Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Labor - Greens Electoral Dynamic in the Post Brown Era

The unexpected timing of Bob Brown's resignation has triggered off a slew of commentary about what the former Greens' Leader's departure will mean for the future of The Greens.

For his own part, Brown was unequivocal. At his resignation press conference, he repeated his oft stated claim that regardless of his involvement, it was The Greens destiny to replace Labor as the governing political party of the Left in Australia: 
"The Greens are on trajectory to become a future government. Our job isn't to make the so-and-sos honest - it's to replace them".
Looking at the big picture, rather than the personality driven analysis that is predominating in the wash up of Brown's decision, is this a realistic ambition? 

While people often discuss rise of the The Greens as an unprecedented challenge to the viability of the ALP, over the course of Labor's history, groups both within the Labor movement (eg the Socialist Leagues, the Industrial Workers of the World, the One Big Unionists) and outside the ALP (eg Lang Labor, the Communist Party) have frequently emerged to challenge Labor from the left. 

History shows that while these left wing challenger groups have been able to divide the progressive vote and damage the electability of the ALP, there is a hard ceiling on the growth of their vote. This suggests that while The Greens may be able to woo voters within ideologically sympathetic geographic enclaves, they are unlikely to grow their level of electoral support beyond around 15% of the national vote (the level achieved by Lang Labor at the peak of its appeal) without significantly moderating their agenda and broadening their electoral appeal. An examination of national Australian polling and State level electoral data over the past decade provides substantial empirical support for this view. This direct evidence is further supported by what little public evidence there is of the attitudes of potential left wing voters with those of Greens' candidates. 

In this context, while the departure of Bob Brown is no doubt a significant contemporary political event, in the long run, it does not seem likely to alter the broader structural obstacles to The Greens becoming a Party of government.

The Polling and Electoral Evidence

Peter Brent, a well known scion of the psephological blogosphere under his pseudonym, Mumble, recently compared a time series of ten years of Labor and Greens poll and election results and noted that:

“Since late 2001, Greens have tended to do well in the polls when Labor has done badly .. The Greens feed on dissatisfaction with the ALP from (in crude terms) “the left”. Their chances of winning more lower house seats at the next election largely depend on how badly the ALP does.”

As such, the data show that in 2001 when September 11 and the Tampa saw Labor’s vote crash, the Greens’ vote spiked by 5 percentage points. In contrast, in 2007, when Kevin07 had Labor ascendant, the Greens’ vote increased only 1 percentage point on their 2004 result. The pattern continued in the 2010 election, when a calamitous election campaign marred by internal Labor recriminations led to the Greens’ vote jumping 4 percentage points to around 13% of the national vote (11.76% in the House of Representatives and 13.11% in the Senate).

However, it is important to note that while The Greens’ vote tends to increase when Labor’s vote falls, this relationship is not linear. More often, only a small proportion of the fall in Labor’s support transfers into increased support for The Greens.  Significantly, despite widespread dissatisfaction with the Gillard government, unparalleled prominence of Greens’ spokesmen in the hung parliament and major wins on their key policy issues, the Greens’ surveyed level of support has barely increased at all since the 2010 election, bouncing between 12 and 15%.

Instead, as can be seen from the work of another online psephologist, Scott Steel, AKA Possum’s Pollytics, by examining a weighted aggregation of major pollsters as at 28 September 2011 (around Labor’s nadir), it can be seen that while Labor’s Primary support had fallen by 9.7 percentage points since the 2010 election, the Greens’ primary support had increased by only 0.6 percentage points. 

For every ten primary votes that had left Labor since the 2010 election, only one had gone to the Greens and five had gone to the Tony Abbott led Liberal Party.

Similar patterns can be observed in the recent Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland State elections. In Victoria, despite a major Greens’ campaign to build on their record 2010 Federal Election result by electing a number of lower house MPs in inner city Melbourne electorates, The Greens’ primary vote increased by only 1.17 percentage points to 11.21% of the state wide result, a result that failed to produce a single lower house seat. Meanwhile, Labor’s primary vote had fallen by 6.81 percentage points on a statewide basis, more than half of which was picked up by the Liberal and National parties.

