As an elected member of the NSW Labor Policy Forum I am trying to take a proactive approach to accountability by reporting back to ALP members about what’s happening and how you can contribute. I’ve been to a number of Branch meetings and SEC meetings and discussed the latest news- thanks to those Branches that have hosted me and made suggestions about policies. As this is partly a report to explain my own contribution it can seem a little egocentric- for that I apologise, but I feel I should get on record what I have tried to do and tried to say at the Forum. It is not intended to suggest that I am the only person contributing!
The Policy Forum (PF) met at Trades Hall on a sunny Saturday at the end of March. It was well attended, but I did note a couple of Shadow Ministers, a certain Young Labor member and a few union secretaries were absent. I am sure they all had very good excuses. The only person I heard an apology from was Jodie Harrison, who, as the ALP candidate for Mayor of Lake Macquarie was attending a number of community events.
The agenda of the meeting was to have a discussion about the Labor Party’s values and how they are informing our policies; hear back from the six policy commissions on what they intended to do to consult with Party members and the wider community and discuss the terms of reference for their policy formulation; and, after a presentation from their chair and deputy chair, workshop the local government policy commission’s terms of reference.
I had on my own agenda some things that Party members had asked me to raise before the first PF meeting, and some raised since (including during the second meeting!). They were:
1. Checking on whether the PF election had been reviewed to ensure that next time those people who felt they were disenfranchised were better included. (General Secretary Sam Dastyari assured me it had been reviewed, and that a report had been made to the Admin, which would have formed part of one of the regular Political Briefings from HO. I confess I hadn’t seen this reported in the Political Briefings, but I may have missed it. I will endeavour to find it and let people know what I think, and pass it on if you want me to.)
2. To raise again and confirm that the PF will receive a briefing from our Shadow Treasurer on the state of the NSW economy and the State Budget. I am particularly concerned here to see how equal NSW is, ie. where we land on measures such as the Geni coefficient of income equality. How do we compare with other States in Australia? How equal are we compared to the rest of the world? If you’re wondering why I care about that so much, see this video or my other blog post here.
The next meeting will hear from the Shadow Treasurer.
3. To propose that the members of the ALP Policy Committees be consulted by the new Policy Commissions, and for their ‘corporate memory’ and policy expertise be called upon. I’d like to thank Linda Kelly (ALP candidate for Leichhardt council BTW!) for raising this with me.
Everyone agreed that this should be done. I’m not sure exactly how it will happen though, but each commission may do so differently.
4. To ask whether ALP members could attend PF meetings- I was assured by Deputy Chair Daniel Mookhey that it was in the Party Rules that any ALP member could attend PF meetings.
5. To enquire how the PF agenda was put together and to suggest that one of the rank and file PF members be on that agenda setting body. I was told that all one needed to do to put something on the agenda was to tell the deputy chairs. We’ll see if this is sufficient!
6. To suggest that the agenda should include a ‘General Business’ part so that we can raise issues and ideas that don’t fit into other parts of the agenda. This seemed acceptable to the meeting.
The ‘Labor values’ discussion was very worthwhile and it was decided that it should form part of our regular discussions. Some people raised the issue of trying to appeal to different employment and income groups, ie. tradies and self-funded retirees. Darcy BYrne made an excellent point about labor not just being about ‘helping’ disadvantaged people or workers, but about organising in those communities, something very close ot my heart.
John Robertson posed three questions: Who do we represent, how do we represent them and why? A number of people answered those questions in their own way, Leanne Atkinson made a particularly telling contribution as someone from a regional area.
When I got my turn I tried to answer Robbo’s questions. I made reference to FDR’s quote about being a democrat above all else, despite all the other -ologies that had been pinned on him, because for me, democracy is the highest calling of Labor. And by democracy, I mean control of the society, its economy and its environment, for the good of the people, above all else. And while this seems straightforward enough, this is not an uncontested idea, especially when so many politicians and bureaucrats and businesspeople see it as their mission to promulgate the interests of abstract ideas like ‘capital’ and ‘efficiency’ above the needs of actual people. So I said…
Who? The majority, the people who do the work, both paid an unpaid, whoever they are.
How? By connecting with broadly held values of equality and fairness
Why? To redistribute economic and social power so that society ends up more equal than it would have been under liberal capitalism. To empower people through their income, their education, their rights, their right to vote, right to fairness in their workplace, right to fair treatment by bureaucracy, the police and state systems they interact with.
I believe that Australia should be as equal as possible, somewhere near Finland, Sweden, countries with a Geni coefficient around 25, rather than moving in the direction of our neighbours and the UK and the US. All our policies have to pass that test.
The point of the Labor Party is to make society more equal.
We do that by organising communities and connecting with the majority of the population on the core values of equality and fairness.
People seemed to get what I was on about.
The rest of the day was spent in report backs from the various Policy Commissions with focus on how they were going to consult with the community and the Party membership. A website is being investigated and a lot of planning is going into taking the PF on the road, and inviting Party members, academics and stakeholders to contribute ideas. In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, contact me and we can talk about your vest way forward to make sure you are heard.
In the Education and Equality report, I suggested that the terms of reference include pre-school education, which was taken on board by chair Carmel Tebbutt. I also raised the policy idea which I had taken to the Party electorate during the PF election of free preschool for all NSW kids over 3 (suggested to me by Ingrid Strewe- Labor candidate for Waverly Council! You councillors are really useful!). After tonight’s Lateline report on the importance of early intervention and the NSW Liberal Government’s cuts to preschools, it seems to me to be an excellent policy to take to the 2015 election. Robbo demurred when I said as much, but with your help, maybe we can make it so?
The day was very positive overall and I think the prospects for the Policy Forum look good. A few of us went for a quiet beverage afterwards. I then met the family and took Bobby to his first Roosters win, so I was very positive by the end of the evening!
I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly on my Policy Commission’s area of Jobs and the Economy. Of particular interest to me in this area is Gunter Pauli’s concept of the ‘Blue Economy’. Peter Primrose and I hosted Gunter last week at NSW Parliament and I urge you to check out his Blue Economy website for a few ideas of what we can do to make NSW the more equal, more sustainable and more prosperous and happier place we know it can be!
All the best!