A case for reforming the election of Labor leaders

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Labor members are able to directly elect the Federal President, and through representative delegates at conferences both rank-and-file members and union affiliates are able to elect State Labor Presidents.

The most important leadership position, that of Parliamentary Labor Leader, is solely the preserve of Members of Parliament. This state of affairs had led to leadership instability over last two decades.

Labor must reform and re-engage with its roots in participatory democracy. Australian Labor must consider expanding the pool of people involved in the selection of Parliamentary Leader, at both State and Federal levels.

The UK Labour Party

The UK Labour Party elects its Parliamentary Leader at its regular Party Conferences through a ballot of rank-and-file members, affiliated organisations (unions, socialist groups, etc) and Parliamentarians (including Members of the European Parliament). UK Labour allows the members of unions (and other affiliates) to participate in the vote for Leader

This election gives the Leader great legitimacy within the Party, and allows them to claim support not just of MPs but of the entire Party. Furthermore, it dilutes the influence of powerful sectional interests, ensuring that the Leader has widespread support.

The UK Labour leadership process also ensures greater leadership stability during times of potential crisis, ensuring that the leadership of the Party can see through controversial reforms. This makes the leadership less vulnerable to the media noise machine, and the herd mentality of the Canberra Press Gallery.

An Australian Labor Model Based on UK Labour

Labor has already embraced direct election of one of the most senior positions within the Party – that of Federal President. The great strength of Labor is that it bridges political, industrial and community.

Labor at a Federal level should reform its rules to expand the franchise of voters in election of Federal Parliamentary Leader.


Rank-and-file members, affiliated unions and Members of Parliament must all participate in the election of Parliamentary Leader. The Leader and Deputy Leader must be elected from the pool of Labor Members of Parliament. Elections should take place at National Conference.


Candidates must be nominated by a set proportion of MPs (such as 12.5 percent as in UK Labour). Where there is no vacancy ( that is, in the case of a challenge), nominees must receive a higher proportion of nominators (such as 20 percent).


Voting should take place consecutively in three sections. The votes of each group would be aggregated as a percentage and then given a weighting of a third each.

  1. Members of Parliament: Each MP is entitled to one vote.
  2. Rank-and-file members: Each Labor member is entitled to one vote.
  3. Affiliated unions: Either: each union member of an affiliated union is entitled to one vote, provided that they are not a member of another political party; Or: each accredited State Conference delegate from an affiliated union is entitled to one vote.

The candidate who reaches more than half the total vote is elected. Preferential voting would be used to allow for elimination of candidates in the case of no candidate receiving half the votes.

When Labor is in Government, and the Leader is Prime Minister, a vote should only be held if requested by a majority of delegates to the National Conference. When in opposition, election of Leader should take place every National Conference.

6 responses to “A case for reforming the election of Labor leaders”

  1. Andos Avatar

    Sounds like a plan. Are you going to move the necessary constitutional amendments at the next national conference?

  2. Alexander White Avatar

    I suppose I should start to draft the necessary amendments…

  3. Florence Howarth Avatar
    Florence Howarth

    Maybe the position of party leaders should be voted in for a limited period. The leadership vote should occur on a yearly basis.

    1. alexjpwhite Avatar

      Currently, National Conference only occurs every 2 years or so. I think there's a lot to be said for stability and continuity of leadership, so I think annual elections for the leader is too much. However, at every national conference there should be the opportunity for a "spill" – so to speak – although it would need the requisite number of nominations, etc, as I laid out.

  4. Nick Brain Avatar
    Nick Brain

    Mr White I am a long standing ALP member from Jagajaga. I agree we should incorporate a more participatory based model in our election of leaders, preferably not Marxist ones like the UK example.

    Whilst we are at it we should adopt a primaries style local pre-selection process and only permit POSE positions to be determined by state conf delegates elected by the party members and union affliates. It would permit a more consultative process with electorates who would in theory have a greater say in which candidate they want to represent them. Community orientated and known people would be supported as a result.

    1. Alexander White Avatar

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for the comment. I think the leadership stability of the UK Labour Party over the last 15 years or so is something Labor in Australia should try to emulate. Their system works for a party of hundreds of thousands of members and millions of union members.

      Given the history of UK Labour, I'm not sure what you mean by "Marxist" model…