The 2011 New South Wales state election result told a particularly damning story of the limits of The Greens’ electoral appeal. Despite confronting what was universally regarded as a historically incompetent State Labor Government and an utterly demoralised Labor organisation, The Greens were only able to increase its Primary vote by 1.33 percentage points (to 10.3%) in the face of a 13.43 percentage point fall in Labor’s primary vote.

Tellingly, as ABC elections analyst Antony Green subsequently noted, The Greens were not able to capitalise on the collapse of the Labor Primary in Labor held seats:

“There was a swathe of inner-city seats such as Coogee and Heffron where a collapse in Labor’s first preference vote could have put the Greens into second place. Instead the Green vote was static and all the change in vote was from Labor to Liberal. Even in the one seat the Greens did win, Balmain, the victory came about entirely because Labor’s collapse in support was so large that Labor fell to third place”

Ultimately, even left leaning former Labor voters who had given up on the ALP in disgust, chose to vote for the Liberal party rather than elect Greens MPs to replace sitting Labor Members. Across the state, ten times as many voters left Labor for the Liberal Party, who increased their primary support by a total of 11.64 percentage points.

A similar pattern can be seen in the most recent Queensland election in which a swing against the Labor Party of 15.4 percentage points (leaving a primary vote of just 26.8%) was accompanied by a fall in The Greens primary vote of 1.2 percentage points (to a primary of just 7.2%).

In total, across the Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland election results and polling since the 2010 Federal election, Labor has lost an average of 11.33 percentage points of primary support while the Greens have increased their primary support by an average of only 0.475 percentage points.

The Disconnect Between Left Wing Voters and Green Candidates

Observers should not be under any illusions as to the breadth of the electoral appeal of The Greens’ agenda. The ANU’s Australian Electoral Study has found that on a left-right scale running from 0 (far left) to 10 (far right) while voters on average place themselves in the centre of the scale, at 5.03, they place the Greens on average at 3.3; significantly more left wing than the mean voter.

Older, but more granular academic research shows that the attitudes of Greens candidates on specific policy issues are substantially to the left of the views of not only the broader electorate, but even of those of self-identified Labor voters (Betts, K. (2004), “PEOPLE AND PARLIAMENTARIANS: THE GREAT DIVIDE”, People and Place, vol. 12, no. 2, 64). For example, given a choice between reducing taxes or spending more on social services, 93% of Greens candidates favoured spending more on social services. Labor voters, however, were split fairly evenly, with roughly a third favouring reduced taxes, a third favouring more social services, and a third indicating no real preference. Similarly, only 26.5% of Greens candidates agreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that high income tax makes people less willing to work hard, while in contrast 66.6% of Labor voters did so. While this research is more than a decade old and this ideological gulf may have moderated in the intervening years, this data is consistent with the apparent ceiling on The Greens vote, even in the most fortuitous of electoral environments, revealed by recent polling and electoral data.

The Strategic Implications for the Labor - Greens Relationship

The lesson from this data is clear. Labor should recognise this electoral disconnect and not embrace the ideologically limited electoral agenda of The Greens. Ideological isolation is a particular risk in a situation in which Labor is confronted by a left wing movement that is active electorally. Labor can never be ‘more left’ than The Greens on totemic ideological issues. No matter how far Labor moves to the left, The Greens will always be able to move further across themselves, continuing to harvest the votes of those who are motivated by left wing orthodoxy. However, by engaging in an ideological bidding war with a party who is pitching to only a narrow segment of the voting population, Labor can very easily lose the votes of the vast majority of voters who are not motivated by these issues, driving them into the camp of the conservatives.

