by Matthew Byrne
Achieving progressive reform in Australia at the moment seems to be quite a challenge; trying to take action on climate change, weathering the storm of the Global Financial Crisis and attempting to increase equality across the country are all being met by a wave of reaction and fear-mongering. On top of that we have seen three elections deliver mixed results for progressive Australians.
It is timely then, for the Chifley Research Centre to be embarking on a two day conference, gathering together academics, community workers, unionists, environmentalists and, yes, politicians to help our community re-build its capacity to champion positive change in Australia.
The conference will host a number of Australia’s leading thinkers and activists as well as some of the best political minds from the US and the UK including Mitch Stewart who heads up Barack Obama’s Organizing for America and James Purnell, a former cabinet minister in the Blair government.
This conference will be a place for us to reconnect with our values and our history as a movement. You will hear from leading historians such as Nick Dyrenfurth and David McKnight as well as from philosophers such as Jean Curthoys and Labor elders such as John Faulkner. You will be able to interact with panels on topics from fairness and the economy to deepening social inclusion.
It is also an opportunity to learn from some of the world’s most experienced and innovative campaigners and organisers. Come and listen to Amanda Tattersall discuss the new ways that churches, unions and community groups are building coalitions for change. See Mitch Stewart and Tom McMahon discuss how the Democrats embraced community organising to build one of the largest campaign bases ever seen in the United States.
You will also be able to engage in our stream of workshops so that you can take skills and arguments back to your community to make change happen. Come and learn the basics in grassroots organising, learn the arguments for action on climate change and learn what active members of the Labor party are doing to reinvigorate their party.
We are counting on you to come to this conference to be an active participant. We want you to ask hard questions and participate in our workshops. We also want this conference to be an opportunity for you to meet like-minded progressives and share your stories and experiences. We welcome you to continue debating ideas and trying out new campaigning methods when you go home. Our website provides many opportunities for you to connect with our panellists and stay connected with the people that you meet at the conference.
If you are unable to attend the conference, never fear, we will be screening some of our events live from Sydney where you will be able to ask questions of our panellists via twitter. You will also still be able to participate in our online forums and start your own discussions. We will also be filming most of the panels and putting them online so you can watch them any time and share them with your friends.
While this might seem to be a dark period in the history of our movement there are many exciting things happening here and around the world that give us hope that we can rebuild and reconnect. Ben Chifley once gave a speech that has resonated throughout the centre-left in Australia for over 60 years. Everyone can quote the part about politics being more than putting an extra sixpence in somebody’s pocket but few can recall the part where he said that the strength of our movement came from those in the grassroots
“…the strength of the movement cannot come from us (politicians). We may make plans and pass legislation to help and direct the economy of the country. But the job of getting the things the people of the country want comes from the roots of the Labor movement – the people who support it.”
It is in recognising that a progressive Australia cannot be won without rebuilding our movement from the bottom up, that we are putting this conference together. We hope that you and your friends will join us on the last weekend in April.
Matthew Byrne is a former Secretary of the Chifley Research Centre