Changes to Australian Labor Party leadership rules
PM: Today on behalf of the leadership team of the Australian Government, we would like to announce a proposal for a major change in the rules for the election of the leader of the parliamentary Labor Party for the future.
I said last week it’s time to throw open the windows of the Labor Party structure to the wider community through our membership.
Today, as never before, Australians demand to be included in the Labor Party’s decision making, and proposals for reform that I will outline to you now are represent an important change to this effect.
Following extensive discussion with the leadership team and extensive discussion with the full ministry team today, the changes to the structure of the Labor Party I will take to a special meeting of the caucus of the Labor Party recognise that the Labor Party must change to reflect our changing nation.
Today more than ever, Australians demand to know that the Prime Minister they elect is the Prime Minister they get.
The Australian public requires that certainty, these changes will give them that certainty.
The reforms I announce today will give more power to the everyday members of the Labor Party.
They will ensure that power will never again rest in the hands of a factional few.
Today I can announce that following a meeting today of the full ministry, I’ve written a letter to the chair of the federal parliamentary Labor Party asking him to convene a special meeting of the caucus for Monday 22 July 2013 to discuss the 2013 election campaign, but in addition our forward policy agenda and our change to these rules.
These rules changes are as follows, if caucus embraces them, they include the following.
The federal parliamentary leader of the Labor Party will be elected jointly by the party membership across the nation and the members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party on the following proportional basis.
Votes by the party membership across the entire nation being weighted at 50 per cent and votes by the federal parliamentary Labor Party weighted at 50 per cent.
Make no mistake, this is the most significant reform for the Australian Labor Party in recent history.
It is one that should be welcomed by all members of the Australian Labor Party across the nation, whether you’re a long serving member of parliament, a loyal hard working volunteer, a union activist active in our local branches, or a student who has just joined Young Labor, or someone who is thinking about it as they watch the news this evening.
I believe this change is essential to grow a vibrant, modern Australian Labor Party for a modern and diverse Australia of the future.
I believe it will encourage people to reengage in the political process and to bring back those supports, supporters who have become disillusioned.
It will ensure that all those who for so long have given their time and energy to the fight, for what we believe in, that those people will now have a direct voice in the election of the national leader of our party.
In fact, they will now have a vote, one that matters and one that our branch members from across the nation deserve.
The changes it passed will mean the following.
An election for leaders shall automatically occur following an election where the Australian Labor Party does not form government.
Further, an election for leader can be called by the caucus secretary after any of the following events: upon the resignation of a leader; at the request of the leader; or at least 75 per cent of the members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party sign a petition requesting the election for a new leader be held on the grounds that the current leader has brought the party into disrepute.
Candidates for election to the position of leader must be nominated by a minimum of 20 per cent of the membership of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.
If there is more than one candidate, a ballot shall be held amongst all party members within the mandate for the election of a leader.
Eligibility to vote and the manner of voting shall be the same as that for the national president of the Australian Labor Party.
The ballot for the leader shall take no longer than 30 days.
To all those Labor voters I say this, Labor values do not belong to one person or any select group, neither should the decision of who leads the federal Labor Party.
So this rule change is clear.
If the leader of the Australian Labor Party takes the Party to the election and they are returned to form the government of the nation, that person remains the as leader of the party in the government for the duration of that term.
Secondly, if the party is unsuccessful in an election, the rules process that I have just outlined is the one that then applies.
This is one of a number of important reforms which the Labor Party will need to consider and embrace in the future.
Of course in this matter, I lie entirely in the hands of my caucus colleagues when we convene under the rules on 22 July to consider this fundamental change.
I appreciate the support of the leadership group. I appreciate the contribution of all members of the ministry who deliberated on this today.
Of course if we are not successful in this the only recourse left available to me is then to convene a special rules conference of the party.
I therefore entrust this important reform into the hands of my federal parliamentary colleagues and I’m confident that we’ll have a good result for the future but I’m mindful that this is a democratic process within the party and it is in their hands entirely how it is resolved.
Two weeks’ notice is necessary because that’s what the rules say.
To conclude, these reforms are about building a modern Australian Labor Party for the future of Australia.
Parallel reforms, reforms like this have taken place in many other western political parties in countries right around the world in recent decades.
We’re not Robinson Crusoe on this, in fact, we’re a bit late.
I suggest the Liberals might have a look at their rules as well.
We are looking therefore through this to increase the membership of our party nationwide, we’re sending out a very clear message across the entire nation that you, as a valued member of our party, one of the tens of thousands of people across the entire Australian family, you get a say in who becomes the national leader of our party by direct vote.
Also as part of this package, I’ve also indicated that the rules of the caucus, if they are embraced, would then return the powers to the caucus for the election of the rest of the executive of the Labor Party.
This is an important reform for all of us.
Important for the Australian Labor Party. Important for the confidence that the Australian people put into the Labor Party and its leadership as we face them to go to an election.
