Leadership overhaul welcomed

A PROPOSAL by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to radically overhaul the process of electing the Australian Labor Party’s leader has been widely welcomed by local union representatives, despite a ‘crisis’ meeting of some national union bosses reportedly being held over the plans tomorrow.

While The Age reported this week six trade unions, aligned with the ALP’s right wing, would meet in Sydney tomorrow amid discontent over a plan to curb the power of caucus, hence the influence of unions on ALP caucus members, no such concerns were evident among local unions.

On 22 July a special caucus meeting is set to discuss the new leadership voting process proposed by Mr Rudd which would see the party’s parliamentary leader elected jointly by the ALP’s rank and file members and caucus, with each having 50 per cent of the vote.

When The Express asked local ALP and union spokespersons yesterday for their response to the proposals, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker said be believed the move would meet the needs of many workers who had joined the ALP and were “keen to have more input into the party itself and in how it is structured”.

“This would mean that local branches and members can actually have some influence over what is happening, and the more that process happens within parties, the better,” he said.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union Victorian district president Luke van der Meulen agreed, saying the “whole (ALP) leadership fiasco has been a real problem for the Australian government over the last year – a very unhelpful distraction – and anything that can eliminate that complete sideshow would be good for the Australian people”.

Asked whether be believed unions felt threatened by reforms which could ultimately diminish their own influence in the voting process, Mr van der Meulen said “I wish we had this power we are (reported as) supposedly having”.

“At the end of the day, we represent people who are workers in Australia and we will try to influence (governments) in the same way as anyone else does and if everyone is getting a fair go at that, that’s how democracy is supposed to work.”

Local Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Steve Dodd backed comments by AMWU state secretary Steve Dargabel that the proposal “looks quite good”.

Mr Dargabel, however, said the proposal was a matter for the ALP to internally consider “and not the unions”, adding “we are separate from the ALP, but I wish them well in their considerations”.

ALP candidate for Gippsland Jeff McNeill said the reforms would “further democracy” in the party.

“I am a great believer in people having the opportunity to contribute at that level,” he said.

Mr McNeill agreed with Mr Parker’s view that the Federal Opposition should consider “taking the same sort of direction” rather than, according to the candidate, “just taking advice from the big end of town”.