31 August 2014

'Winds of change, but our Great Wall stands' - Observations of Qld ALP Conference

I went to a few State Conferences some 15 years ago. Ah, how things have changed! Last Saturday I did not see those “morning assemblies” at which the faction bosses supposedly gave the assembled, their directions on how to vote on various agenda items, without exception.
In one conference, reference was made to a previous practice of issuing and collecting voting papers in the toilet, just to make sure that no-one failed to do as instructed!  Last Saturday the union delegates were in their union T-shirts milling about in the foyer. In my previous visits, many were done up in white long sleeves with ties hanging loosely around their unbuttoned necks. And at the “Rules Conference”, following the near death of the Goss government, the demagogic “machine-gun” spray by one young turk aimed at a tribal enemy was unforgettable.
President Dick Williams painted a heart warming account of the status quo. Membership has gone up and up, to nearly 9000. Polls are encouraging, but unlike other speakers, he warned that we are short of five percentage points on the primary vote to rate a chance of victory. He didn’t say anything about the average life of a new member, nor think aloud as to whether these new members might have joined us simply to run away from the over-burdened Newman train.
Tanya Plibersek gave a very warm and inspiring address. She sounded sincere and deeply credible. I just wish that she could be as telling in Q&A or in the media where every second counts in winning over the undecided voters.
The Conference was well organised. The adoption of the Platform Chapters was largely perfunctory. And we avoided the public scramble to sit on the Administrative Committee, once the undoubted “politburo” of our Party. As it happened there was just the right number of nominations, no more no less!
There is every reason to avoid drenching downfalls on a day of spiritual affirmation for the faithfuls.
It’s akin to stirring the troops before they went off to Gallipoli. And there were just a few rows allotted to “observers” at the back of the ballroom – those who were not obliged to be there.
All the same, things did get a little out of hand with the report on the direct election of our State Parliamentary Leader. The resulting resolution the 'third, third, third' split for the Caucus, the ordinary members, and the Unions which Annastasia Palaszczuk apparently urged at the last conference.
I don’t recall how the union votes are to be obtained, however, Cameron Dick spoke against the motion. He urged alignment with the 50/50 Federal model (that excised the election from the direct control of union chieftains).  Cameron was not a fiery speaker, was in part repetitive, and did not deliver any “knock out” punch. For his trouble he was accused, in a knowing way, of self interest by Joanne Miller in her parting shot of a surprisingly energetic speech, a revealing contrast to the television excerpts of her performance in Parliament or when under media scrutiny. Other speakers in favour of the union-inclusive motion all spoke like rousing generals, if at times hairy-chested, about to march their troops off to war!  They won handsomely.  About 240 votes to 180.
Nevertheless the union chieftains have conceded some authority. Once they ruled without hindrance.
All this reminds me of the fall of the once glorious Ming dynasty. It bled itself dry in its declining decades, starving the populace, and spending all it could levy on fortifying the Great Wall, to keep out the “barbarians”  (outsiders)  who wanted to trade (engagement) in the first instance, and to be treated with dignity.
In the last seven decades, we have governed for a third of the time. Gough, the intellectual and mortal giant, ever pragmatic, faced off the 36 “faceless men” with the help of the media, and the voters cheered. Hawke, the bright, populist larrikin, a consummate manager nonetheless, cremated our socialism shibboleth, transformed our economy, and won the faith of voters for well over a decade. Both of them had to dismantle central ramparts on the wall we built and built upon the heritage of our union birth.  To paraphrase Gough, you can be pure, but impotent.
Has the time come for our Party to open up all the forts along our Great Wall to attract those undecided voters, and those potential candidates, we could well do with, from outside our Union/Party nurseries, to come through and see that those forts now stand as a memorial to the historic war we fought and won, and that we are now re-building our Party to embrace the best of the Gough and Hawke reform practices?  
In time we will celebrate also the not insignificant achievements during the Rudd/Gillard tempest, possibly when all those union princelings and their union-incubated protégés, who helped sabotaged that period, have all melted into the opulence of the gambling, mining and merchant banking citadels. Hopefully we will then see the end of the toxic careerism that has afflicted some of the unions now exposed as running sores on the corpus of our Party. Regrettably this self inflicted malady will dog us into the next Federal elections and beyond.
The winds of change will prevail, eventually. Beazley’s wilderness years should see to that.
For now our Great Wall stands, with one third of the gates open.  Hopefully State warlordism will give way to national interests, soon.
Chek Ling

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