In response to the increasing prominence (if not electoral success) of The Greens, Labor must explicitly reaffirm its philosophy of seeking office in its own right, with all of the tactical implications that entails. There is certainly widespread dysfunction in the modern ALP, however the dysfunction is not the instinct to retain government.  To this end, Labor must make the moral case for electoralism as the least-worst hope for the progressive movement. By focusing on remaining relevant to the interests, hopes and dreams of the majority of Australian voters, much can be achieved through the use of Government to achieve incremental progressive reform. Moreover, history has repeatedly taught that when ideology has drawn Labor’s focus away from the need to obtain majority support, the progressive movement has achieved nothing in the face of long term conservative governments. 

As the former UK Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell has warned progressives:“we can never go farther than we can persuade at least half of the people to go.”

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The 8000 and Beyond - Modernising ALP Membership to Grow the Party's Membership Base


A common complaint about the current organisational state of the ALP is that the party is unable to effectively attract and retain members. While  there are legitimate disagreements about the causes of this situation, most observers now agree that "something must be done" to address this situation.

For the most part, the "something" that Party Members currently believe must be done is the re-empowerment of members through organisational reforms designed to decentralise control over the development of party policy and the election of party office bearers. Knowing that many around them have been driven away by the experience of branch meetings and policy committees, they argue that if the Party makes the rewards of membership more 'meaningful' and the returns of investing time in the party more tangible, the members will return. This "Community Organising Model" of growing Labor's membership has been endorsed by both the Prime Minister and the 2011 National Conference and is the key strategy that the Party is implementing in pursuit of Prime Minister Gillard's target of growing Labor's membership by 8000 members in 2012.

Implicit in this argument (and a major theme of Chapter Five of the 2011 National Review) is an appeal to history; Labor was last an effective mass membership party in the 1960s and 70s, therefore changing the Party's organisational structures to look more like they did in the past will recapture this lost golden age.

Unfortunately, I don't think it will work.

The problem with this model is that by looking inwards, to the experience of current members for solutions, it ignores the primary cause of Labor's membership decline; the broader structural decline in mass member organisation participation rates in general in Western societies over the past 40 years.

As the 2011 National Review itself noted:
Deeper cultural changes have also been at work. This is reflected in declining membership of churches and community groups as well as political parties. These changes are extensively documented and proceed at a different pace in different societies. In other words the problems faced by Australian Labor are not unique. They are common to most traditional political parties in western societies in the postindustrial era.
Modern examples of modern mass-membership organisations built on high levels of individual engagement and commitment from empowered members (ie those employing a Community Organising Model) are difficult to find.  Whether it is because of changing work arrangements or greater competition from a wider range of leisure time pursuits or something else altogether, people simply do not want to invest large amounts of their time in the traditional functions of a mass membership political party.

The men and women of the dedication and zeal of those who founded and grew the ALP through relentless local organising in the first half of the 20th century would not be able to replicate the feat in the 21st century. The world has moved on from this model of organisation and onto new forms of collective action

The old model of a mass membership political party is dead.

In this context, an approach that focused only on making Labor membership 'richer' or more rewarding for those who make significant commitments to the Party is unlikely to substantially increase the number of Party Members. At the same time, such an approach would give more control over the direction of the party to a  currently narrow membership base - potentially making attracting new members even more difficult. In short the Community Organising Model has the potential to be both ineffective and counter productive.

Instead, of looking to the past, we need to adapt to new realities. The question we need to be asking is not what current Labor Members want from the ALP, but instead what Labor supporters currently outside the party want of the ALP. We need to be asking what Labor Membership needs to look like to attract new members in the 21st century.

Given that the structural challenges to membership organisations are not unique to the ALP, when responding to these cultural changes the party would be best served by looking not inwards or to the past for solutions, but outwards to the contemporary practices of the modern membership organisations that are thriving in this new environment. Labor needs to look to the membership innovations developed by successful modern organisations and it needs to adapt these to Labor's mission.

