Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History

Enduring Labor Values? A Report of the 43rd ALP National Conference, Sydney, 29-31 January 2004

Labour History: A Journal of Labour and Social History (2004), 86, (1), 191–198.


CONFERENCE REPORT Enduring Labor Values? a Report of the 43rd ALP I National Conference, Sydney, 29-31 January 2004 I Mark Hearn The first indication that this national Australian Labor Party (ALP) conference was going to be a little different from its 42 predecessors was not so much the impact of the larger number of delegates attending the expanded gathering - up from 190 delegates to 400 as they sluggishly milled to their seats in the vast semi-circle cavern of the Darling Harbour convention centre - as the sight of no less than three national presidents, two vice-presidents and the national secretary cosily pressed at a small table at the left of the stage, impatient to be getting on. The trio of president and vice-presidents, elected by direct rank-and-file vote in November 2003 as part of Labor's initiatives to increase rank-and-file participation, would rotate the chairing of sessions throughout each day of the conference. The old trouper, Barry Jones, sat with his arms folded across a generous waist; he might have been waiting for the next pick-a-box question. Warren Mundine blinked a little self-consciously and adjusted his spectacles. Carmen Lawrence primly sat to attention, probably collecting her thoughts for her opening presidential address. Labor's young national secretary, Tim Gartrell, was all technology and restless energy, uncertainly stabbing an index finger into the keyboard of his laptop and frowning at the screen while chattering into his mobile. They appeared somewhat adrift in their corner of the sweeping stage. The official table did not directly face the delegates but confronted a speaker's lectern poised away at the far right. Beneath the waiting microphone a discrete sign declared the conference theme, 'opportunity for all'. Carmen Lawrence was preceded to the lectern by Allen Madden, a representative from the Sydney Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, who welcomed the delegates to Gadigal country and observed that his grandfather had been denied the vote. In contrast to this troubling and pointed reminder of exclusion Carmen Lawrence was able to welcome vice-president, Warren Mundine, who will take his turn as (the first indigenous) ALP president in 2006. Labor's first woman president urged delegates to put an end to the Howard years. Driven by humane and progressive values, Labor, Lawrence said, had gathered to plan the building of a fair and just society. 'Ours is a more unequal society now than at any other time since federation', Lawrence lamented. Then the lights dimmed and images of a young boy, growing to youth, university graduation and family life began to pulse on the overhead screens to the beat of INXS's New Sensation. The Federal Leader's Address Mark Latham descended the long stairs towards the podium, through the cheering crowd of delegates and observers, after quietly emerging from a passageway up in the gods, the hesitant patter of applause growing to a sustained burst as people 191

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Author details

Hearn, Mark

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