Rank-and-file survey highlights a perception amongst branch members that NSW Labor is failing on multiple fronts.
A survey initiated by the Campaign for Labor Party Democracy (CLPD) has confirmed that branch members are deeply concerned by Head Office's management of NSW Labor. 145 party members from dozens of branches responded to the survey between July and October 2021. Branch members are dissatisfied with the party's lack of internal democracy, education & training strategy, the accountability of elected party officials, and the party's relationship with women members.
This article includes a graphical breakdown of the CLPD's survey results. What these charts confirm is that rank-and-file members are deeply critical of NSW Labor's internal structures and policies. It is telling, for instance, that most survey participants support an overhaul of the party's preselection system. 87.6 percent of respondents said that all branch members should have an inalienable right to preselect Labor representatives in the upper and lower houses of NSW Parliament. Only 2 percent of respondents answered 'No' to this question with a further 10 percent proposing alternative models.
Currently rank-and-file members have no direct say over the composition of NSW Labor's Federal Senate and NSW Legislative Council tickets. While branch members notionally have a right to preselect their local lower house representatives, the National Executive regularly suspends the party's rules to impose preferred candidates on branch members. The 'parachuting' of candidates in the Hunter and Fowler Federal Electorates are just two recent examples of this practice.
It is unsurprising that the lack of democracy in candidate preselection processes has contributed to a general sentiment amongst branch members that party officials and MPs are not accountable to rank-and-file members. A mere 31 percent of respondents said that party officials and MPs are accountable to branch members. This may be unsurprising given MPs often deviate from the party's platform without consulting affiliated unions or branches. Ongoing ICAC investigations into some party officials have also taken a toll on the confidence of branch members in Head Office.
The effect of the party's hostility towards rank-and-file democracy and a perception that senior Labor figures are not accountable to party members has contributed to the view that NSW Labor does not adequately engage members in its decision making processes. 44.5 percent of survey respondents said that NSW Labor does not encourage the participation of the rank-and-file in candidate preselections or policy development at all. Only 11.7 percent of respondents held a positive view when asked to review membership participation in these processes.
Party members were also extremely critical of Head Office attempts to educate members about the rules governing preselections for public office and branch AGMs. A mere 5.8 percent of respondents said that NSW Labor is doing 'well' or 'very well' when asked to review the party's approach to educating branch members about their rights. 80 percent of respondents gave head office a negative review with more than half of respondents saying that NSW Labor does not educate branch members about their rights 'at all'.
The two charts above demonstrate that despite the best efforts of branch members to educate themselves, a troubling proportion of survey respondents are unfamiliar with NSW Labor's policy committee and preselection processes. Only 40.7 percent of respondents indicated that they understand their rights to preselect Labor candidates for public office and the rules governing party unit AGMs ('well' or 'very well').
Similarly, a mere 20 percent of respondents said they understood the NSW Labor policy committee system. Almost a quarter of branch members said they didn't understand NSW Labor's policy system at all. The overwhelming majority of respondents were either negative or indifferent about their understanding of the NSW Labor policy committee system.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 80 percent of survey respondents had a negative perception of NSW Labor's strategies to grow the party's membership. 40.7 percent of respondents answered 'not at all' when asked to assess 'How well do NSW Labor's structures promote membership growth and engagement'. A further 39.3 percent of branch members responded 'not well'. Only 5.6 percent of survey participants believed that NSW Labor is structurally conducive to a growing and active rank-and-file.
Survey respondents were also clear that NSW Labor could do much more to empower women in the party. The majority of branch members were either critical or indifferent when asked to assess NSW Labor's efforts to encourage the participation, retention, and promotion of women in the party. Only 7.6 percent responded that the party was doing 'very well' in this regard. We should aspire to a future in which an overwhelming majority of rank-and-file members believe that the party is doing everything it can to correct gender imbalances in the labour movement.
The CLPD survey confirms that empowering women is a priority of the rank-and-file. 69 percent of respondents believe that NSW Labor should establish a permanent member based women's organisation and conference. Only 11.7 percent of respondents rejected this proposal.
Finally, respondents were overwhelming critical of Head Office support for branches that want to meet online. 79.3 percent of survey participants said that the party is not adequately supporting online participation in branch meetings.
NSW Labor should seriously consider the results of the CLPD's rank-and-file survey and its implications on Labor's electoral performance. If the party continues to frustrate rank-and-file participation it is likely to alienate the people it relies on to form government. Without an active and growing membership, NSW Labor will sever its connections with working class communities across the state. Shutting the rank-and-file out of preselection and policy-making decisions makes it difficult for many branch members to justify ongoing engagement with the party. Why would you join a party that doesn't value your input? Party democracy and rank-and-file power is not just the right thing to do on principle, its an essential part of building an electable party of government.
Branch members have a common interest in fighting for rank-and-file education, internal democracy, and mechanisms to ensure the accountability of party leaders. If the results of this survey concern you join the Campaign for Labor Party Democracy here.