Why I publicly supported Rudd
Over the last week a number of politicians have attacked me for my public support for Kevin Rudd.
Their main point seemed to be that it was none of my business to become involved in a caucus battle. Well I beg to differ. First, I've been a member of the ALP since 1978. Second, I have worked on more than 30 state, territory and federal campaigns for the ALP - most of them successful. I believe it is every party member's business and every one of them should have their say.
Australia is one of the few leading democracies where our leaders are elected exclusively by the caucus - effectively allowing them to discount party members' views and public opinion.
Maybe that's why we got the result on Monday where Rudd received about 30% of the caucus vote, while Gillard received about 30% of public support as preferred Prime Minister according to Newspoll. When there is such a massive disconnection between the caucus vote and public opinion, anyone who wants to see Labor win the next election has a right - even a duty to be heard.
In most leading democracies there would be a riot if politicians tried to shut down criticism by a rank and file member of their Party. This is because they allow ordinary members of the Party to vote in leadership ballots. In fact non-MPs are encouraged to get involved - that's how parties grow.
In Britain the Labour Party and the Conservatives give rank and file branch members a vote in leadership tussles. Major European democracies, such as France and Italy, have primaries where anyone is entitled to vote for their leader and they do, in their millions.
Then there is the United States where the Republicans are going through a very public process of selecting their Presidential candidate. Imagine what would happen there if a leadership candidate told a party supporter to "get back in your box"?
The Canadian equivalent of the ALP, the New Democratic Party (NDP), provides the most compelling argument for not leaving the selection of leaders exclusively to elected members. In 2002 the NDP was a marginal force in Canadian politics with just 13 members in the national Parliament. When a Conservative Government banned all corporate and union donations the NDP made radical changes to its structures, including the direct election of the Parliamentary Leader by all Party members. The upshot was the election of Jack Layton, a Leader who at the time was not even a member of Parliament. Layton won his seat and went on to transform his Party. Today the NDP has 130 members of Parliament and has replaced the Liberals as the official Canadian Opposition. It has a membership approaching 100,000. Compare that to the dwindling membership of our major parties.
Sadly, Jack Layton died earlier this year and the Party set about replacing him - via a broad based and vigorous election campaign involving every person who pays their membership dues.
I supported Kevin Rudd for a number of reasons. First and foremost because he was the best person to lead the ALP to victory at the next election and thereby defend Labor's achievements in government since 2007. I believe that anyone who is committed to the Labor Party, as I am, has a duty to point this out.
I worked closely with Julia Gillard to convince the Independents to support a Labor government. So, no one can seriously question my commitment to the ALP. My vocal support and active involvement in its debates will continue despite not being an elected representative. And, along the way, I intend ruffling a few feathers now and then, if I think that's going to improve our prospects of winning the next election.
Now however, as everyone agrees, it's time to heal the wounds from the recent scrap. The Labor Party is 121 years old. It's a scarred old warrior and has recovered from much bigger fights than this. But it must never allow itself to become disconnected from the Australian electorate. It's as simple and as complex as that.