An examination of the peer groups that are currently out-competing the ALP for citizens' time and money (eg single issue groups, campaigning groups and sporting clubs) shows that the most successful groups:
  • Are structured to allow supporters the flexibility to determine their own level of engagement;
  • Make joining extremely easy (and often costless) and then create numerous avenues for converting latent or 'shallow' engagement into more valuable campaign contributions on an ad hoc basis.
Labor needs to make membership more relevant to the differing needs of individuals in modern society. Labor needs to create a membership structure that accommodates both the declining number of people who want the traditional, time intensive experience of a mass membership political party and the growing group who prefer the shallow, ad hoc engagement that is the new norm. The concept of a one size fits all notion of party membership needs to end. In short, to grow  the membership of the ALP in the 21st century, the party must change what it means to be a Labor member.

Below the fold: The Detail - The Numbers, The Response to Date and Benchmarking Against Best Practice and What Needs to be Done

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Making Online Branches Work - Making Labor a Platform for Progressive Organising

"The Internet" has long been held out as panacea for Labor's moribund membership structure. However, efforts to increase membership engagement online have comprehensively failed in practice over the past decade.The mistake that the party has made during this period has been to take a technology driven, "Build it and they will come" approach to promoting online engagement. When the Party gets serious about realising the potential of the internet as a platform for organising, campaigning and fundraising, it needs to start putting people, not technology, at the centre of its online strategy.

In the simplest terms, this means spending more money on people - online organisers and community managers - than on technology platforms. But in the larger sense, it means designing an architecture for participation for members and prospective members. This will mean asking some basic questions about people's incentives - about why and how people want to engage with the Party online.

My view is that if we look at campaigns that have successfully mobilised online engagement, people are now far more predisposed to organising around issues rather than party or ideology. Further, they are cynical about their ability to be 'heard' within a traditional party structure and want to be given the ability to directly influence outcomes through their online activities without being subject to hierarchical control.

I believe there's a way to balance these desires against the organisational needs of the parliamentary Party by adapting the Policy Action Caucus ('PAC') structure agreed to at National Conference as a vehicle for online engagement. Consider this proposal:

  • Full ALP members are entitled to establish online PACs around specific policy issues (eg "Labor for Ethical Live Cattle Exports", "Labor for Equal Marriage" etc) if they are able to initially sign up at least 50 Full Members to the group;
  • A subordinate class of Membership is created that allows individuals to join not the ALP proper, but a specific PAC for a nominal fee (eg $20);
  • PACs are given the right to move a platform amendment at ALP Conference if they can sign up at least say, 5000 members to their cause (subordinate or full ALP members) and agree a specific motion within the group;

Such a proposal would give ALP members and prospective members a strong incentive to engage in online organising (ie the potential to have their issue debated in a high profile forum at ALP conference and to influence policy makers) whilst also ensuring that existing party structures remained intact and the organisation proper retained ultimate control over the policy of the Party. It would open the party up to members of the community who may never have previously considered joining the ALP or direct political involvement of any kind (imagine the people a "Labor for NDIS" group could bring in). It would entice many fellow travellers to engage with the ALP, without requiring them to make the initial commitment required to become a full member - creating a large target pool of prospective members for the party's recruitment activities. It would create communities of interest that could engage in real world organising activities (eg you could imagine PACs arranging to staff the voting booths of MPs who agree to champion their issues). It would create a powerful micro-donations fundraising structure for the party to reduce the need for large scale donations. Ultimately, it would make Labor the primary platform for progressive organising once again.

All it would take is for the ALP to devolve a small amount of control over the policy agenda (not even control over decision making!) to the membership.


As far back as 2002, the Hawke/Wrann Review stated that it was desirable to “broaden the basis of membership activity, capacity for involvement in policy formulation” through online engagement. The review recognised that it was unhealthy that “vigorous debate on controversial issues is being avoided for the sake of a purely cosmetic unity” and stated that “Alternative processes must be sought to promote input from more sectors of the Party”.

