Stuart Whitman. Labor 2035

This article is posted from Grassroots, The Local Labor Journal – Party Reform: Past Present and Future.

 

It’s 2035, and Labor members from an inner suburb of Australia’s largest city are gathering in their local community centre to welcome the new Labor Prime Minister on her first official visit to the electorate. 

The recently elected Prime Minister is returning to her childhood community to congratulate its Labor branch on their Community Action Programs and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the ALP National Conference that changed everything.

Since the party reforms were passed at the 2015 ALP National ALP Conference, the Australian ‘Labor Party has been transformed into Australia’s largest grassroots activist and political movement of nearly 200,000 members with Labor branches overseeing sustainable neighbourhood projects coordinating everything from community gardens, to small cooperative businesses and neighbourhood literacy programs across the country, as well as being engaged in community dialogue and participation in the development of Labor policies and the election of Labor candidates.

Tonight is an important opportunity for the Prime Minister to reflect on how her own life was changed by joining her local Labor branch, and how that experience might serve as a lesson to her party and her country about engagement and participation.

This is her speech.

“Men and women of the Australian Labor Party, my friends, comrades and Labor supporters.

I feel I have returned home.

You know, I grew up just a few streets away in government housing not long after my family arrived as refugees from South Sudan. I went to the state school just around the corner from this community centre.

This is where it all started for me. This is where I found my sense of belonging in this strange new country that gave my family safety. This is where I was inspired to give back by serving my community and my fellow Australians in public life and this is where I was provided the opportunities to realise that dream.

I am pleased that so many of my Labor friends and mentors from that time are here physically and virtually tonight to share this celebration.

I am grateful that we are also joined by some veteran delegates of the 2015 ALP National Conference who were able to put their factional and personal differences aside long enough to embrace a new way of thinking for Labor, a higher standard for the way we conduct ourselves as a party and as a result breathed new life into our Labor cause for our times, changing politics forever in Australia.

Who would have thought back in 2015, when Australia’s  prospects looked so bleak under the short-lived but destructive Abbott Government that we could have come so far as a nation. In those years we saw rapidly rising unemployment as our manufacturing sector crumbled under a Government that didn’t care while jobs flowed offshore. And just as the numbers of jobless were soaring they were removing the foundations of our world-renowned social safety net and increasing the burden on the most vulnerable of our citizens, while closing off     future job and education opportunities to our youth. And when the world’s scientists were warning us Australia would be the nation most impacted by climate change, our Government was doing everything possible to place obstacles in the way of our transition to a low carbon economy.

Australia was at the cross-roads. We were faced by the dual challenges of being left behind by the third industrial revolution as countries that invested in digital infrastructure, education and innovation overtook us, and with a declining capacity to mitigate and adapt to the ravages of climate change. We needed an alternative government  that not   only understood the difficult choices to be made by our country at that cross-roads but that it would take the full engagement and participation of our people and their collective talent to chart a better way ahead. 

The reforms that were passed at the 2015 National Conference unleashed the great, untapped potential of Labor members that for too long had been taken for granted by power blocs that sought only to sustain their own power. As a result, many other Australians were drawn to join the ALP because they saw it as an organisation that really acted on our commitment to social democracy and the empowerment of the powerless.

You see the key to the success of any organisation or community is the extent to which members feel they belong. If the community embraces the individual, and values and empowers him or her to share their knowledge and experience, then the whole community thrives. It was the same for my family arriving in Australia at time when Australia did not have a good record on the treatment of refugees. But by being welcomed by my local community, and finding a home in my local Labor branch, I discovered my voice and my potential.

At the 2015 conference we embraced the participation of our rank and file members across the country in selecting our federal and state leaders and key party officers, a greater say for local members in choosing their lower and upper house candidates over the will of the central machine, the resourcing of sustained community organising campaigns for local branches and supporters between elections, multiple ways of engaging with the party’s policy development, the engagement of our local communities in Labor pre-selection contests, and training programs for branch office holders and branch rebuilding initiatives.

These reforms enabled us to become the party that we are today.

In the age where technology allows participatory democracy on a scale unmatched in human history, we became the Labor Party for our times. The Australian people in all of their diversity responded in kind, many more voted for us and many more saw the value in joining us in our Labor cause.

These reforms enabled us to become the party of participation.

In the age where technology allows participatory democracy on a scale unmatched in human history, we became the Labor Party for our times. The Australian people in all of their diversity responded in kind, many more voted for us and many more saw the value in joining us in our Labor cause.

 

The transformation of the Labor Party into a 21st century political movement and organisation has also transformed Australia into a proud republic with flourishing social capital that has overcome its fears and toxic politics and that is adapting to the great economic and environmental upheavals of the past two decades and has healed past divisions, not least the treaty we have signed with Australia’s indigenous people. The rest of the world now looks to Australia as an example of what can be achieved by a progressive and fair society that seeks to empower its citizens to solve problems for their common good.

We look back with gratitude to the foresight of the delegates to the 2015 ALP National Conference, because their courage made possible a Labor Party that fully lives our values of democracy, fairness and empowerment, and as a result we have built an Australia where all of our citizens can politically, socially and economically participate in our local communities and national life. And we are the better for it.

Stuart Whitman has been National Convener of Local Labor since 2011 and is a former Secretary of the Malvern branch. Stuart has worked as an electorate officer to Mark Dreyfus, Federal Member for Isaacs and he is currently assisting Senator Jacinta Collins in her work as Deputy Chair of   the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

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