With the release of the ALP National Review, there has been some commentary recently about how the Labor Party can improve its membership base and engagement with the community. I think it's critical that we do better, but we also shouldn't forget the good work that's currently occurring. So I spoke in parliament this week about some of that activity.
Constituency Statements, 22 February 2011
Australian Labor Party
There has been some public discussion recently about the role the Labor Party plays in the local community. This is an important debate, and I am glad we are having it. Australia’s oldest and greatest political party has a long tradition of being enmeshed in the local community. Sports clubs were a feature of party life in the 1930s, as were camps and excursions in the 1940s. In recent years the Labor Party has struggled to retain members. In this we are no different from hundreds of other mass membership organisations. As I documented in a book last year, Australians are less likely to join the Scouts and the RSL, to attend a religious service and to know their friends and their neighbours well.
While we should always aim to improve, we should be proud of what we have achieved. Today I want to speak about some of the community activities of the ACT branch of the ALP and how my own part of the party is working to make itself more engaged and accessible. Local Labor members are involved in community festivals across Canberra. In my own electorate we organised a stall at the recent Canberra Multicultural Festival; at last year’s Fairday, which is an annual event of the AIDS Action Council; and at the Belconnen Community Festival, where I learned the hard way that, when the local strongman offers you a chance for an arm wrestle, discretion is the better part of valour.
This coming weekend ACT Labor members will be at the Canberra Show. We will be there to share the community spirit, offering face painting and balloons, and speaking with ACT residents about how we can work together to build a better city and nation. In the neighbouring electorate of Canberra, I have it on good authority that Labor is an active presence at the Woden and Tuggeranong community festivals.
In our local sub-branches and policy committees people have worked hard to build an environment that encourages new members to actively participate in the discussions. Recognising that moving motions is not always the best way to canvass a complex issue, some have built a ‘general discussion’ component into their meetings. Others have made a habit of holding occasional meetings as a barbecue in a local park and encouraging members to bring along their friends and families. Another successful strategy is to invite regular guest speakers, including community leaders, businesspeople, union leaders and academics. ACT Labor also holds regular social events in Parliament House, including budget night drinks and policy forums. From its origins, Labor has been a regular presence in the community. I pay tribute to the many Labor Party members who continue that tradition in Canberra today.
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