Labor faces increasing pressure to overhaul its archaic candidate selection processes, with national president Jenny McAllister calling on faction and union bosses to cede power to members as elder John Faulkner urged rule changes to stamp out corruption.
In the wake of Labor’s disastrous performance in the re-run of the West Australian Senate election, Ms McAllister is pushing for an end to the system of union bosses and faction leaders selecting upper house candidates.
Ms McAllister describes Labor’s Senate preselection process as “broken” and argues the test of any internal reform must be whether it increases the party’s membership and delivers “the best candidates” to advocate progressive ideas.
Writing exclusively in The Australian today, Ms McAllister calls for “fundamental reform” to the party’s rules and culture, urging the party’s members be given a greater say in internal decision-making.
“Labor’s vote in Western Australia’s Senate election suggests we have a long way to go to meet our two goals — winning elections and fighting and winning the battle of ideas,” she writes.
“Union leaders, parliamentarians and faction leaders who exercised enormous power under the old model need to accept that the old ways have to change. We need to move to a system that allows far more people to have a say in who represents Labor in the Senate.”
Critics within Labor have blamed the preselection of lead Senate candidate Joe Bullock, the secretary of the WA branch of the powerful Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union, for the loss of votes in the state.
Senator Faulkner, one of the key figures behind Labor’s 2010 post-election national review and a long-time advocate for internal reform, has echoed Ms McAllister’s calls to reform the party’s top-down preselection processes.
The Labor elder said he would pursue ambitious rule changes in NSW at the July state conference to break the stranglehold of factions, increase transparency and democracy and improve integrity measures. Senator Faulkner wants to open the party’s preselection processes for the NSW Legislative Council and the Senate to all members “so as to transfer the power of preselection from just a small number of faction leaders into the hands of all the members of the party’’.
“We must introduce rules changes not just to stamp out corruption but to strengthen the future of our party and our capacity to government,’’ he said.
But the push to empower Labor’s rank-and-file members to elect the party’s upper house candidates is already facing resistance, particularly within the party’s Right faction. Ms McAllister and Senator Faulkner are from the party’s Left faction.
“NSW Labor has led the push for internal party reform,” NSW Labor secretary Jamie Clements told The Australian last night.
“We are very proud of our Senate team. The current system sees upper house candidates elected by over 800 people at our annual conference. This process has produced senators of the calibre of Bob Carr, John Faulkner, Sam Dastyari and Deb O’Neill.”
Bill Shorten had planned to deliver a major speech two days ago to kickstart a campaign for party reform, but was forced to postpone it after the sudden death of his mother, Ann.
The Opposition Leader has said he will take up the issue when he returns from leave.
His first step had been to flag a proposal to loosen the link between unions and the ALP by allowing non-union members to the join the party.
NSW Labor is reeling from the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption revelations involving former factional warlord Eddie Obeid, from the Right, and former state minister Ian Macdonald, from the Left.
“Corrupt individuals have tainted our party and diminished the contribution of the hard-working men and women who belong to and support Labor, right across NSW,’’ Senator Faulkner said.
He warned against “window dressing’’, saying the party needs real change because its preselection system “rewards intrigue, trading favours and doing deals’’.
“Eddie Obeid, Ian Macdonald or their ilk would not be able to win preselection in a genuinely democratic process where all party members cast a vote. Their success depended on nothing but factional anointment; they required no support beyond the leadership of a faction,’’ he said.
The pressure on Labor to reform its candidate selection processes, make the party more transparent and broaden its membership comes as it is consigned to opposition federally and in every state apart from South Australia.
On Saturday, Labor secured just 21.8 per cent of the vote in the re-run of the Senate election in Western Australian.
The selection of Mr Bullock as Labor’s lead candidate has been attacked within the party by MPs from the Left and Right factions. There is also criticism of Labor’s campaign messaging, led by the party’s national secretariat. The slogan “restore the balance” has been widely ridiculed.
Ms McAllister backs Mr Shorten’s goal of more than doubling the party’s membership to 100,000, but says this ambition will not be achieved without opening up the party’s processes to more internal democracy and undergoing cultural change.