By Anthony Albanese
Democratisation of the ALP is one of Rudd’s greatest reforms, and still a work in progress.
One of the great things about the Australian Labor Party is its endurance.
We’ve got a long history, mainly because we are always rejuvenating, constantly looking ahead for the next progressive reform to improve the lives of Australians.
So even as one era ends with the resignation of my friend Kevin Rudd, those of us he leaves behind are already imagining a better future, not just for our nation, but for our political party.
In the Parliament on Wednesday night, I was deeply moved as MPs on both sides of the House put aside partisanship to wish Kevin, Therese and their family well and, in a spirit of generosity, recognise his extraordinary political legacy.
There was the apology to the stolen generations; the protection of Australian jobs during the global financial crisis; ratification of the Kyoto agreement; the biggest increase in the pension on record; and the National Broadband Network, to name just a few.
These were great reforms.
However, I am convinced that one of Kevin Rudd’s greatest reforms is still a work in progress – the democratisation of the Australian Labor Party.
If there is one conclusion people reach as they ponder the ups and downs of Kevin’s career, I hope it is that Labor should continue to broaden its decision-making base to include rank-and-file members.
The first of Kevin’s democracy reforms – giving party members a vote in the recent ballot for the federal Labor Party membership – was a stunning success and opened a window to a world of possibility.
I don’t think anyone in the party could have predicted the extraordinary response when party members were asked to choose between myself and Bill Shorten as Labor’s new leader.
More than 30,000 party members voted.
As the postal ballots were opened, party officials were stunned to discover that many members had included $20 and $50 notes with their ballot papers – unsolicited donations by activists delighted about their opportunity to participate and thirsty for more involvement.
What’s more, people outside the Labor Party also engaged with the contest and more than 4500 were so motivated by the exercise that they joined our party.
These figures unambiguously demonstrate a pool of previously untapped political enthusiasm which, if further exploited, can only enhance Labor’s future prospects.
As Kevin said in his final speech on Wednesday, the leadership ballot of 2013 should be a beginning, not an end.
In a world where social media allows citizens to directly participate in all kinds of debates and activities, citizens demand greater levels of participation in everything they do.
Members of political parties are no different.
During the leadership ballot, Bill Shorten and I directly engaged with thousands of party members through tele-town halls and social media.
Political parties that embrace this demand for participation will profit in the future because they will be more deeply rooted within the mainstream of community opinion.
Those that keep their decision-making locked in the political backrooms of the past will fall behind.
So as Kevin Rudd leaves the Parliament after making an immense contribution to the life of our nation, the Labor Party can best serve our own interests by heeding his calls for greater democratic reforms.
As a starting point, I believe that branch members should directly elect delegates to Labor’s next national conference in 2015.
A trial of the holding of some preselections where members of the community can have an input into selecting our candidates would be a logical further step.
Kevin Rudd has argued for democratic reforms and increasing community engagement for a long time.
His broad community links account for his excellent and very authentic connection with the concerns of average Australians.
There’s a lesson here for the ALP – we need to talk less of ourselves and focus outwards – to the community we seek to represent.