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Saving DEMOCRACY within the Labour Movement

By Callen Sorensen Karklis

For those that know, me know I’ve been an occasional co–host on Workers Power 4ZZZ since October last year but I’ve had an extensive history working in retail, fast food, and media advertising which led me to becoming heavily involved in unionism and workers’ rights since my late teens.

I’m a Quandamooka Nunukul Ngugi man originally from North Stradbroke Island (Minjerribah). Sure, I have some Celtic, Anglo, Scandinavian, German, Spanish, and Baltic heritage, but I come from a family of self-made immigrants as well. To my family, democracy is important because it has provided them a better life.

On democracy, Demos, meaning people along with the word kratos meaning rule (demoskratos) may have its origins stem from Ancient Greece but as we know today it’s facing turbulent times in uncertain times nowadays. Is it something we sometimes take for granted?

I learnt early in life the hard work of workers from my family who settled here with First Australians. The Labour movement was founded as a dream to make a better life for people.

Sadly, today these days the Labour movement and its political wing the Australian Labor Party is at a crossroads and crisis. The movement, I have to say, is dying. I was heavily involved in Labor branch executive roles in the Redlands during the Newman era, Young Labor, the Indigenous committee for Treaty, Labor Enabled, the Labor Environmental Action Network, student unionism as well as the Labor Left and Old Guard Unity blocs for several years campaigning for candidates from all walks of life for a good 12 years.

Over time I became independent of Labor factions as of 2017. I know firsthand what is wrong! After pushing for party reform in Local Labor as Secretary, I observed how too many factional operatives and union bureaucrats tend to treat the movement as their own vampiric blood bank being lazy without organizing grassroots campaigns and bolstering membership numbers and retaining them as well as inspiring them with issues that resonate.

Building up their budgets from superannuation and not enough in actual workers struggles is like putting a band aid on a knife wound; they’re just not stitching it and dressing it.

The way of doing things in the Labour movement and Labor party is creating a cancerous environment of echo chambers for career ladder delusional with a lack of life experience, with more bureaucrats and ministerial staff becoming candidates or union secretaries while back in the day a train driver could make it to the top job, or people from the actual shop floors with vision and actual connection to their communities.

Labor was a dream to guide the people for a fair go – not fat cats and pigs at the trough. There’s a reason why despite Labor winning a majority government federally in Qld out of 30 seats Labor only held 5 of its 6 seats with the Greens gaining 3 seats, 1 off Labor in Griffith and others from the LNP while the LNP retained its 21 out of 23 seats.

The ALP for a better word lacks democracy, particularly in the Qld branch of the ALP for everyday rank and file. The Qld Premier’s office and admin rulings made by faceless so and so’s is proof enough of this. This is why we see QLD Labor under this premier refuse to compulsory preferential voting for local government (shooting any progressive in the foot regardless their politics on the Left) in fear of backlash from property developers, youth crime reform becoming more trigger focused then solution focused when most young people can’t afford housing and act out, cost of living not taken seriously with an particularly increasing useless RBA Governor who things people should move back in with their parents and live in tents.

Younger people today are worse off with huge HECs, and most can’t find a Dr with weeks – months’ worth of waiting lists nowadays. A heinous individual who should be sacked forth with. Most people I know these days are really struggling and its really affecting everybody’s mood and mental health even if you’re working and keeping above high water, we’re all slowly sinking as more and more pressures mount on everyday needs, and not just luxuries anymore.

We need a fairer media landscape, fairer health, and education system. And a fairer housing system as QLD human’s right act lacks including housing as a human right when it’s covered under the universal declaration of human rights but not local legislation. It’s sad that while there were some good intentions with the accords in the 1980s reform of the Hawke/Keating era to improve living standards it seen a lot of damage done with the cancer of neoliberalism, causing much of the cost-of-living crisis we now face since the pandemic, and tensions overseas.

If the GFC taught us anything 14-15 years ago it’s that the housing market is always vulnerable as well as all other financial markets. Neoliberalism is simply not working, and it was always designed to be exploited by forces on the conservative side and weak-minded fools on either side to pursue short-term interests in greed against the odds of workers and the environment. This is why blue-collar people have turned to fascist illusionist reactionaries or more radical options because they know the system is failing them. You don’t need to read Professor Cameron Murrays book Game of Mates to know it! When anybody in power – be it in unions or political parties or government – stays in power too long it becomes a poison chalice. Absolute power does corrupt most absolutely. Some in power develop God complexes and delusions of grandeur.

For unions to be relevant again as the most Australians no longer belong to a union anymore or know the importance or relevance of it until something truly cooked happens at work. They must democratise and go back to the grassroots and enable some levers and actions for their members to agree to improved pay conditions, rights, and strike options open to them.

