Reviewing Labor’s Internal Reviews 1966-2010: ‘Looking forward, looking backwards’

Jo Coghlan, Scott Denton

Abstract


Since 1966, and usually while in Opposition, the Australia Labor Party (ALP) has engaged in internal reviews. Often led by a former parliamentary leader, they seek to find solutions to crushing election defeats or to the electoral discontent the Party finds itself in. Driven by the pragmatic need to be in government (which according to Roberto Michels is the aim of every mass political party1), Labor’s reviews drew on the language of renewal, reform, democratisation and modernisation to posit a soon return to government. Rarely did the enumerable recommendations lead to genuine reform, particularly when it came to membership participation. Generally, the outcomes were focused on public perceptions that the Party had heeded the message from disgruntled voters, had changed its ways (policy, leadership or both), had reformed and was thus again worthy again of electoral support. With perhaps the exception of the first national review held in 1966, at no point do Labor Party reviews genuinely engage in internal reforms that would dismantle the oligarchy: often the key concern expressed in Labor Party member submissions to the ongoing but benign internal reviews.


Keywords


Australian Labor Party, reform, decentralisation, modernisation, pragmatism

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