I would say this to all people out there who are considering supporting the values for which we stand – and they are very good values – and want to become active in the movement whether you are a trade unionist, whether you are a small business operator, whether you are a student, whether you are a professional, or even an unbiased journalist sitting in the press gallery but you’d like to get involved consistent with your professional ethics.
That there this a place for you in the wider broad church of our movement, we want to hear your voice in the membership, have a say not just in our rules, not just a say in our policies, not just a say in our procedures but have a say directly and the power to vote in the leader of our party.
I believe the Australian people demand that certainty, I also believe the members of our party deserve that certainty as well.
This is a major reform.
Once this is out and discussed in two weeks’ time, can I say to the rest of you, we are onto the business of the government of the country and other necessary reforms that we’ve got in the policy space in the days ahead.
Can I just turn to the Deputy Prime Minister for a few comments and then we’ll take your questions.
DPM: Just briefly, the Australian Labor Party is of course Australia’s oldest political party.
It’s also been responsible for major reform for more than 120 years since 1891.
Today what we do is how that we are also a modern political party and today we launch a massive recruitment campaign.
We want people to be a part of Labor.
If you support Labor, if you want to be engaged with Labor, we are saying to you that we want your participation as a member and in return for that you will get a say in who is the leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.
This is an opportunity to reengage in Australian politics for all those who are Labor true believers but have up to this point questioned the value of party membership.
Today along with the direct vote for the national presidency and other reforms that will be pursued at some point in the future we’re saying we value the party membership.
It’s not just about the members of the caucus. It’s about those people who trod the streets, who put things in letterboxes who hand out how-to-votes.
We value you.
We respect you and today we are demonstrating that with the most significant empowerment of Labor Party members in our history.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, two questions, how would the selection of the candidates work? Would the candidates still be put forward by the caucus for the people to then to vote on and would all four leadership positions be decided?
PM: Let me answer those two in sequence.
The requirement for nomination is a minimum nomination of 20 per cent of the caucus, so you could have one candidate, two candidates, three candidates, and of course the system of voting which operates within this particular arrangement would be those which operate more generally which is optional preferential voting.
I think that’s the right way to go. And as for the application of the rule, it is for the leader only.
The parliamentary party will select all other members of the executive, including these three leadership positions around me.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, who did you consult with on this move-
PM: Heaps of people.
JOURNALIST: Could you be a little bit more specific than that?
PM: More than heaps of people.
JOURNALIST: Maybe with names? And also does the caucus have, really have a choice in two weeks given that the alternative would be to roll you and your clear preference in this rule change just before an election?
PM: The first thing I would say is that many, many people within our movement have spoken out on the need for this reform in recent times. Chris Bowen’s been one of them, but there have been others as well.
Secondly, I have been discussing this particular proposal and variations of it with the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate for quite some time, and we have met and dealt with this extensively in recent days again.
And thirdly, we've just had a meeting of the entire ministry of 30 members of the parliamentary party and they’ve agreed that this is the process that we should put forward.
As I said we’re in the hands of the parliamentary caucus. It has to be one of the most significant decisions they make on the future structure of our party, and I'm pretty relaxed about putting our future and the future of the Government in their hands.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister does this now mean that the events that happened in 2010 where Julia Gillard came to you in your office and challenged you, and in 2006 when you went to Kim Beazley and challenged him, that that can now not happen anymore?
And what would happen if a Labor Party MP went to a Labor Party leader and said I want to challenge you?
PM: This applies in its principal focus to the Labor Party forming government. The issues which arose in terms of the events of 2010 was the Australian people saying to us uphill, down dale around the country, we voted for this guy and then suddenly it all changed. That’s the first point.
But it’s a broader principle than that. Much broader than an individual and myself in that case.
It’s about providing the Australian public with the certainty that the person that they vote for as Prime Minister serves that term as Prime Minister. That’s a legitimate ask.
As for the party in opposition for example, we go to an election, we don’t win it, the party in opposition, the rules that I've just outlined apply.
Furthermore in terms of the possibility of changes to the Labor leadership in opposition, then of course the variations which are discussed in the rules will be the subject of our deliberations over caucus.
But the principal matter here is if you go to an election, the Labor Party has a duly elected leader, and you look down the barrel of the camera to the Australian people and say vote for the party and vote for the government that I lead, that that is the person that is returned to them as Prime Minister for the duration of that term.
And as I said, the mechanisms outlined in the proposed rule change prevent anyone from just wandering just one day or one night and saying ‘okay sunshine, it’s over.’
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, I take it from that that whereas a couple of weeks ago a petition had to be a third of the caucus, now it needs to be three quarters of the caucus before that same process.
PM: And for a specific purpose, that the individual concerned who as leader is bringing the party into broader disrepute.
