelmingly Labor Party members who work so hard for the election of Labor Governments and are so proud of their Labor Party membership, want to see this reform.
 
This reform provides an opportunity as well to further democratise the NSW ALP. You might be aware, Malcolm, of having discussions between ourselves 20, 25 years ago about these sorts of issues.
 
This reform is absolutely vital and I think it's important that it be got right and that's why the national executive intervention, rather than simply saying to NSW “go away and do your best”.
 
Even though it must be said that under Sam Dastyari and Michael Lee as State President and John Graham as the assistant secretary, there have been a range of reforms which have been introduced already.
 
What this does is ensure that that occurs and occurs in a way that has the authority of the National Executive, we’ll ensure we get it right.
 
PM: The bottom line Malcolm, is there is too much resistance to the sorts of directions of the individuals who the Deputy Prime Minister just mentioned.
 
And there is only one way through. That is for those powers to be given to the federal executive to bring about those rule changes.
 
That's why we are doing it. That's why we are doing it over the course of the next 30 days. I want to report back within 30 days on these changes. I believe it can be done… 
 
Thanks very much folks.
 
[ENDS]

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