Opposition Leader Bill Shorten was warned by senior Labor Party colleagues about the potentially disastrous consequences of leaving right-wing unionist Joe Bullock at the top of the West Australian Senate ticket.
Before the meeting of Labor’s national executive last year to confirm the ticket, colleagues warned Mr Shorten it would be difficult to “hide” Mr Bullock in an election re-run that would shine a spotlight on “usually invisible” Senate candidates.
Leaked minutes of the ALP national executive meeting on November 16 by teleconference showed opposition transport spokesman Anthony Albanese and the NSW secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union Tim Ayres failed to defer the automatic endorsement of Mr Bullock as Labor’s number one candidate.
A number of Labor MPs are blaming Mr Bullock for the party’s catastrophically low primary vote of 22 per cent in Western Australia. Labor is likely to win just one of the six Senate seats, with incumbent Labor senator Louise Pratt missing out, according to ABC election analyst Antony Green.
On the day before the re-run last weekend, it was revealed Mr Bullock had given a speech ridiculing Senator Pratt’s sexuality and describing members of his own party as “mad”. Mr Bullock also said Labor could not be trusted by voters and later admitted that, “from time to time”, he voted for the Australian Christians above his own party.
“Shorten was told the last person you would want to be in the public eye as the focus of an election campaign was Joe Bullock,” a senior Labor source said. “Why was a union hack in his 60s being parachuted into the Senate when the best chance of winning two seats was reversing the ticket?”
Instead of heeding the advice to drop Mr Bullock, Labor’s right-wing factions, with the backing of Mr Shorten, “dug their heels in” and protected Mr Bullock at the top of the ticket, sources said. During the campaign Mr Shorten said Mr Bullock was "exactly" the sort of person Labor ought to have representing workers in Parliament.
A spokeswoman said Mr Shorten stood by his previous comments and did not deny he was warned about Mr Bullock’s pre-selection.
“Mr Bullock has spent the last 30 years of his life standing up for low-paid workers, and he’ll stand up for them and all Western Australians as a senator,” the spokeswoman said.
Mr Bullock rejected calls last week for him to stand aside for Senator Pratt.
Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan, the opposition's parliamentary secretary for Western Australia, backed calls for Mr Bullock to resign. But she thought it “ironic” that such calls were coming from the union, United Voice, which she said engaged in an “unprincipled” deal to secure Mr Bullock his Senate seat in the first place.
The disastrous West Australian result has fuelled calls for Labor’s Senate pre-selection processes to be overhauled to give rank-and-file members a say.
“We have got a culture of nepotism and patronage,” said Ms MacTiernan, adding that “the people who elected us deserve better”.