That’s simply a means by which the parliamentary party could form a judgment that the leader – the parliamentary leader – was a person who at that stage was causing the party reputational damage of a significant order of magnitude and therefore you need to have what is called a recall mechanism.
Secondly, if that is exercised, what then happens is that you go back with a process of a normal election of the party.
If the person who was leader felt aggrieved, then you go through the election process which is outlined. It’s a double safety valve.
JOURNALIST: Just a technical matter. Does this have to be ratified later by a formal party conference once it’s been through the caucus, and secondly could you outline your thinking why you changed your mind on the desirability of the leader selecting the frontbench?
PM: Let me take those almost in reverse.
On the question that you raised about the rule concerning the leader of the party selecting the frontbench, that has been in full operation now for about six years and was brought into operation through a change to the caucus rules which I initiated in 2007-8. I can’t remember the exact date.
Therefore in terms of the legal underpinnings of how we’ve operated as a parliamentary party for the last six years, that has been adequate for the purpose – and that would be a change to the caucus rules – would be adequate for this purpose as well.
On the other point, which is why have I changed my view on this, at the end of the day it’s really important to have a proper balance.
You want to be able to say to the Australian people that you vote for this guy, you vote for this woman, they end up being elected, they end up staying on as Prime Minister for the duration of that term.
There’s another reason for it by the way, for that particular reform.
Too often, political leaders are going to become timid and intimidated by the usual avalanche of opinion polls when difficult decisions are taken, and the whole quality of government and governance starts to decline as political leaders have to look constantly behind, over their shoulders, when hard things are being decided upon.
This actually provides some certainty for that process for the good governance of Australia. I think where the balance comes in, Michelle, is this.
It’s really important also for the parliamentary party to be able to exercise their voice in selecting the other members of the executive to ensure that they have adequate representation in the decision-making processes of the Government as well.
It’s a balance, and I think it’s the right balance.
More fundamentally it gives as assurance to the Australian people that the person who is elected at an election as Prime Minister serves as Prime Minister for that term.
JOURNALIST: On the issue of increasing membership, how is this going to attract people to Labor rather than the alternative which is most likely the Greens?
PM: Well in the case of the Australian Labor Party, Albo mentioned a minor historical detail.
We've been around 120 years as a mass political party. We intend to remain as a mass political party.
Secondly, the reason for periodically changing our rules is to make sure we are continuing to open the doors to changes in Australian society.
There’s a whole bunch of folks out there who’d like to become active in our movement.
They'd like to become supporters of our movement, they want to have a voice in our movement, and now they have a direct voice.
It’s one of a series of reforms which need to be embraced over time to democratise the party.
DPM: Can I make on point, Prime Minister, which is that this increases the transparency and openness of the Australian Labor Party.
The Greens political party still don’t let any of you to look at their conferences.
PM: When we have a conference, as you well know, you get to see the whole lot.
DPM: In all its glory.
PM: In all its glory, general entertainment for some, despair for others.
JOURNALIST: If these conditions were in place two weeks ago, would you have beaten Julia Gillard in the leadership ballot?
PM: The important thing about this reform is it’s designed to deal with long term stability of the party’s leadership. It’s very simple and plain about that.
It’s about a principle that goes way beyond my individual circumstances, Julia’s individual circumstances, it’s a structural reform for the party.
And the core thing is this. If you go to the people and you’re elected, and you become Prime Minister of the country, the people expect that you’ll remain in that position.
And the prudent provisions contained for extraordinary circumstances are outlined there as well.
JOURNALIST: Why now, Prime Minister, and how much of this has been driven by revenge for the events of 2010?
PM: Moderately zero about all of that.
And why now? Frankly the Australian people are asking a legitimate question. Let’s just be frank about it. And it’s been in the public debate in recent times.
Okay, this person is leader of the Australian Labor Party now, he’s the Prime Minister. He goes to election. Will you provide a guarantee that this person will serve a term subsequent to that as Prime Minister? This provides the rules-based response to that question.
It is the logical response to a real question being raised by the Australian people.
No ifs, no buts, no maybes about it, and if you didn’t address it in this way prior to an election later this year, then frankly you wouldn’t be fair dinkum with the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Mr Rudd, under these new rules, if Labor is not successful at the election and the leadership is thrown open, will you recontest it? And separately on a separate issue if I may-
PM: Can I just say this. To respond to that, straight up and down, it’s number one, I'm in this election when it’s held later this year, for one purpose alone and that is to secure the return of the Government, because there are so many good things that we've done for the country.
Good things such as the National Broadband Network, good things such as the health and hospitals reforms, good things such as the investment program in Australian schools, and I don’t want to see those thrown out the back door if Mr Abbott becomes Prime Minister.
Secondly, as I've said before, unfortunately with Mr Abbott we have a very negative politician who seems to be more interested in how you divide the country rather than unite it.
And I’d much rather get on with the business of uniting the country, and having said that folks, we need to zip.
Thank you very much.