Not a national party


Why is it that we have six state and two territory ALP governments, but we are further away than ever from a national ALP government? Why is it that the ALP consistently gets a better vote at state and territory elections than at federal elections?

Some of the state governments are clearly unpopular “ NSW, Victoria, WA and even Queensland in recent weeks. That would not have helped Mark Latham. Further, some voters like checks and balances in the system and are inclined to counterbalance state governments with a national government of a different complexion.

But the problem is more fundamental than that. The whole structure and personnel of the ALP are state-based. The federal ALP is a confederation of state ALP parties. It is not a national party.

Delegates to the ALP federal conference are chosen by the state conferences, which in turn are really chosen by state ALP officials. There is no direct representation at the federal ALP conference of the rank and file of the party and the insiders who control the party want to keep it that way.

Not surprisingly the state officials who control the national organisation are more interested in what happens at the state level and in their state organisations. State ALP governments can be more useful to them for career advancement. State governments provide opportunities for appointments of family and friends to state government boards and commissions. Maintaining state patronage is more important than winning national government.

In the 1960s Gough Whitlam forced a major change in the structure of the ALP. The ‘faceless and witless men’ in the ALP machine were forced to accept the role of the parliamentary leaders. But in every political deal, concessions have to be made. Gough Whitlam was unable to achieve the other part of his reform, which was the establishment of a national party with direct rank and file representation from federal electorates. The reform was incomplete.

Forty years later it is even more obvious that the ALP needs a national structure controlled by its rank and file and not by state officials. The national ALP is still controlled by insiders more interested in the perks and benefits that come from state ALP governments than the major national and community benefits that come from a national ALP government.

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