ALP boss calls for more grassroots say

Richard Willingham

The  ALP federal vice-president, Jane Garrett, has slammed the influence of  the NSW branch of the party and called for reform to give grassroots members  more say.

Ms Garrett, who is also the state MP for Brunswick, said it was  ”embarrassing that 20 years of reviews about party reform still sit on a shelf  getting dusty”.

She said Labor needed to talk about the party structures and power balances.  ”We need to talk honestly about NSW and how the enormous issues we are facing  there are going to be addressed. For starters, enough already with the ‘whatever  it takes’, faceless men mythology,” she said.

She also took aim at federal Labor’s recent blitz on western Sydney, saying  the strategy that had been ”spectacularly unsuccessful, particularly it seems  in western Sydney”.

”When you stand for a political party, you are putting on a suit of armour  of sorts that has been forged over generations. Whatever charms and particular  panache that you may fancy you bring, the fact is the primary reason you are  elected is because you represent the party, its traditions, its victories, its  narrative, its journey.

”Some people have spent their lives shining that armour, forging its steel,  adding to its strength. We are the beneficiaries of that armour and most  importantly we are the custodians of it. All of us. I am not alone as a party  member who seeks at this time to remind our federal representatives of this most  significant truth.”

Ms Garrett, a former mayor of the City of Yarra, was elected to the State  Parliament in 2010 and in late 2011 was elected party vice-president, alongside  Transport Workers Union boss Tony Sheldon and president Jenny McAllister.

Following the 2010 election, three eminent Labor figures – former premiers  Steve Bracks and Bob Carr and Senator John Faulkner  – conducted a wide-reaching  review. The review recommended more grassroots involvement including more direct  voting from membership to conference. The idea of US-style primaries for  preselection were also canvassed.

To Ms Garrett’s dismay, most of it remains untouched. ”To re-engage a  membership that feels very alienated we must act to give them a bigger seat at  the table and ensure their tireless efforts and commitment to Labor values are  treated with the respect they deserve,” she said.

Ms Garrett is a strong supporter of allowing more grassroots members of the  party a say in the machinations of the party.

”I don’t subscribe to the view that factions are inherently bad. There is  real and genuine ideological debate between our factions in the Labor Party that  is important for policy development, idea generation and delivery.

”But it is about reflecting on why we belong to this party, and why we seek  to represent our communities. Power as an end in itself is always a law of  ever-diminishing returns.”

Ms Garrett said the failed leadership challenge last week in Canberra had  been ”a very sad week for the party”. She also is frustrated that the  president, Ms McAllister who is directly elected by the membership, does not get  a vote on the national executive of the party.

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