While there are good people among the bad eggs, I saw plenty of hard-working reformers who’ve achieved good things among the ranks of Labor LEAN pushing hard for renewable targets, and environmental protections, Fabians fighting to see more grassroots discussions on policy, as well Local Labor, local government reformers among. Prime Minister Albo is probably a good bloke, but he’s surrounded by too many yes people who fail to grasp the reality of tough times and are afraid to act in the best interest of the nation.

More must be done on issues! For me personally as an Indigenous person I saw too much racism, homophobia, sexism, and harassment as well as careerism over convictions that turned me off factionalism and gravitated me towards reform for everyday the branch rank and file and most importantly the wider community who may not otherwise vote Labor but vote for issues that matter to them!

The reason why the No campaign on the current Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum sadly gaining traction isn’t necessarily because everyone’s a racist or conservative as some would think: it’s also because the messaging isn’t cutting through enough as most people are struggling to put bread and food on the table for themselves now as supermarket giants are taking us for a ride. It isn’t being explained well in the backdrop of an unfolding recession. As First Nations grassroots groups also feel isolated by a system that perpetually fails them in living standards as a constant revolving door. I support the Voice but others in the community who are yet to be convinced aren’t thinking about it on an empty stomach while looking for a home to live in. The rental crisis unfolding is systemic of that.

On the Toondah Harbor PDA there’s huge issues where developers in with the legacy of Joh Bjelke Petersens National Party’s vision with the old minister for everything Russ Hinze to develop a new Gold Coast in Cleveland have reared their ugly head again since the dying days of the Newman LNP government. Under previous Labor governments from 1989–2012 Labor promised to protect Ramsar, even former Joh Attorney General behind the Fitzgerald Inquiry supported protecting the area after mounting community pressures!

Unfortunately, the 3 wise monkeys thinking behind Labor representatives moving against community wishes in Don Brown MP for Capalaba, Kim Richards MP for Redlands, and Tracey Huges Cr for division 8 in Redlands has seen them sell out Labor’s convictions for a property deal made by the likes of Walker Corp doing a Gordon Gecko like move to rip off a community with a property development that will only create long-term socio economic issues, push up rates to maintain on flooding mudflats, and destroy natural habitat.

This amid an unfolding recession underway no doubt imminent. This is why I can no longer support the Australian Labor Party. Forthwith I resign. Perhaps later in life there’s a place for me in the Labour movement when I’m older and wiser. But for me I voted for a TEAL in my local area in the last state election and can’t endorse any Labor candidate that will vote to see the Toondah wetlands, the lands and wetlands of my ancestors developed.

This is why I’ve joined the Qld Greens. I know some will be disappointed by this, but others are happy and excited. The Greens seem to be the only option in my state seat in Oodgeroo next year to vote for in way of policy in saving Toondah unless another TEAL runs again. I happily supported Claire Richardson for Oodgeroo in the 2020 election. Yes, Labor LEAN did great things internally in Labor in encouraging Tanya Plibersek to stop Toondah but many of the rouge Labor MPs still support it and even if Plibersek rolls it. The damage is done. Being a Quandamooka Aboriginal man fighting to protect my country while always being ignored even when in positions in the party reflected how racist attitudes still are hard to overcome for some.

Choosing between my loyalty to the ALP and the wishes of my peoples and heritage of protecting country as an Indigenous was the one of the hardest decisions of my life. And many wouldn’t know what that feels like. Honestly, the Greens seem to be more truly representative and understanding of grassroots change now then Labor has been for a while.

If activists want to winge and whine about who’s poaching who and not doing enough on particular issues don’t be lazy about it and get out do something about it. Right now, the Qld government is on track to losing the 2024 Qld State Election because it isn’t doing enough for the working and middle-classes and the vulnerable! 1000 members leaving Qld Labor is evidence of that since the 2022–2023 despite a federal election win, Qld saw no seats gained but lost 1 to the Greens and only just retained its seats with many older traditional Labor areas voting in troves to the LNP. We could very much see the rise of the LNP being in government in QLD for several terms despite Labor doing well federally as more people become desperate in tough economic times.

The grassroots fight to reform the ALP under Whitlam to truly change Australia for good and likewise under people who saw Goss rise to power in the 1980s against the corruption of then Qld being a backwards police state oversaw huge change in Qld, no doubt about it. But that was done so because organisations and structures in place had to become democratic! If Labor did so it would be better off.

The failure of the major parties to become more democratic in recent decades has seen a turnout for people to vote for Independents, Teals, Greens on the Left and more extreme options on the right with the likes of Hansonism resurging in some areas of the country. Much is the case of Trump in the US, Brexit in the UK and everywhere else where democracy is struggling in the world today.

