Monthly Archives: June 2015

Labor Party National Conference – Preview

Don’t believe what you read in the mainstream media (e.g. or what’s on Facebook.


The Australian Labor Party’s triennial National Conference* is in Melbourne in a month – 24 to 26 July – and most analysis you’ll see is desperately shallow, aspirational, malicious, and/or tainted by faction, politics, or Rupert Murdoch’s evil.

The real dynamics of the Conference are much more nuanced than commentators are so far acknowledging.

It is true that all but about 1.5% of the 397 voting delegates are lined up with either the Right or the Left factions, and on raw numbers no group has majority support.  Solid numbers for each of the Left and Right sit somewhere in the 190s, but each are below the magic 199, and unaligned numbers are around four to six.


BUT it’s also true that on many issues the numbers float, hence “somewhere in the 190s”, and on key issues there is often a leakage of votes: the factions are pretty rigid at National Conference, but there is plenty of scope for votes to fragment.  For example, there are two Right factions in Queensland,** but the smaller of the two pride themselves on some degree of autonomy, and might be attracted to vote with the Left on several issues.  And there are at least two Lefts and two Rights in Victoria.

When you add in the unions who sometimes split from their usual factional colleagues when they see an issue as being of particular interest to their members, and the restiveness of some unions who are increasingly attracted to autonomy, there is plenty of scope for votes to be determined other than along strict factional lines.

So what does that mean for the Conference, for the ALP, and for Australia?

Both factions will see the imperative of unity and discipline, to maximise their influence: this will be more important than at past Conferences because of the tighter numbers, and impose greater strains on both Left and Right, over specific policy and Party reform issues, as they try to craft positions that will keep “their” votes united.

Numerical uncertainty will force negotiation and compromise – no one wants to go to a vote if they don’t know what the outcome will be.  That’s likely to mean very few real debates or fights on the Conference floor – consensus around difficult compromises, and tense behind-the-scenes negotiation is probably the order of the day.  While these deals will often involve the non-aligned delegates, their rejection of caucusing or voting collectively makes it difficult to get enough of them on board any particular proposition, so it is much more likely that the Left and the Right will be the most frequent deal-makers.

Those passionate about heart-felt issues will do everything they can to win over the handful of votes that might secure success, and will be furiously lobbying anyone who can command a handful of votes – which is mostly union officials, as union members at the Conference often vote in a bloc with their union’s leadership.

The Right’s past dominance of Conference has meant they sometimes dump a controversial issue on the agenda with little notice and no negotiation, and claim the Left are party-wreckers if they oppose whatever it is.

While that might be tried at this Conference, it’s already been discussed within the Left that no such manipulation should be accommodated, regardless of the proponent – that bad behaviour should not be rewarded, but punished.  On the other side of the ledger, Right faction leaders have been discussing how they ensure Conference isn’t seen as moving the Party leftwards.

This Conference is the last before the next Federal Election, so delegates will be aware that it needs to positively position Labor and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for the campaign – so taking procedural or policy risks may prove unwise.

Every delegate will have their favourite issues and passions, but the imperative to negotiate, and to demonstrate unity in the run-up to the next election, might well mean that very few of those passions and issues-based divisions are paraded publicly.  There will be at least one issue, and often more, in every chapter of the draft Platform where the differences between and within Left and Right will make it very hard for agreement to be struck.

Mark Butler, Shadow Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water is the newly elected National President, in a ballot that confirmed the Left’s appeal to the Party’s rank-and-file membership – Left candidates secured 67% of the vote.  He’ll be chairing the Conference, and can influence the agenda and process – his strength as a factional leader means he can to some degree force the factions to behave.

The draft Platform was considered by Labor’s National Executive on 19 June 2015 and should be released the week that this is published, and while the Rules report is likewise close to completion, many key participants are barely ready to list the key and potentially divisive Party reform or policy issues, let alone working out what can be done with them.

Of the ballots to be conducted at the Conference, the Left seems likely to increase their representation on the powerful National Executive, from nine out of twenty, to ten.



* This is the supreme governing body of the Australian Labor Party, and the decisions of the conference are binding on all members.  It elects the National Executive, and determines Rules and Platform.
** Some members of the “soft” Right, the smaller Labor Unity faction, will vigorously dispute this description, but historically they have been part of the Right in Labor’s Federal Parliamentary caucus and at National Conference.  Labor Unity, though, has developed a positive and stabilising relationship with The Left in Queensland, and recent history – a loooooong story – is likely to make them less comfortable siding with the national Right caucus on some issues.



The Talking Dead: What NOT To Say To Government

walking_dead_smallIf you don’t have a good understanding of Government and Opposition, it is easy to put your foot wrong and wreck your chances of a successful discussion, when you’re pressing the Government to support your project or policy proposal.