In this regard the Review recommended the exploration of the formation of policy branches and online branches, noting:

“It may be possible to extend this concept to online branches, which are run nationally, and which encourage people to join the appropriate State branch. With such a scheme, it would be possible to offer online members the opportunity to belong to, and participate in, online policy forums. Again, it is not clear what the best way to do this is, and one of the first tasks of online branches would be to determine the rules for engagement and mechanisms to avoid online discussions becoming dominated by particular individuals”.

The intent behind this recommendation was admirable - as much for its humility about what it didn't know as for its optimism about what could be achieved. Unfortunately, in the decade since, little progress has been made in realising this vision. There are no "online branches", "online policy forums" or meaningful ways for members or prospective members to become "involved in policy formulation online".

The tragedy of this situation is that it is not for a lack of attention from the Party. As the the 2010 National Review recognises, the Party has invested enormous sums at both State and Federal levels to roll out infrastructure for online engagement:

9.4 Recently the Party has begun investing in a new infrastructure to facilitate this. The new LaborConnect function as part of is powered by Australian developed software ‘Community Engine’. This function enables Labor supporters to comment on articles, join affinity groups and participate in online discussions on policies or campaigns. The potential for this tool to be expanded and used to assist party building activities should be obvious. Further resourcing of this area should be considered by the Party nationally. 
9.5 The creation of the online ‘Think Tank’ function on has also assisted with feedback from members and supporters. This Review was the first major Party consultation to have benefited from the new function. Over 3500 members and supporters participated, the largest single interaction during the Review process. The ability to post brief, targeted contributions seems to have inspired many people to participate.

The Party has built world class platforms for ALP members and prospective members to engage with the Party and each other over the preceding two years. But when you log onto these platforms, you can see the digital tumbleweeds everywhere you look. 

The two most popular groups on LaborConnect, the Labor Environment Action Network and Young Labor, have both had only one wall post from users in 2012.

The Labor ThinkTank which is designed to capture policy contributions from members hasn't had a new 'issue' added since October 2011.

Even worse, it's not clear that there's ever been a real world event organised by a user through the site.

A new Party member joining LaborConnect to interact with the Party and other members is in for a frustrating experience. There's literally nobody there to interact with.

Despite this demonstrable failure, the 2010 National Review recommended that further Party resources should be spent expanding these platforms. In addition, US based vendors have been hovering trying to gull the Party into investing even more money on new campaigning platforms. Even Laurie Oakes was at it on the weekend, insisting that:
"Gillard and ALP national secretary George Wright should immediately send a team to study the Obama operation".
Frankly, the Party shouldn't spend another cent on online infrastructure, study tours or high priced American consultants until it learns the basics of online organising. In this respect, lesson number one needs to be: Online Organising is about People, not Technology.

Technology might provide people with a new and easier way of engaging with each other - but it won't give them a reason or an incentive to engage with others. As the geeks have been saying for more than a decade now, regardless of the technology, online communications is a conversation. Unless your online engagement is able to satisfy the basic prerequisites of a conversation between two people, you won't even be able to start building an online community.

What are the basic prerequisites of a conversation?
  1. At least two people at the same place at the same time;
  2. At least two people with a shared interest;
  3. At least two people with a reason to talk about the shared interest.
Labor's online engagement fails these requirements at every step. There are not enough ALP members online at LaborConnect at any time to sustain a conversation and even if there were, there would be no reason for members to talk to each other. Ultimately, because LaborConnect is completely isolated from both the organisational and policy making functions of the ALP, there's nothing you can do there that you couldn't do much more enjoyably on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or the local pub. Online members are just as disenfranchised from the mechanisms of power of the party as any other member. In essence, many of the same obstacles things that make attending branch meetings unappealing to people apply equally to the Party's online engagement.

A Better Idea - Online Policy Action Caucuses

There's good news and bad news about what the ALP needs to do to promote genuine online engagement. The good news is that it won't cost the Party another cent in IT infrastructure and the party has already agreed to creating the structures that could support it. The bad news is that is requires the ALP to devolve some degree of control over the policy agenda (but not decision making) to online members - something that in the past, the Party has found to be even more difficult.

