Stories by Steve Grant:
LABOR’S Fremantle branch has put head office on notice it wants preselections overhauled following the party’s Senate mauling two weeks ago.
Labor recorded its worst primary vote in more than a century—just under 22 per cent—and many are pointing the finger at backroom deals stitched together by powerful union bosses.
Relishing its new-found status as WA’s biggest branch, Fremantle last week passed a motion demanding party members have absolute say over who gets preselected for the Senate. It has also told Labor’s WA executive to roll out options for lower house preselection reform and wants to hear WA leader Mark McGowan’s views before the next meeting of the party’s rules committee.
Fremantle MLA Simone McGurk—whose preselection in 2012 was a result of one of those union deals—says the branch wants options because members realise that simply giving themselves the vote won’t fix all the problems: “In fact, in NSW they have [direct preselections] for their lower house, and look what happened there.”
Anti-corruption hearings in NSW have unearthed a litany of stinky deals linked to preselection rorts and branch stacking. This week the NSW branch announced that all Balmain voters—not just Labor party members—will get the chance to vote in a preselection, similar to a US-style primary. However, NSW secretary Jamie Clements rejected party elder John Faulkner’s call to break union bosses’ grip on state upper house and Senate preselections.
“Our present system rewards intrigue, trading favours and doing deals,” warned Senator Faulkner, a long-time advocate of enhanced party democracy.
Ms McGurk told the Herald there seemed to be a genuine “appetite for more local input”: however, powerbrokers in Labor head office ignored similar grassroots reform demands which emerged from Labor’s unexpected loss to Colin Barnett in 2008.
The former Unions WA boss revealed she’d had misgivings about Labor’s number one senate candidate, Joe Bullock, despite her own preselection for Fremantle being part of the internal deal that gave him top spot on the ticket. That deal relegated her Left faction ally, Senator Louise Pratt, to number two and because of Labor’s dismal vote she’s lost her seat.
Mr Bullock, the powerful ‘shoppies’ union boss, is copping heat because a homophobic rant, including claims party members were “mad”, was reported on the eve of the election. The conservative Christian also boasted he hadn’t always voted for Labor.
“Some of his views were well known, but the sentiments he expressed in November were beyond the pale,” Ms McGurk says. Echoing last week’s calls from United Voice WA secretary Carolyn Smith, she says it would be “honourable” for him to resign.
“I knew he was opposed to same-sex marriage, but most of my dealings with him were through Unions WA, as he was the head of the shop assistants’ union, and I’d seen that he’d done a good job representing ordinary people.
“It’s a tough job running the SDA—you know they have to recruit 800 members a week just to keep the numbers up because they have such a churn rate.”
McGurk’s Curtin call
SIMONE McGURK says John Curtin college of the arts should lower its specialist intake to make room for more local students.
“Having a 90 to 95 per cent specialist intake has caused a distortion that has to be addressed, and I know we didn’t take this to the last election but I believe that has to come down,” she told the Herald.
She’s annoyed the WA education department didn’t include this option in a survey it released last week which canvases parents’ views about education options in the southern suburbs (Herald, April 12, 2014).
“People are concerned it took any changes to John Curtin off the table. It’s been six months since the premier announced there would be a closure—well, amalgamations, but that effectively means a closure—and to make the consultation meaningful they would have to put out three or four options.”
But Ms McGurk says the survey has only a few motherhood statements and little substance.
She says it’s obvious South Fremantle and Hamilton senior high schools are in the picture for amalgamation, but which gets closed (and the land probably sold) is anyone’s guess.
But she says the surviving school must offer a good range of tertiary-entrance courses: “No-one wants to send their kids to an experiment.”