Here’s a few thoughts about the wrong thing:

  • Absolute Power – Not every Member of Parliament or public servant has the power to do everything (read more here) and if you ask for something they can’t do, then you look like a dill; for example, legislation may proscribe taking certain actions or making certain decisions – you need to know this before you ask;
  • Power Without Glory – The Doctrine of the Separation of Powers is a special and high level constraint on powers saying, amongst other things, that Ministers must not usurp the powers of the Parliament or the Courts; in Australia the Doctrine is imposed by convention*, whilst in other countries it doesn’t exist or is imposed by laws or their constitution;
  • Game of Thrones – Public servants and Members of Parliament always have limits on what they may do, imposed by where they are placed in their respective structures, will rarely be interested in interfering in something that is someone else’s role, and rarely have the capacity to do that easily;
  • CodeBreaker – All members of the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary have codes prescribing how they should work; only the most courageous** amongst them will contemplate stepping outside those codes, and only those prepared to risk prison will propose they should;
  • You’re Awful, Muriel – You must start a discussion by presuming your audience knows what they are doing and why, even when you know they are entirely wrong: nothing kills your chance of a productive dialogue quicker than implying or saying directly that a Member of Parliament or public servant doesn’t know what they are talking about, or has been incompetent; you have to find a different way: you must structure the discussion so they see your alternative as better***;
  • Lie To Me – Never tell a lie, never assert anything is a fact when there’s any doubt, and never leave out anything important; Telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is your only option, to ensure credibility; telling the truth means you must be very, very sure of your facts, and keep facts entirely separate from opinions;
  • Sin Of Omission – it’s worth repeating: never leave out anything important; recognise, too, that you are not necessarily the best judge of what’s important – if there is any chance your audience might see something as important, you must at least mention it in passing;
  • Censored Man with blue tape on his mouth. Isolated on white.Rush To Judgement – Opinions from non-experts are pretty worthless, so don’t offer them unless they are considered, evidence-based expert judgements;
  • Don’t Mention The War – Public servants usually operate impartially, and Members of Parliament are experts, so don’t talk about politics unless they invite it – and even then, exercise extreme caution that you tread on no toes;
  • The Ant Bully – When you threaten or bully, explicitly or implicitly, you’re saying you lack the facts, lack a good argument, lack ethical standards and maturity, can’t be trusted to stick to a deal, and want to be on the front page of tomorrow’s paper;
  • The Guru – keep your ego in check; if too much of what you say is about you, you’re not sufficiently focussed on how your proposal benefits the Government and the public, and you will be building resistance as you build perceptions of your ego;
  • The Killing Season – don’t denigrate your opponents or competitors, because you’ll always look like a bully or slimy, egotistical or selfish, and more interested in your own advancement than in good policy.


* One of the biggest flaws in Australian democracy is that this doctrine is not strongly mandated by State and Federal constitutions, which allows authoritarian Governments to accrue too much power at the expense of liberty and democracy.  But that discussion is for another time!

** Courageous in the “Yes, Prime Minister” sense:,_Prime_Minister)

*** Mike Smith is incredibly grateful to then-Northern Territory Labor Leader Maggie Hickey for teaching this valuable lesson!



How to Lobby – Part 1

medlyNeed something from Government?

Over the past year we’ve posted a series of articles about, inter alia, how lobbying works.  Here’s a compilation of the How To Lobby articles so far*, broken up into rough topics.


Why Lobby?

“Why Lobby?” Encore

Who Does It

Who’s a Lobbyist?

Who’s Your Best Lobbyist?

Reality Bites

Lobbying: The Dirty Truth

Myths & Legends of Lobbying

Dogbert Does Lobbying

Regulating Lobbyists: Hardly

Australian Lobbying: Credibility Fail


Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There!

Strategy & Delusion

DON’T Increase Awareness

The Basics

Lobbying: 6 Things to Know

Lobbyists Do WHAT?

Lobbying is Marketing


“Get Me The Premier!”

Who’s the Decision-Maker?

Understanding Policy Processes

Mysterious & Mysteriouser

“So When WILL They Decide???”

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

From Althaus, Bridgman and Davis

How’s Your Rat King?

The Uber-Rat-King

What IS A “Policy Instrument,” Anyway?

Sax vs. Cymbals

Getting Ready

Lobbying Labor’s Queensland Government: How?

The Meeting

How to Get That Meeting

When you meet the Minister …

What To Ask For

Persuading Government: What You Say

What Makes A Policy Good?

agressive-manHow To Ask For It

Connecting with Decision-Makers

Motivating & Persuading

Persuading Government: How To Say It


Crisis Management 101


What other topics would you like to see covered?


* There will be more!


Jointly Venturing: Wider Services & Capabilities

Ethical Consulting Services are thrilled to announce we’re now a partnership between former Queensland Government Minister Stephen Robertson and Government Relations specialist Mike Smith.

Stephen brings new specialties to the business – particularly inbound investment facilitation and project facilitation – beyond those Mike previously offered clients, so we’re expanding our scope:

Strategies that get you where you need to go …

  • Government relations & stakeholder relations,
  • Project facilitation,
  • Inbound investment assistance,
  • Governance,
  • Marketing, communications, and campaigns,

… and customised training in each.

And, the value we offer to clients is slightly different, too, now we are two:

We find the pitfalls and opportunities the others miss, giving you the best chance of success, because we’re:

  • ethical,
  • knowledgeable,
  • insightful, and
  • meticulous.

We’re both looking forward to the challenges and opportunities the new partnership will bring.

Our updated website here has more details of what we offer.

If you think we can help your business or organisation, give us a call or send us an email here.