Policy Action Caucuses

The 2011 National Conference resolved in the Grass Roots Policy Structures chapter to both establish a National Online Policy Branch and a new policy structure called Policy Action Caucuses:

17 - Grass roots policy structures
(a) The National Secretariat should establish a National Online Policy Branch. 
(b) Attendance at the National Online Policy Branch does not satisfy attendance requirements for voting in Party elections, unless a state or territory branch’s rules expressly provide that it does. 
(c) State and territory branches must investigate new grass-roots policy structures. 
(d) State and territory branches are encouraged to provide for the establishment of a ‘Labor Policy Action Caucus’ or ‘Labor PAC’ where a group has: 
(i) thirty financial Party members (or some other number as determined by the relevant state and territory branch) 
(ii) a patron from both the state and federal parliamentary caucuses, unless otherwise determined by its Administrative Committee 
(iii) a statement of its name, objectives and rules, approved by its Administrative Committee.
(e) Labor PACs should enjoy the same level of support from state and territory branch offices that constituent units enjoy in that state or territory. In particular, they should be permitted to: 
(i) promote policy forums in Party publications and bulletins 
(ii) put motions directly to Party conferences, the National Policy Forum, and state and territory branch policy committees 
(iii) convene meetings and functions. 
(f) Labor PACs should in no way supplant local branches, many of which continue to provide Labor with a vital link to their communities. Rather, Labor PACs should be a complementary initiative. No powers or resources should be given to Labor PACs that are not also given to local branches. 
(g) Party officials should support these new arrangements. As PACs mature and become part of the party’s structures, party officials should: 
(i) list Labor PACs on application forms for membership (so new members can sign up to them immediately) 
(ii) provide administrative support for elections and the maintenance of membership lists, as they do for local branches. 
(h) The administrative, financial and fundraising regimes that govern Labor PACs should be determined by each state and territory branch.

The idea of providing an outlet for membership engagement on an issue specific basis is a good one that would better allow the ALP to compete with competitor political groups organised on this basis (eg single issue groups like Amnesty, Greenpeace etc and multi-issue campaigning organisations like Get Up!). For better or for worse, the potency of broad ideology as a focal point for motivating political organising has been in decline for at least the past 30 years. PAC style party structures to enable issue based engagement is a sensible response to these changes.

However, while these proposals are well intentioned, as currently defined they are unlikely to succeed for many of the same reasons as outlined above. By folding PACs into the existing organisational hierarchy they fail to address the lack of incentives for members to participate in these structures.

Making Policy Action Caucuses Work - Decentralising and Taking Them Online

In order to make PACs work, they need to be taken out of the party hierarchy and given the ability to directly achieve outcomes without the fiat of the Party organisation. Both the organisers of PACs and their members need to be given both individual agency to organise in the advancement of their issues and a genuine incentive to do so. Merging the PAC concept with the National Online Policy Branch and then linking these structures directly with the floor of National/State Conferences has the potential to create a workable model that creates real incentives for members to engage online and organise.

The characteristics of such a model might be:
  • Full ALP members are entitled to establish online PACs around specific policy issues (eg "Labor for Ethical Live Cattle Exports", "Labor for Equal Marriage" etc) if they are able to initially sign up at least 50 Full Members to the group;
  • A subordinate class of Membership is created that allows individuals to join not the ALP proper, but a specific PAC for a nominal fee (eg $20);
  • PACs are given the right to move a platform amendment at State or National ALP Conference if they can sign up at least say, 5000 members to their cause (subordinate or full ALP members) and agree a specific motion within the group;

