Amy Knox and Nick Dixon-Wilmshurst are members of the ACT Left Caucus
Progressive wins on rules and policy were a highlight of ACT Conference 2017. The ACT Left works hard every year electing Left sub-branch delegates to Conference so that together with our union comrades we hold the majority of Conference floor. And unlike the Right in other states, we have never taken this for granted.
Our most significant win this year was a rule change on voting eligibility. This year our ACT Labor Secretary and member of ACT Left Caucus Matt Byrne brought a rule change to Conference, via his sub-branch, that would enfranchise more ALP members in preselection and sub-branch ballots.
At the beginning of the year a party wide membership survey found that very few members were actually able to attend the sub-branch and policy committee meetings that would give them a vote in the party. Those members who had put in the hard yards campaigning to get Labor elected federally or re-elected locally were unable to vote as they had not attended enough qualifying meetings. Rather than try to define and police the many and varied ways members participate in the modern Labor Party, the rule change created a minimum periods of membership - sub-branch members only had to be a member of a sub-branch for six months before being eligible to vote for sub-branch candidates, while anyone who had been an ALP member for a year would be eligible to vote in a preselection.
The Right opposed this measure on the grounds that it would result in branch stacking. But the Left supported measures last Conference that mean our membership fees are taken out monthly and have to be taken out via traceable means, such as debit or credit cards in the member’s name.
The Right also claimed it was an attempt for the Left to take control. This fails to recognise that a rank and file ballot actually allows elections to happen beyond factional deals and be far more democratic than power centralised within those who show up to branch meetings.
What was perhaps most frustrating were those who claimed that they were better than those who do not show up because they had tough circumstances and still attend so it, “shouldn’t be that hard”. To shame someone by comparing your experience to someone else, is very superficial and shows a complete lack of regard for what other members’ lives or priorities might be like. We can now look forward to empowering more women, people with disabilities and students through these changes, all groups that indicated it was a struggle to get to branch meetings, and it is a good thing for the democracy of our party.
The rule change passed, meaning that instead of 500 people selecting candidates to represent our Territory of 400,000, our entire membership of over 1,500 will be able to participate and we can encourage people to join the party in order to have their say.
The Left also made huge achievements in policy. A campaign by young Left women who began Labor for Choice, saw an (almost unanimous) vote to support a binding vote on pro-choice legislation, something only a few years ago would have seemed impossible at any ALP Conference in the country. We also saw ACT Labor support Left policies to trial pill testing – which will literally save lives at music festivals and our Industrial Relations chapter saw Left unions push the Government to protect worker’s safety, superannuation and domestic violence leave in the ACT.
The Left in the ACT is pushing for a more democratic and transparent party. We recognise the modern challenges of the party’s branch structure and are starting to look to our rank and file to improve our party, representatives and our policies. Time and time again the Right show that they are stuck in the past, are not willing to look at ways we can improve our party and this particular rules debate at Conference was a prime example of this.