Labor Party defies gloom as membership soars

Labor Party defies gloom as membership soars

Dec. 8, 2012, 3 a.m.

THE recent soul searching about reforming NSW Labor in light of the corruption hearings involving former ministers Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald has at least one bright side: membership is up.

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The general secretary, Sam Dastyari, said this week that in the past year the number of financial members had jumped by about 30 per cent. Who on earth is choosing to join Labor at a time when its stocks are at an all-time low? The party won’t give precise details, but says official figures show since last November, 4013 have signed up.

With a median age of 37, they are hardly the next generation, but Labor says about 65 per cent live in its target seats in west and south-western Sydney, the central coast, the Hunter and regional and rural NSW.

Membership is now at about 16,000 compared with an all-time low of about 12,000 shortly after the party’s 2011 election rout.

The NSW branch alone accounted for more than half of the new memberships called for last year by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who set a target of 8000 across all states and territories by the end of this year.

The surge is being credited to innovative recruitment campaigns, including challenging existing members to sign up new members who could join for $5 each and the chance to win dinner with the former prime minister Bob Hawke. ”Members are joining the Labor Party at rates unseen since Gough Whitlam was prime minister and it’s because of [federal Opposition Leader] Tony Abbott,” Mr Dastyari said.

But the former state Labor minister Rodney Cavalier questioned the quality of the new memberships.

”Most of the members of the Labor Party are no more than pixels on a computer print-out,” Mr Cavalier said. ”They do not do work of any kind in the Labor party”. Mr Cavalier described the $5 membership drive as ”a give-away” and said Labor’s challenge was to convince members to get involved in the party.

It had been unable to do this due to the centralisation of power in head office.

”If the Labor Party was a physical entity like a bowling club, you would drive around NSW and find bowling greens full of divots and weeds,” he said.

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Mr Dastyari disputed this, saying the party had just completed a ballot in which 4000 members voted to select representatives to a national policy forum.

”Labor Party members are engaged and are getting more engaged as we head towards the federal election,” he said.

The director of the NSW Liberal party, Mark Neeham, said there was always a need to question what Labor’s claims.

”They also said there would be no carbon tax and promised a budget surplus this financial year,” he said.

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