  • Membership Benefits - This proposal would dramatically increase the incentives for individuals to engage with the ALP and ultimately to become members. Creating an issue-based, subordinate category of ALP membership will lower the barriers to entry to the Party for prospective members. It provides a new way of channel for participating in the ALP for individuals who are passionate about a particular issue and are sympathetic to the ALP, but may not yet ready to join the ALP. The structure of this proposal also creates incentives for ALP members to go out into the community and recruit those with an interest in the issue in question to further the objectives of the PAC. This pool of individuals who take the initial step of signing up for a subordinate membership would also be fertile ground for ALP organisers seeking to encourage people to take the next step and become full members.  It would be a tangible organisational step towards achieving the target of adding 8000 new members to the ALP. 
  • Campaigning Benefits - A major benefit of this proposal is that it creates a platform for organising that PACs are free to do with what they wish. Given the incentives for growing the size of the PACs, recruiting activity would be an obvious focus. But it's likely that PACs would also undertake further organisational activities designed to increase the chances of their motion being accepted by Conference and ultimately implemented by a Labor Government. For instance, you could easily imagine PACs organising campaign volunteers to assist MPs who had committed to supporting and speaking in favour of their motions. If a PACs motion had been adopted by the ALP at a party conference, you could equally see PACs organising general ALP campaign volunteers (ie for shopping centre stall, handing out how to votes, door knocking etc) in the name of ensuring the election of a Labor government to actually implement the policy. Consider the support that a Labor for NDIS group would provide the party in the lead up to the next election had Conference accepted a PAC motion to implement a NDIS. 
  • Fundraising Benefits - The creation of subordinate memberships would obviously create a new and potentially lucrative source of small scale fundraising for the party (on the figures above, by the time a PAC motion reached conference floor it would have raised $100k for the Party in memberships alone). In addition, by creating a motivated and engaged pool of members and supporters, the PACs would also represent a promising group to target to seek online micro-donations. Again, once a PAC's motion has been adopted by Party Conference, all members of the PAC will have a strong incentive to contribute to the election of a Labor government to implement their motion.

  • Media Management - The most obvious challenge posed by this proposal is that it would break every rule of modern media management. By creating nodes of organisational activity outside the direct hierarchical control of the party the party the Party obviously cedes some degree of control over its ability to set the media message of the day - particularly during National Conference. Frankly however, in the new media environment, the ability of any one actor to control the public agenda for anything more than a news cycle is already dissipating. Relinquishing some degree of control is unavoidable if members are to be given an incentive to engage in organising activities of their own accord. Further, forcing the Parliamentary party to argue the case for why the Party ultimately is or is not accepting a position being advocated by a PAC would be a useful communication discipline. It would remind the Party of the need to constantly explain itself to the public and to demonstrate how its actions are consistent with its values instead of resolving internal conflicts behind closed doors and without explanation. 
  • Conflict Between PACs - Another obvious objection to such an arrangement is that PACs will inevitably be established with objectives that are in direct conflict with each other - the obvious one that comes to mind would be a Labor for Forrests PAC and a Labor for Forrestry Jobs PAC. Again, many in the Party will be uncomfortable with this kind of open policy conflict in the Party. However, as discussed above, forcing the Party to have these policy debate publicly will improve the quality of the Parliamentary party's communication with the general public by acting as a constant reminder to make a persuasive case publicly. Further, competition between PACs would act as a useful motivation for the PACs themselves - providing further incentive for the groups' recruiting, fundraising and organisational activities within the party.
While a change of this nature will inevitably bring with it a number of challenges for the Party, on balance the benefits that it would bring in the form of a growing and re-energised membership would far outweigh the costs.

One More Thing

Finally, for the online PACs proposal to be truly effective, the Party needs to employ some organisers tasked exclusively with performing the old fashioned (and largely forgotten) functions of organising in the online environment. Organisers who are able to perform the Community Manager function that every Australian corporate with any kind of online presence now has as a matter of course. Organisers who are able help those setting up PACs with training about online coms and outreach. Organisers who are able to put promising PAC organisers in touch with the relevant Ministers and their staffs. Organisers who are able to identify the most active and promising members of PACs and try to encourage them to take the next step and join the Party proper. Organisers who are able to help educate PAC members about the policy making processes of the ALP and how they can participate in them and influence outcomes on their areas of policy focus.