Joe Bullock: "exactly" the right candidate for Labor, according to Bill Shorten.

Joe Bullock: "exactly" the right candidate for Labor, according to Bill Shorten. Photo: Nic Ellis

Bill Shorten has been publicly humiliated by Labor’s results in Saturday's West Australian Senate election. He lost votes he should have won and his No. 1 candidate was an embarrassment to him and his party.

Even before the vote, Bob Hawke, Simon Crean, Martin Ferguson and others were calling for change to the ALP’s relationship with the unions for the obvious reason that the unions have a disproportionate influence over the ALP. The demand for reform will grow but for now the 50:50 rule at state party conferences will continue. It will not be changed while Shorten remains the leader. Kevin Rudd’s amendments, which provide a buffer for the leader’s tenure, ensure Shorten will stay for a while yet.  By refusing to tackle reform, Shorten was left to support Joe Bullock and he was reported as saying that WA’s No. 1 Senate candidate, Joe Bullock, was "exactly" the right candidate for Labor.

So Bill, what is it about Joe that makes him so "exactly" right for WA?

Was it "exactly" right to say he doesn’t always vote for Labor? Was it in Labor’s interest for Joe to kick his own supporters by saying that he voted against Gough Whitlam and endorsed Tony Abbott?  Is it exactly right that Joe should attack his running-mate, Louise "poster child" Pratt, while the entire party was doing its best to have her elected?  Was Joe exactly right to say of your colleagues in the left faction, presumably including Pratt, that they follow "every weird lefty trend that you can imagine"? Is it all exactly right for a union official to have union organisers lodging cash with the head of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, to allegedly accumulate upwards of $200,000 to fund his own re-election within the union?  

A drover’s dog could win the first position on the Senate ticket for a major party. The question now is: will Shorten learn a lesson from the embarrassment of Bullock in the Parliament? Will Shorten have the ‘‘ticker’’ to extract Labor from its entanglement with the union movement?

Shorten's proposal that prospective Australian Labor Party members will not be required to first join a union should have been introduced a long time ago but will make no difference to how the ALP is run by union heavies.

Joe Bullock was not exactly the right candidate, he certainly was not the best candidate and, as he demonstrated by some of his stupid and arrogant comments, he is not even really Labor's candidate. Joe Bullock is actually the candidate imposed by the Shoppies union. Even if the rank and file don't have to be members of the union movement that won't make any difference to the Shoppies union to appointing whoever they want regardless of whether or not they even have a record of supporting Labor. Joe Bullock was self-selected. This was not an appointment by merit; it was the raw exercise of political power and, once in the Senate, the union will not give him up.

None of this is new. The unions appoint and they keep. They kept Craig Thomson through the 2010 election even though they should have pushed him out then. Labor appointed union boss Michael Williamson as the president of the ALP. He is now in jail. And Labor does nothing about union behaviour of the sort that saw the CFMEU heavily fined for criminal contempt recently in the Victorian Supreme Court.

Shorten should have thrown out Bullock after the last election if not earlier. John Howard disendorsed Pauline Hanson even after she had lodged her nomination in 1996.

Shorten has to be the poacher turned game keeper. Labor’s structure defies any commonsense; but that is Labor in 2014. The same party that was so dysfunctional in running the country for six years now can't run itself even when it is openly abused by its newest senator.

Peter Reith is a former Howard minister and a Fairfax columnist.