Labor has every reason to be pleased with the opinion polls. The Abbott government is now the worst-performing first-term federal government in history, and would face an embarrassing defeat if it were foolish enough to use a double dissolution to force its draconian budget through the Senate.
Similarly, Victorian Premier Denis Napthine leads a deeply unpopular first-term coalition government in Victoria. It looks increasingly likely that his government will be shown the door at the state election in November.
The resounding victory over the weekend for Labor in the state seat of Stafford, suggests when Queensland returns to the polls, Campbell Newman’s LNP government will sustain heavy losses – retreating from its 78-seat victory at the 2012 state election. Even NSW, where Labor had all but abandoned its hopes for a return to government, thanks in no small part to disgraced powerbroker Eddie Obeid, Labor in NSW finds itself firmly back in the game.
But before putting the beer on ice and defrosting the party pies, Labor must address the system of favours and patronage that allows the party to overlook its best and brightest. The case for party reform has a name. That name is Joe Bullock. Mr Bullock is the man WA’s rank and file Labor members had no opportunity to reject. Symbolic of the system of favours and patronage it is addressing this, not the unpopularity of the Abbott government, which will fix the problem that caused Labor’s near evisceration from Australia’s political landscape.
Mr Bullock, now Labor’s only senator from Western Australia, has been labelled sexist, a homophobe, racist and a religious zealot. He has opposed abortion, believes in a literal translation of the bible and has, according to The Australian, been of collecting bundles of cash in brown paper bags from union members for his “fighting fund”.
He had the audacity to publicly question whether his running mate, former Senator Louise Pratt, was still a lesbian when her partner had undergone gender reassignment surgery. Such grubby slurs have no relevance in public debate, and are unthinkable for one party member to make against another. Yet in Mr Bullock’s view Labor party members are mad and unions need to be in control, “just in case the buggers win”.
Western Australian Labor voters have now elected the man who should take centre stage in reforming the Labor Party – whether he likes it or not. Labor members can now see, in the flesh, one of the faceless men who shape their political world, and ask themselves if this how they want progressive politics to operate in Australia.
Western Australian Labor figures, including MP Melissa Parke and former Labor premier Geoff Gallop, have both acknowledged the “disastrous” Senate result generally.
There’s no doubt that Labor’s result was a poor one – and Labor powerbrokers have to be serious enough to ask themselves ‘why?’
Joe Bullock is right in the middle of this disaster.His placement at the top of the ticket was symptomatic of a much broader problem.
The problem in Labor is not the factions, nor the unions, nor, strangely enough, Joe Bullock himself. The problem is the unfettered of power of key individuals to make important decisions without involvement of the rank and file members.
That’s how an unacceptable candidate, such as Joe Bullock, gets to become Senator Joe Bullock.
Where’s the accountability? The testing of political skills? The scrutiny of would-be parliamentarians’ beliefs?
Mr Bullock’s power comes from the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees (SDA) union, aligned with the party’s right faction. The SDA wields enormous power due to its large membership.
Yet many of its members would be oblivious to its highly conservative religious agenda, including links with the National Civic Council and The Australian Family Association. The majority of SDA members, mostly in their 20s and 30s earning modest wages, may be unaware that its union actively campaigned against marriage equality, an issue that has widespread support in Australia and among young people in particular.
The Labor party is renowned for its infighting. These days it’s almost a defining characteristic. Yet the fighting is not between members, battling for the best and brightest ideas, it’s between warlords, each more interested in protecting his or her ‘patch’ than the advancement of progressive politics in Australia.
Look no further than the damage that powerbrokers have done to the party in NSW – all for personal gain.
Mr Bullock’s endorsement by the party appears to be another example of just that: a comfortable job in the Senate as reward for years of service to his union. Damning evidence for this is found within Mr Bullock’s own speech, delivered to the Dawson Society in November 2013.
|He will not vote for Labor positions that he feels are morally wrong||14’30.|
|He will vote for ‘whoever he likes’ at the ballot box||18’30.|
|Endorsement and links with Tony Abbott||20’15.|
|Criticism of former PM, Kevin Rudd||17’48.|
|Criticism of former WA Minister, Allanah MacTiernan||31’30.|
|Criticism of former WA Senator, Louise Pratt||21’15.|
|Contempt for Labor party members and the party’s ‘weird lefty trends’||23’00.|
|Voters should not trust the Labor Party||26’40.|
|Members should not necessarily vote Labor||43’10.|
|Backbench senators are as “pretty much irrelevant”||46’50.|
The full audio of Bullock’s Dawson Society lecture is available here.
Despite his open contempt for Labor and its members, Joe Bullock was endorsed at top position on the Senate ticket, winning 109 votes to 61. By the current rules of the party, he ‘earned’ his place and the loyal Labor voters in Western Australia rewarded him with his “irrelevant” job in the senate.
That’s an unacceptable result for a party of progressive politics in 21st century Australia.
The faceless men are alive and well, and until power is devolved and shared among all sections of the party, Labor will never be far from the political wilderness. The opinion polls are good news for Labor, but the polls will not save Labor from itself.