The Australian Labor Party often gets a bad rap when it comes to internal democracy, words like “faceless men” are used so often they become meaningless. I’ve been in Australia for less than two months however, and there are some aspects of ALP internal democracy that I think we could learn from in New Zealand.
The one that has really surprised me has been the party’s returning officers. From what I can tell (and I might be wrong, their rules are just as Byzantine as those in NZ), each party branch, from an electorate level right up to the federal executive, has to have a returning officer as a special officer – separate to the rest of the executive. They tend to be long-standing esteemed and very neutral party members. This is quite unlike New Zealand where the returning officer is the relevant secretary, or in the case of national-level elections, such as the leadership, the General Secretary. Given political positions, such as the General Secretary, are inherently going to have skin in the game – removing them from this vitally important role seems like a no-brainer.
As I said, I have no idea how they go about appointing their returning officers, but from what I can tell both sides of the factional divide in Australia think that it is one of the better parts of their system.