Changes to ALP rules a power play by PM, says ALP historian

Australian Parliament House

The Prime Minister’s plans to give grassroots ALP members a vote when electing a leader, while also making it harder to remove a sitting Labor Party PM, are attempts to change longstanding Party rules to further entrench Kevin Rudd’s own authority, according to a political historian from the University of Western Sydney.

Dr David Burchell, from the UWS School of Humanities and Communication Arts, is the author of Western Horizon: Sydney’s Heartland and the Future of Australian Politics and The Prince's New Clothes: Why do Australians Dislike Their Politicians?

Dr Burchell says the proposal to give grassroots party members a percentage of the vote when electing a federal leader is a very old idea which has been tried and found flawed elsewhere, notably Britain.

“People who join the ALP are generally further to the left of most voters, and will often elect a leader that appeals to their sensibilities but is unable to capture the middle ground of politics,” Dr Burchell says.

“This system has plagued British Labour for the best part of a century, and led to the memorable election in the 1980s of Michael Foot, a bespectacled former academic who attempted to turn the Labor party into a socialist movement and was duly trounced by Margaret Thatcher.”

“More recently it led to the equally memorable election of the ‘wrong’ Miliband brother to the Labour leadership in 2010, when younger brother Ed was selected by party members ahead of elder brother David, to the astonishment of commentators across Britain.”

Dr Burchell says Mr Rudd’s proposal to make it extremely difficult – almost to the point of impossibility - to remove a sitting Labor prime minister also makes little sense.

“The Labor leader is and should be in their position at the behest of their party, rather than at their own pleasure,” he says.

“The symbolic effect of this proposed change is even more troubling: it will entrench in the electorate’s own mind Mr Rudd’s own idea that the prime minister is elected directly by the electorate, rather than by their party – which, among other things, also happens to fly in the face of the Australian Constitution.”

“The media exuberance surrounding the Rudd prime ministership at present means that any thought-bubble he puts into words sounds like a brilliant proposal, but in any other circumstance they would seem like a rather embarrassing effort by a sitting leader to entrench himself in the leadership for a duration of his own choosing.”

"It’s hard to recall a time in living memory when the health of the federal Labor caucus was at a lower ebb.”


9 July 2013

Contact: Mark Smith, Media Officer

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