Penny Wong weighs in Labor debate on policy and reform
West Australian senator Louise Pratt has broken her silence about the “disastrous” Senate election and declared she is “ashamed” of the factional deal that will cause her to lose her seat to Labor colleague Joe Bullock.
In an admission that it will be almost impossible for her to sneak past Liberal candidate Linda Reynolds with about 5 per cent of votes left to count, Senator Pratt launched an extensive attack on Mr Bullock and sections of the West Australian branch of the party.
Speaking exclusively to Fairfax Media, Senator Pratt said the party was facing “a disastrous result that goes to the heart of the need for reform of the Labor Party”.
She lashed the factional deal between the Right-aligned Shop, Distributive and Allied workers union and the Left-aligned United Voice union that forced her out.
Under the deal, Senator Pratt was pushed down to No.2 on the Senate ticket and Mr Bullock installed as No.1 in exchange for Mr Bullock backing former United Voice secretary Dave Kelly for the state seat of Bassendean.
“The SDA is a large voting bloc in the ALP and they consistently use this bloc to preselect members of Parliament who are anti-marriage equality and anti-choice,” she said.
“I’m ashamed that a factional power grab was privileged over principles held by an overwhelming number of party members in Western Australia.”
Ms Pratt welcomed Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s plan for sweeping reforms of the Labor Party that would empower rank and file members, rein in powerbrokers’ influence over candidates and lead to fewer factional bosses – like Mr Bullock – being preselected for the Senate.
Mr Shorten plans to call for changes to Senate preselection rules that would broaden the talent pool from which Labor chooses its senators.
Senior Labor MP Anthony Albanese told ABC radio on Wednesday that the party needed more rank-and-file participation to prevent the kind of factional deals that were seen in WA.
Mr Albanese, who narrowly missed out on the Labor leadership despite winning a majority of votes among rank-and-file members, backed moves to give the party’s membership a greater say in preselections.
“I think one of the things that we do need to examine is a way in which we make sure that we increase participation in the Labor Party in a way that ensures that you can’t just have a small number of people making the decisions,” he said.
“I think certainly there’s a need for a rank-and-file component.”
Senator Pratt’s departure would be a ‘‘big loss’’ for Labor, he said.
‘‘She was a very good senator. She will remain one until June and I just hope to see her back in some capacity,’’ he said.
“Louise Pratt is very highly regarded in Western Australia and I think it is a very poor result for the Labor Party that we appear to only have returned one senator out of six.”
Senator Pratt declined to be drawn on the need for direct intervention in the WA branch by the national office of the party.
“There is a deep need for reform, however it is delivered,” she said. “I’ll be watching and waiting on that front.”
There is a growing school of thought among some members of the ALP’s 21-member national executive committee that intervention may be needed in the WA branch.
Labor’s campaign in the west was rocked in the final days before the vote when it emerged Mr Bullock gave a speech last year ridiculing Senator Pratt’s sexuality, saying he did not always vote Labor and describing some members of his own party as “mad”.
The current United Voice WA state secretary, Carolyn Smith, has called for Mr Bullock to resign after the result. Labor has won just 21.7 per cent of the vote at this stage.
ABC election analyst Antony Green said that, with about 5 per cent of the vote left to count, “I can’t see how she can get elected from here”.
“Louise Pratt has been falling farther behind ever since they started counting postal votes,” he said. “Liberal votes are well up on postals, the Greens vote is way down.”
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