Bill Shorten's plan to democratise Labor

EXCLUSIVE

Bill Shorten will announce sweeping Labor Party reforms that empower rank and file members, rein in powerbrokers' say over candidates and call for fewer factional bosses to be pre-selected for the Senate.

Mr Shorten was preparing to deliver what was shaping up to be one of the defining speeches of his leadership last week before the sudden death of his mother, Ann. 

In excerpts of the speech published before he had to withdraw, Mr Shorten flagged changes to make it easier and cheaper to join the party and dropping a requirement that party members also belong to a union.

But the ALP boss was preparing to go much further in the speech and call for changes that would please advocates of Labor reform but which would put him offside with at least some of the factional warlords and union powerbrokers who supported him during last year's leadership contest with Anthony Albanese.

Mr Shorten plans to deliver the speech, which has not yet been finalised, when he returns from leave.

Drafts of the opposition leader's speech call for local branches with more than 300 members to be given a 70 per cent say over pre-selection for the House of Representatives.

State-based head office selection committees would have their influence reduced to a 30 per cent weighting

Mr Shorten will also call for all pre-selections to move to a 100 per cent rank and file model in the longer term, in line with the NSW branch. 

Most significantly, Mr Shorten planned to call for the party to broaden the talent pool from which it pre-selects senators. At present, Labor's ranks in the upper house are dominated by former union leaders, factional bosses and, particularly in NSW, former party officials.

Queensland Labor has recently adopted rule changes that have given party members a direct say in the pre-selection of Senate candidates and some in the party are arguing for a similar rule to be implemented nationally.

The Labor leader has also called in recent weeks for the states to adopt, over time, a 50-50 leadership election model that the federal party adopted under reforms implemented by former prime minister Kevin Rudd.

A spokesman for Mr Shorten said the leader had set a target of 100,000 party members - up from about 40,000 at present - and party modernisation was needed to reach that target.

"The Opposition Leader is attending his mother’s funeral today. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to deliver the speech as planned but hopes to be in a position to do so soon. Bill’s ambition is to ensure the Labor Party is broad-based and democratic – making it easier for people to join is the first step,'' the spokesman said.

Four shadow ministers have confirmed that Mr Shorten had rung around to discuss the draft reform proposals with senior members of the ALP left and right factions in the days leading up to when the speech was due to be delivered. 

It is understood that Stephen Conroy, Anthony Albanese, David Feeney, Tanya Plibersek, Mark Butler, Penny Wong, Don Farrell, Kim Carr and Chris Bowen were among the shadow ministers consulted. 

The debate over reform to the ALP's internal structures has been turbo-charged in the wake of the West Australian senate election, which saw controversial former Shop, Distributive and Allied (SDA) workers union leader Joe Bullock claim the one senate seat the party won in that state under a factional deal worked out by the left and right unions, while experienced senator Louise Pratt looks set to lose her seat.

The prospect of an intervention in the WA branch by the ALP's national office is now being openly discussed following the disastrous result, which saw Labor's vote fall to a paltry 21 per cent, with one shadow minister saying the intervention could either be forced or "friendly", as it had been in NSW under Mr Rudd last year.

Another shadow minister, who asked not to be named, said the election of Mr Bullock "emphasised everything that is wrong with the party".

"No one thought he was that bad. We actually thought he voted Labor at least,'' the MP said.

A third shadow minister said the scale of the reform challenge in WA was "vastly different" to other states and that changes were essential to turn the party around in the west.

Labor elder Senator John Faulkner, national president Jenny McAllister and Queensland Senator Joe Ludwig have all joined the push for the party to reform itself in recent days, but the SDA's Joe de Bruyn and the Transport Workers Union's Tony Sheldon have spoken out against some of the reform proposals.

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