Labor’s dismal showing in the WA Senate election re-run has sparked calls from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to fundamentally change party membership rules.
Mr Shorten was to call for party reforms to abolish the rule that forces party members to belong to a trade union at a speech today but had to cancel due to a death in his immediate family.
Shorten’s reforms includes party membership being made cheaper and easier to apply for, and endorses the idea of states adopting the leadership election model used federally, in which rank-and-file members can directly vote for the leader.
The ALP’s primary vote fell to just 22 per cent in the re-run senate election in Western Australia, a five per cent swing against the party from last year’s election.
The 2013 election result, which saw a primary vote of 26 per cent, was the worst since 1979.
Labor has secured one seat, with the fate of second spot candidate Louise Pratt to be decided when more votes are counted today.
Union membership has fallen to 17 per cent in Australia, with Shorten saying the party must take responsibility for last year’s election loss.
“For too long we have allowed the characterisation that Labor only has an ‘image problem’, a ‘message problem’, a ‘selling problem’ to explain our electoral fortunes,” he said.
“That we only need to change perceptions – change the way people see us. It’s more serious than this. We need to change ourselves. We need to change our part.”
The changes would broaden the appeal of the party, with Shorten saying the party was not “for one group of Australians, or one sector of the economy, at the expense of others”.
“We are for an economy where everyone prospers, a society where everyone benefits, where the fair go is for everyone.”
Penny Wong told ABC radio this morning there was “no running away” from the poor result.
“ What I will say is we have to look forward and recognise any problems we face are about how our party reaches out to more people… but the result in Western Australia does require us to look hard at how to improve a whole range of measures,” Ms Wong said.
She said ideas on how this should happen would be considered at a proper contest of ideas.
“We need to build a more engaged party and also attract people broadly into the Labor movement and I’m sure there will be a lot of discussion.”