The soul of the working people of Australia needs to find purpose again. The way back to that dream for a better of Australia becoming democratic and a place for the fair go. I was inspired by Rudds apology to the Stolen Generations and stances on social services for the many and Albos’ journey from public housing to lodge while fighting for battlers, but in recent days I’ve found myself questioning the relevance of the Labour movement in a changing environment where it refuses to change.

The ALP is facing an identity crisis. Like somebody with a problem refusing to admit a problem. Perhaps it needs intervention as my generation steps forward and matures with time? Buckle up because if we don’t get used to authoritarian regimes or the modern day fall of Rome with barbarians at the gates and blood on the streets. It won’t take much for people to flip gradually over time. Coming up with ways to ensure the safeguards of democracy to hold is key to preserving a better way of life and avoiding such madness.

Callen Sorensen Karklis, Bachelor of Government and International Relations.

Callen is a Quandamooka Nunukul Aboriginal person from North Stradbroke Island. He has been the Secretary of the Qld Fabians in 2018, and the Assistant Secretary 2018 – 2019, 2016, and was more recently the Policy and Publications Officer 2020 – 2021. Callen previously was in Labor branch executives in the Oodgeroo (Cleveland areas), SEC and the Bowman FEC. He has also worked for former BCC Cr Peter Cumming, worked in market research, trade unions, media advertising, and worked in retail. He also ran for Redland City Council in 2020 on protecting the Toondah Ramsar wetlands. Callen is active in Redlands 2030, the Redlands Museum, and his local sports club at Victoria Pt Sharks Club. Callen also has a Diploma of Business and attained his tertiary education from Griffith University. He was active in the ALP for 12 years including in Labor LEAN and is a co-host from time to time on Workers Power 4ZZZ (FM 102.1) on Tuesday morning’s program Workers Power. He also has worked in the public servant for the Qld Government.


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  1. Perry

    A cry from the heart if ever I read one.

  2. Ken Robinson

    Callen Great article from my point of view you are spot on about the situation being rather senior I have witnessed a lot of political change and not much of it beneficial to voting public, once if you had a job you could afford the Aussie dream of owning a house or having an affordable rental house/unit, even during the union supremacy when the power went to their heads and things were declining in the Labour ranks, nothing could have prepared us for the “Howard years” of decline of democracy, honesty and decency in our political system something that I will never see restored in my lifetime, all supported by Labour supplying opposition candidates that were unelectable. We now have the most corrupted incompetent political system closely following the US one.

  3. Caz

    It will come back to bite them as the Greens pick up the youth vote. I believe a change is possible where Labor swaps electoral places with the Greens . I won’t see it, but my children might.

  4. JulianP

    Great stuff Callen thank you. I do hope you find the support you need.

  5. New England Cocky

    All political parties since the Howard years denigrating an egalitarian Australian society and paying $1 BILLION research funds to American interests to ”teach those university lefties who was boss” and stoked up the xenophobic racial hatred against legal refugees with the deliberate unapologetic lies of ”Children Overboard” have abandoned Australian voters to suck the anal sphincter of foreign owned multinational corporations, especially miners, CSG extractors and oil drillers for short term advantage that quickly sours into subjugation and loss of national sovereignty.
    Australia was a rich country until the mining leases were often gifted to the foreign corporations with all processing and subsequent manufacturing creating jobs outside Australia for other communities.
    Sadly, I agree that the present Albanese LABOR government seems to lack the intestinal fortitude to take on the hard tasks wracking the lives of their working class supporters. Housing needs negative gearing limited to new builds, removal of ”investment incentives” for North Asian entrepreneurs wanting Australian citizenship under state government sponsorship for a mere $5 MILLION investment, and considerably more social housing especially in regional centres to where government agencies should be de-centralised.
    It is time for the wealthy to p-ay for the privilege of living in a politically stable national economy by paying their fair share of taxation, and that also includes the corporations presently exploiting to poorly constructed legal tax minimisation world.

  6. leefe

    It seems more and more people with real ethics are going from ALP to Green. I can’t blame them – I took that step at least a decade ago.

    The two big parties really need to have a long hard look at themselves, because without proper reform at all levels they will bring about their own demise.

  7. Lyndal Breen

    Beware of the Greens. There are so many lovely people who are Green Party Members, but I find their grasp on pragmatic politics is weak. I am sad you have left the ALP. And LEAN, is the group within Labor who can turn things around, in my opinion. I am a lapsed Labor person myself, having never got over a move to expel me many years ago. But you seem to have been going places , maybe not far enough, quick enough.
    I am aware of the horrible proposal for turning Toondah wetlands into a massive property development, and cannot see it being a good place long term for people to live. The area will always be wet underneath. For what it’s worth, I shall be writing to those MPs you name.

  8. Steve

    Slowly but inevitably ALP supporters are realising that Labor stands for nothing and represents no-one but the rich and attached corporate interests. Time for a new and actually progressive party that will end neoliberalism.

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