Senator Louise Pratt: No more Labor Bullocks for Australia's sake

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Senator Louise Pratt addresses workers (image supplied)

Joe Bullock's fringe views are out of touch with even his own union's members, writes Senator Louise Pratt, who says Labor must stop letting union powerbrokers make grubby deals that destroy the Party's chances.

IT MIGHT NOT SURPRISE anyone that I disagree with a few things Labor Senator-elect Joe Bullock has said.

My biggest disagreement is with his statement that Labor can’t be trusted with looking after the interests of working people and their families.

I know it can. In fact, I know it is the only party that can.

I have seen and been part of delivering massive improvements for ordinary Australians.

Labor has delivered the things on which Australians rely on for quality of life: the aged pension, Medicare, superannuation, better wages and working conditions, education funding, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, commencing the National Broadband Network and taking action on climate change.

To protect this legacy, we must be able to win more seats in Parliament especially here in WA. To win more seats, the Party needs the confidence of voters.

We will never have that confidence while debates about factional carve ups dominate the media instead of the real issues of importance to Western Australian voters. The answer is not to shut down debate, to keep quiet and keep doing business as usual.  The only solution is to tackle our problems, fix our processes, and reform and democratise our party.

Hard to win two Senate spots with headlines like that.

The WA Labor Party is the least democratic of all Labor Party branches around the nation.

The impact of installing the head of the Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Union (SDA), Joe Bullock, at the top of Labor’s Senate ticket, with complete disregard for the views of the broader Labor Party membership, let alone the electoral impact, shows just how deep the ALP’s problems in WA run. ALP campaign strategists are completely out of touch with how much political capital the party enjoys in the eyes of the electorate if the party thinks it can implement these deals and still run a successful election campaign.

This is not a problem caused by union members exercising too much power in the Party. Nor is it a problem caused by union powerbrokers putting their members’ interests first.

It is caused by exactly the opposite — by union members having no say in the backroom deals done to deliver Parliamentary seats, and by union powerbrokers ignoring the views and the needs of the working men and women they purport to represent.

This became painfully obvious when Joe Bullock’s union SDA and union United Voice did a deal to install Bullock in the Senate.

The SDA have consistently used their voting bloc to preselect members of Parliament who are anti-marriage equality and anti-choice. I know of no other union prepared to be so out of touch with its own union membership for the sake of building its own power base.

My first job off the family farm in 1990 at 17 years of age was as a Coles shop assistant and the SDA was the very first union I joined. The young man on the checkout next to me was gay, as was another young woman in the variety section.

The overwhelming majority of people in retail support the rights of their gay work colleagues. The majority of West Australians are pro-equality. Far from my views being fringe, as Joe Bullock characterised them, it is his views that are on the fringe.

United Voice – whose members include those working in hospitality, in childcare, and in children’s services – claims to be a progressive union, yet did this grubby deal to put into Federal Parliament someone who consistently opposes the rights of their members in exchange for the SDA’s support to enable United Voice to claim a different seat for one of their own.

This kind of multi-election log-rolling with no regard for union members, party members, or voters, has become all too common in WA Labor and it is poisoning us.

I am not going to disingenuously claim that my opinion on this is not coloured by my own experience. Of course I am disappointed with the election result and I am angry that my experience, my achievements in the Senate and my progressive values meant nothing in the face of a scramble to secure seats that took neither values nor ability into account.

What I am most disappointed and most angry about is that Labor’s members, supporters, and voters have been treated with utter disrespect by those entrusted with Labor’s course. Working men and women in Western Australia – in all of Australia – depend on Labor to protect Medicare, to make sure every child gets the education they need and to stand up for the working conditions of everyday Australians.

I may not be a Senator, but I will be all right.

Hundreds of thousands of West Australians face savage cuts at a State and a Federal level, with no check on the Liberals’ excesses.

Labor must change our ways. Not for my sake, not for Labor’s sake – but for the sake of the very many Australians who depend on us to protect their interests and deliver the services they depend on.

I am leaving the Senate – but I am not leaving the Party. I joined Labor because I believe in working to build a better Australia and that a Labor government is the only way to bring about the changes that will do that.

I still believe that — but to do that, we must first build a better Labor Party.

As an ordinary member of the Labor Party, I will continue to work for the principles of social justice and equal rights, of worker’s rights and fair and decent employment conditions, of help for those who need it.

And my voice will be one of thousands within the Party not just asking for change, but demanding it.

Senator Louise Pratt will be relinquishing her seat in the Federal Senate on 30 June 2014.

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Senator Louise Pratt: No more Labor Bullocks for Australia's sake

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