The NSW ALP's five biggest challenges

Damian O'Connor

The five biggest challenges facing the NSW ALP (and a few suggestions on how to solve them)

The NSW ALP has some serious organisational challenges as it looks ahead. I don't suggest that our failure to meet these challenges caused us to lose the 2001 federal election, or to do so badly in NSW. In truth, the direct reasons for our loss rest more in the arena of policy and leadership. What I suggest is that a continued failure to address these challenges is causing, and will continue to cause, the decline of the ALP as a positive force for change, which is our basic strength and reason for being.

There is a window of opportunity to raise these issues now, as NSW is election-free this year and there are two inquiries underway that are properly focused on the party's future. For those processes, and to hopefully spark some debate within the party, following is my list of the five biggest challenges facing the NSW ALP, with a few ideas on what should happen thrown in.

These are the glaring organisational issues that we've got to confront. We just received a federal primary vote in NSW that was the worst since 1903. We need to regroup and rebuild, under good parliamentary leadership and direction. And the NSW ALP needs to get its house in order. Taking the following steps will help do that.

The key challenge: Being clear on what we represent, & what we don't

There is a struggle clarifying within the ALP. It can be less characterised as a Left-Right conflict and more as value-free Labor versus traditional Labor; as a struggle between those who see Labor as a floating set of 'flavour of the month' plans, and those who see our values anchored in working Australia and expanding outwards; between those who see our traditional link to organised labour as a liability, and those who don't.

This struggle can be seen in several forms: in arguments to reduce the internal role of the union movement; in calls for the admission of those who won't join their union; and in proposals to source Labor's candidates from those who wouldn't choose to be a mere ALP member. It can also be seen in the treatment of election contests as mere advertising campaigns, with all the substance and passion of a sales battle between OMO and Cold Power.

Our union link provides the context for defining who the party represents - not just union members but workers as a whole, for when the union movement campaigns on behalf of its members, it's a reality that all workers get the benefits, union members or not. We should not lack the fortitude to stand up for what we believe in and who we represent. If we are weak and tentative enough to believe the Howard-Abbott rhetoric that our union link is a liability, then it will be. Fiddling with percentages of union votes won't stop Howard and Abbott; it will encourage them. This is where leadership counts. It's extraordinary that we sit back and take heat over our overt link to working Australia, while the Liberals pocket as yet undisclosed tens of millions exclusively from the corporate sector, with barely a scratch from us.