ALP reforms a distraction: Sheldon

Right-wing union leader brands Bill Shorten’s party reform agenda a 'distraction'.

ALP national vice-president and right-wing union leader Tony Sheldon has branded Bill Shorten’s party reform agenda a “distraction” and called for Labor to back changes to rules governing political donations and the party’s relationship with lobbyists.

Declaring that federal Labor needed to address its “cult of self-interest”, Mr Sheldon questioned whether a decrease in union influence as a result of the Opposition Leader’s plan would lead to an increased corporate influence over the ALP.

Mr Sheldon, the national secretary of the ALP-affiliated Transport Workers Union, refused to say whether his union would support the proposals, which include giving local party members an increased say in preselections.

Mr Shorten’s proposals are also facing a hurdle from his home branch, which is moving to crush debate on them amid fears of an electoral backlash in a state election year. Victorian ALP leader Daniel Andrews and his supporters are actively lobbying to stall debate on the changes until after the state poll in November.

Mr Shorten wants a 20 per cent increase in the vote given to rank-and-file members in pre­selections for lower-house seats with more than 300 party members.

Mr Sheldon told The Australian that was: “A distraction, but we need lobbyists and corporate-donation reform plus the meat and potatoes of culture change.

“That requires the cult of self-interest to change in politics generally, and the ALP specifically.

“Having energy, purpose and the guts to fight is always a good start.’’

Asked if the TWU would support the changes, Mr Sheldon said: “I support Bill generally, but the reforms need a whole-of-party discussion. It is not just about union influence. Does it increase business influence on the party … is that a good thing?’’

Two weeks ago, Mr Sheldon said he supported rank-and-file ballots for party leaders and MPs, but not for upper-house candidates’ selection, which should be reserved for people with the skills and experience.

Brian Boyd, the left-wing Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary, yesterday criticised the timing of Mr Shorten’s announcement, given the government’s royal commission into union governance and corruption had commenced

“I don’t think having a debate about the role of unions and their relationship with the ALP in the face of an anti-union royal commission just starting is very helpful,’’ Mr Boyd said.

Another prominent right-wing union leader, Joe de Bruyn said this week he did not object to a widening of the party membership. But Mr de Bruyn, the national secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, said he believed that union influence was “relatively limited’’ in the ALP.

ALP national president Jenny McAllister, who recently called on faction and union leaders to cede power to members, declined to comment yesterday on Mr Shorten’s plans.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union national secretary Bob Nanva said this week that Mr Shorten’s proposals risked concentrating power with ALP branch-stackers and factional warlords.

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