On Saturday 15 October, delegates to the NSW Labor Conference will be witnessing history. The address to our Conference by a sitting Prime Minister is rare enough.
But to be addressed by a sitting Prime Minister that formerly led our faction on the conference floor is unprecedented.
In many ways, the evolution of Anthony Albanese represents the evolution of our faction. The Prime Minister started his political journey on the very conference floor where he will address us as Prime Minister. He spent his early political years fighting to shape the Labor Party as an organisation that reflected our values.
For the nearly seven decades since the existence of the Socialist Left faction, we have acted as a moral conscience for the Labor Party. We have held power to account. We have fought against attempts to undermine fundamental Labor values. We have waged this struggle against forces whose dominant ethos has been to do “whatever it takes” to seize, hold and exercise power.
But we are also so much more than that. At the recent federal election, we proved that we aren’t just a faction that exists to hold internal Labor power to account. We have shown we can fundamentally change the country. We proved that our values are more in touch with the values of the majority of Australians than the NSW Right has ever been willing to concede.
So often, our group is criticised as a minority group of protest. We get a lot of lecturing from the other side of Conference floor about how we don’t know how to win. But we won an election with a clear left-wing agenda, discipline and an intense focus on grassroots campaigning.
Over the last three years, it didn’t always feel like it could be this way. In August 2019, as I sat through day after day of the Operation Aero proceedings, an ICAC investigation into a scheme by the NSW Labor Party to circumvent NSW electoral laws, I felt despondent about our ability to bounce back. Like many party members, I felt betrayed and angry that the NSW Head Office had found itself engulfed in scandal yet again.
But rather than take a back seat and argue that we told you so, our group stepped up. We demanded serious reform of the party to make it more accountable to members and more capable of living up to our ambition.
Together, we have worked to make the NSW Head Office more effective, more fit for purpose and more accountable. Turning the NSW Branch around from complete organisational failure in 2019 to a Federal Labor victory just three years later was only possible because of our activism. The joint is far from perfect but we have done a pretty decent job of focussing the organisation on Labor’s core purpose.
We made it possible and now we get to be part of reshaping the nation. The early months of the Albanese Government are proof enough that this effort was worthwhile.
We have legislated a minimum emissions reduction target. We are on the path to constitutional recognition of a First Nations voice to parliament. We have re-engaged with our Pacific neighbours in a more respectful way. We brought the Nadesalingam family home to Biloela. We have brought together union, business and government leaders in a National Jobs Summit to reaffirm our commitment to economic reform that works in the interest of working people.
Right now, we are on the cusp of winning state government after 12 years in opposition. We also have a chance to turn this state around.
We can stop the privatisation, end the wage cap, build trains locally, fix our critically under-resourced hospital system and give our kids a better education.
But just like we were required to do a few months ago, this requires the discipline to look past our narrow interests and work towards a broad Labor interest.
Fundamentally, we all believe in a single purpose. A progressive Labor party capable of forming government to deliver enduring change.
This Conference is the first in person conference we have had since 2018. On Saturday morning, we will get to witness the transition of Anthony Albanese from the bloke who turned up to throw spears for the minority faction at conference to the person that will address the conference as the highest office holder in the country. We would never have dreamed of that 30 years ago.
I’m excited by it. I’m excited by how much more we can achieve. And I’m excited to do that with the most important group in the Labor Party.
George Simon is the Assistant General Secretary of NSW Labor.