Senate Election

Western Australian Senate Election - media conference 16 April 2014

Well good morning and thank you for joining me here this morning.

While the count is continuing it is increasingly clear that the ALP will not hold its second Senate seat here in Western Australia.

Clearly this is a difficult realisation for me and for the Labor Party.

However, the prospective loss of Labor’s second seat at this election is most difficult for all those Australians who needed the insurance of a stronger Senate in order to hold back the Abbott Governments agenda.

All of those who will be affected by Abbott’s cuts to education, to health, to pensions – and his attacks on working condition and penalty rates.

And for all of us who will be affected by the Abbott government’s lack of meaningful action on climate change – damaging both the environment and our economy.

Contrary to the statements of Senator elect Joe Bullock, it is ONLY Labor that can be trusted to look after working people and their families.

Sadly for Labor to be reduced to just one senator out of six at the last senate election is a devastating blow to our capacity to do so.

It is also a great personal blow it is a blow to progressive voters that I would be replaced in the Senate by someone who I have known over many decades to be deeply homophobic, to be anti-choice and  has recently emerged, to be disloyal to the very party he has been elected to represent.

I had pointed out on many occasions that Labor was at risk of losing a Senate seat here in Western Australia.

I am ashamed that a factional power grab was privileged over principles deeply held by an overwhelming number of party members and indeed West Australians more broadly.

It goes to the heart of the need for reform, reform in the Labor Party.

We know the SDA, has a large voting block within the ALP. The leadership of the SDA consistently used their block to preselect members of Parliament who are anti-marriage equality and who are anti-choice and I believe that this does not reflect the views of their membership.

My first job off the family farm was in 1990 it was as a Coles shop assistant. The young man on the check out next to me was gay as was another young woman in the variety section.

And I know that the overwhelming majority of people in retail support the rights of their gay work mates.

Joe Bullock as their union leader clearly does not. Far from my views on these issues being fringe, as he has claimed, it is Joe Bullock and other members of the SDA leadership who are on the fringe of mainstream views.

I did everything I could to deliver the best result for Labor at this election.

However, the result of the pre-selection, placing me behind Joe Bullock, meant for me that I felt like I had every day of campaigning with my arms tied behind my back.

The Senate re-run was always going to be a different kind of election with more scrutiny on the Candidates.

And hiding Joe Bullock behind Labor’s messages was never going to be enough.

I raised my concerns with the national secretary and the national executive explaining why I did not believe Joe Bullock had the capacity to lead our Senate team.

I, and others, warned that placing him above me on the senate ticket would reduce Labor’s chances of holding two senate positions. And ultimately, we know that these warnings were not heeded.

Over the last few years we have faced situations in the Party where factionalism and the power of the factions has ridden rough shod over the party and the leadership’s capacity to make the right decisions on pre-selections and on occasion policy.

And this is one of those occasions I am afraid to say.

The exertion of power by too few is eroding public trust in the ALP and in unions.

And this is especially the case here in WA where ordinary branch members represent just a fraction of the overall State executive in lower house pre-selections – and have no representation at all for senate pre-selections.

I don’t think this is about union members exercising too much power in the Party.

In fact it’s caused by union members having no say in the deals done to deliver Parliamentary seats by union powerbrokers ignoring the views and needs of the working men and women they represent.

Western Australia is significantly behind the other states when it comes to democracy in the Labor party. We are the least democratic of all the nation’s ALP branches.

This creates a lack of public trust, even in our own loyal membership.

This lack of public trust has I think undermined our ability to win elections, and therefore to act on behalf of the very workers our affiliated unions represent and indeed to act for the good of the whole community.

If anything good comes from this devastating loss, it will be the impetus for reform of our great party.

We need to empower our membership - ordinary party members - to preselect our candidates and to take this power away from the State Executive.

This includes for our Senate candidates.

The only way to fix this is to go to the ALP’s membership.

I welcome the commitment that Bill Shorten has made to reform and I will be looking to see the strength of his remarks.

I am optimistic about the Labor party’s chance to change.

It is clear that here in Western Australia we must change.

It will be up to party members to break through the existing power structures and to drive this. To insist on their democratic rights within our great party.

There is already commentary coming from national factional power players about resisting these changes. 

Despite these challenges, I think we can succeed.

There are so many things that Labor has done that I am so very proud of to have contributed to. 

Taking action on climate change action, addressing education inequality , the National Disability Insurance Scheme, fairness for workers, protection for the capacity of unions to do their jobs, ensuring strong environmental and human rights protections – I’m really proud of all of these things. These are things that Tony Abbott places at risk.

This is a legacy worth defending. I very much want to see Labor win the trust of the Australian people, return to power and to continue to build on these great reforms.

We are I feel a great party.

The welfare of the nation depends on us getting our own house in order – otherwise we will have a party of factions fighting over diminishing political spoils without a capacity to govern.

And if Labor is to win government nationally, we MUST also do better here in WA.

We must democratise, especially here in WA.

Equally important is the need for Labor’s political circles in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne to understand better what makes Western Australia tick.

I know for example that those in the Party who put forward the mining tax didn’t properly think about the impact of the mining tax here on Western Australia – or indeed how to explain it.  We can’t afford for West Australians to see themselves as the cash cow of the nation.

Now Tony Abbott and the Liberals have made false promises about their capacity to fix that. I know the coalition can’t and won’t fix it – and yet they continue to mislead the public.

Labor on the other delivered record level of infrastructure investment in WA, but has done a bad job of talking to West Australians and selling our message.

I am however very optimistic about our capacity to respond to these challenges. I want to thank Bill Shorten for having a strong presence during our Senate election campaign.

I have enjoyed serving Western Australia in the State Parliament and in the Senate for the last 12 years. I have given it my all and I am deeply disappointed at the outcome of this election.

I want to thank everyone who campaigned at this election and gave it their all. That support has given me a great deal of personal support.

I know the difference our party can make when it is at its best, and I will remain committed to doing what I can to contribute, including by putting myself forward to be a political candidate in the future.

In the meantime I look forward to our great party reforming and to taking up new opportunities to continue to effect positive change in the community.

Finally, I want to leave you with three final messages.

First is to the members of our great party please do not be disillusioned, I encourage you to push for the change you want to see in the Labor Party.

The second is to my fellow federal colleagues. I urge you to get behind these reforms. We all know that, as a party, we have been hamstrung by inaction for too long. It’s up to each and every one of my colleagues to make a difference to all party, all of the party members and the wider Australian public.

Finally, to Australian voters, typically as politicians we’re told not to talk about ourselves - not to talk about the inner workings of our political party.

But, I think that’s exactly what we need to do - and we need to do it to serve you better.

We have always been a party of the people - while the Greens hide away behind their secret annual conferences and the Liberals are beholden to big business - Labor has proudly served the people.

But, we need to do it better, and we can only do that through party reform.