Kevin Rudd has ordered reform in the NSW Branch of the ALP. He has given them thirty days to get it sorted. I think it is obvious to anyone living in New South Wales that this needs to happen and has needed to happen for quite some time. Sadly the NSW Labor Party has been a significant issue for Labor for a long time, and major efforts made to distinguish Federal Labor from State Labor, and the voting public by and large have not bought the argument.
After their crushing defeat the engaged in a review and concluded that they had been on office too long. In reality that was not their decision, that was simply the decision that had been by the voters of New South Wales. The real question was never faced, which Aaron Patrick calls ‘the elephant in the room – ethics’. The people of NSW had stopped believing in the capacity of the Labor machine to do anything but line the pockets of the select few. The saga of the ICCAC inquiry has been a protracted nightmare, which has a storyline so fanciful it would not make credible television, however it would see that is what happened. Two of the key identities expelled from the Labor Party, Obed and MacDonald, before the final findings. Given that they were out of office maybe it didn’t make a lot of difference. I suspect that most people are not shocked by the findings, however we are aghast at the sheer size and scale of the corruption.
The Prime Minister is calling for an ombudsman to whom union members have access to assure them that the right thing happens, not just seeming done, or not. To be effective the person must be independent, and clearly would need to understand Labor and how it works. Hard call, yet it would seem a good idea. He is also calling for property developers to be ineligible from Labor pre-selection. On the one hand that would seem hard to place as it may well be referred to the Equal Opportunities Office, and on the other hand I seriously doubt that Obeid or MacDonald would have described themselves as property developers. Obeid simply bought a farm for weekend relaxing which it transpired was sitting on top of a coal seam, and it seems on balance very likely that Obeid was aware of this some time before it the announcement, and indeed some time before deciding to invest in a rural weekender.
Of course there is another side to all of this, as K Rudd is not a union man, he has not worked for Unions as an organiser or office bearer or their solicitors, and as such represents something of a more faction free Labour, and he is already on record calling for reform of the Party and making the Party more democratic. The problem is that if the party becomes more democratic, it by virtue requires the unions to ease up on the grip of the Labor Party. This ultimately seems to be the great sticking point.
The great icon of the Labor Party ‘The Light on the Hill’ is one of those calls that meant nothing and yet encompassed everything. It is the call to aspirational Labor Values of Equity, a Fair Go, and secure family life. Unions have become bigger than many of the businesses they try to represent workers to, and their size, whilst as some levels is an advantage, at other levels it leaves them having lost touch with the members of the Union. It is difficult to see how meaningful reform will be possible for the Labor Party without meaningful reform of the Unions themselves, and that could be too big a chunk of power for Kevin to take on, but that is unlikely to stop him from having a go.
Australians generally believe we can not afford a single party democracy, so we need a viable and credible Labor Party (and Liberal Party). NSW Labor’s credibility is so shot one wonders if it is viable without serious, ands sensible reform. I guess Kevin Rudd is saying he will smash a few eggs in order to make a cake. It will be good as reform is necessary. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.