CHRIS HAMMER: What change if any will result from this defection from Palmer United by Senator Glenn Lazarus? What does it mean you think?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH: The first thing I will say is that I thought it was inevitable.
There was a lot of fizz and bang about the launch of the party into national politics, but it actually takes a long time to establish a party, to have the discipline. Where is the core ideology to tie them all together? It just wasn’t there. So as soon as real challenges come along people peel off and that is what we’ve seen over the last 12 months. I think it will add to uncertainty with legislation coming through the Senate. That said, I think Glenn Lazarus has shown himself to be a decent human being. He has shown himself as someone who is willing to stand up for things he believes in. There are a lot of core beliefs that he has that we share in the Labor Party. I think he will continue to do a good job and be a good voice for reason and for Queensland in the Senate. But I think that this big thing called the Palmer United Party is slowly but surely dissipating.
HAMMER: Do you think after the next election it won’t be a force? We’ll have some of the independent Senators left, but that will be it?
JONES: I think that is a matter that is in Clive’s hands himself. As I’ve said it takes a long time to establish a political party and to get the discipline, the rules, the way of operating in place. It took Labor well over a decade to get that happen. The Liberal Party it took them the best part of 50 years to make that happen. It’s not like you can get a well-heeled, energetic, individual bank rolling something and ensure that you will be a political force. It doesn’t happen that way. When you get people elected to Parliament, whatever platform they stood on, they will have challenges thrown up to them and this has occurred. Unless there is a core set of values or ideology that holds people together - that dictates the way they vote on things - they will fall apart and that is exactly what has happened with PUP.
HAMMER: In the past you’ve been a senior co-ordinator of the Left in the Labor Party, I wonder what you think of former PM Kevin Rudd’s calls this week for a full democratisation of the Labor Party?
JONES: Yes I support it. I think if we learn anything out of the last twelve or 18 months, the membership participation in the ballot for our leader energised the party at exactly the time when we needed it. We had literally thousands of members joining the party and getting involved in the party, because for the first time in our history they got a say in who our parliamentary leader was. New South Wales has followed suit. I think it’s been a good move, at a time when everybody thought that the Labor Party was going to fall apart after let’s face it a pretty tough election defeat we have come together. It has provided Bill Shorten with the stability and unity he needs and it allows us to focus on the rotten job that the Abbott Government is doing and to get the policies in place that we need to be a competitive force at the next election. So I support what Kevin has said, I support the push for greater democratisation in the party.
HAMMER: What does it mean though for democratisation? Does it mean that caucus doesn’t get a say in the leadership at all? That it is all up to the party’s rank and file?
JONES: Look caucus will always have to have a say. I think that the model we’ve got at the moment, it probably needs some tweaking around the edges but it’s a good model. You still need to have an important voice for the parliamentary part of the party for who the parliamentary leader is and who the senior members of the team are. But we can’t unscramble the egg. Members have got a taste for what participation and democracy feels like and they don’t want to go backwards. There is not one force within the party who is going to be able to unscramble that and I think that’s a good thing.
JOURNALIST: So what do you make then of the TWU’s Tony Sheldon who…at the moment it’s half caucus and half rank and file. He is saying one third the trade unions, one third the caucus, and one third the rank and file. Is that even a possibility do you think?
JONES: Look Tony is an important leader in the party but on this one I don’t agree with him. I think that unions play a critical part in the Labor Party and I come from a group that wants to ensure that we continue to have a very close and important institutional relationship with the union movement. But I have a problem with saying that we should hand over to a very small number of people a large role in determining who our elected representative are. I think it would be much better if we are encouraging unions to get their members involved and active within the party and to have a direct vote. The concern I have is that if we don’t do it that way and we just provide a small number of union officials with that role in pre-selection ballots for Senator or lower house Members it takes away the incentive for rank and file union members getting involved in the party and getting active.
HAMMER: If you are talking about democratisation of the party - that would also involve the deciding of which delegates go to national conference or state conferences. Is that an area that needs reform?
JONES: Look I think that’s an area that we need to continue to look at. Some unions have direct elections for their conference delegations and others don’t. I guess I err in favour of letting unions determine those sorts of arrangements, but I think that the same thing applies as within the party – the more democracy and that sort of thing the better.
HAMMER: Should there be more delegates from branches and less from unions?
JONES: That is something that we continually review. Over the last fifty years we’ve changed that formula and there is a lively debate occurring in NSW about that formula at the moment. I guess it depends what the role of the national conference and the state conference is. I strongly support the arrangements that we’ve got in place with the national conference where we have increased the number of rank and file participations from federal electoral councils. I think that is the right way to go and we should see more of that.
HAMMER: I have seen speculation that for the first time since the early 1980’s that the Right’s dominance of the national conference won’t happen this time. That it indeed might be more balanced or even with a left majority. How do you read the numbers as they fall?
JONES: Look I think these things wax and wane over the years. I think that the descriptors of Left and Right don’t always explain that much about the way people approach issues on the floor of the conference. For some people their state affiliation for example is more important than whether they would describe themselves as having a Left tendency or a Right tendency within the party. Of course many people come to those conference unaligned. I think that on the big debates these things aren’t determined by old style factional allegiances but rather by the party interest and the national interest. We’ve had some really interesting debates that I’ve been heavily involved in over the years whether it be around things like uranium or marriage equality where the outcomes on those things have had nothing to do with people’s factional alignment. Although it is true that people from one group or another are more maybe more likely to support one particular proposition. But we’ve always drawn support or lost support from across the party on those big debates.
HAMMER: So that trend towards less factional discipline, more fluid voting patterns – is that a trend that you will see continue at this year’s conference?
JONES: I think so, and I think that’s a good thing for the debate. I make no bones about where I sit, but there is one thing that I will always be determined to do and that is to put the interests of the party and the nation ahead of any individual grouping within the party. I think it is a good thing that people of a similar view or a similar mindset get together and kick ideas around and find ways of pushing those ideas forward. That should be what is at the fore, not the interests of backroom machinations and that sort of thing. What we have always got to be focussed on at all of our conferences and all of our forums within the party is what is the party’s interest and what is the nation’s interest. How can we get the sort of progressive policy which has been the hallmark of Labor for over 100 years and what people are looking for in a Labor government?
HAMMER: Ok on to a final topic, we’ve seen tragic events in Iraq. This young Australian jihadist, Jake Belardi, apparently involved in a suicide bombing. What can the Government do, what can our society do to prevent these young people going off to fight for the so-called Islamic State?
JONES: Look I know nothing more than what I’ve read in the newspapers and listened to on the radio over the last 48 hours; it’s a compounding series of tragedies. Here’s a young bloke who has lost his parents, or at least his mother, there is definitely some bad family things…he’s been converted and he has been dragged down a path which has led to personal but also national and international tragedy. It’s a terrible thing. The things we can do, I mean I support most of the directions that the Government has gone in terms of national security arrangements. But wrapping around that we also need to make sure at a community or a societal level that we are doing all we can to ensure that individuals don’t fall through the cracks. To ensure that someone’s personal crisis doesn’t turn into someone becoming radicalised and turning into an international terrorist.