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News Analysis: Party reform aims to distance Labor from union links

English.news.cn   2014-04-25 15:55:26

by Margaret Fitzgerald

CANBERRA, April 25 (Xinhua) -- Australian federal opposition leader Bill Shorten has called for fundamental changes relating to union membership and electing state leaders in the wake of his party's humiliating defeat in the Senate election re-run in Western Australia (WA).

In a "historic" speech on Tuesday outlining his vision for the Labor Party (ALP), Shorten said he has instructed ALP National Secretary George Wright to scrap the union requirement and create a one-click online membership model by July.

"Our world and our workforce are changing," Shorten said.

"As a party we can't remain anchored in the past; we need to rise with the modern tide."

Shorten said that it should no longer be compulsory for prospective members of the Labor Party to join a union.

His announcement came in the wake of Labor's poor showing at the April 5 re-run of Senate election in WA, in which Labor's vote fell to 22 percent.

The 5 percent swing against the party has left it with only one WA Senator lead candidate and controversial former union leader Joe Bullock while its second candidate, Senator Louise Pratt, lost her spot.

The package of reforms involves increasing the weight of members' votes by 20 percent in lower house seats with more than 300 members from the current 50-50 split with a central state panel.

Shorten also said he wants to see more U.S. primary-style community pre-selections in non-held seats, a system recently tried in New South Wales.

The moves are attempts to dilute the influence of unions and factions and will likely be opposed by union leaders.

"If we are to renew and rebuild the Labor party, we must rebuild as a membership-based party, not a faction-based one," Shorten said.

In 2002, former Labor leader Simon Crean damaged his leadership as he succeeded in reducing from 60 percent to 50 percent the proportion of delegates to the conference chosen by affiliated unions. At the time, the other 40 percent was chosen by state Labor branches.

However, the changes to the composition of the national conference - by reducing union appointments - might influence some policy principles at the margin, but it won't change the composition of state conferences.

Unions then would not be totally disenfranchised because they still heavily influence the state branches -- state conferences select the central panels that have an impact on candidate selection and therefore have the biggest influence on individual MPs and ministers.

Union corruption is under the spotlight at present after a Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption began in Sydney earlier in the month, with the inquiry's recommendations due by the end of December.

The inquiry, led by former High Court Judge Dyson Heydon, will investigate allegations of bribery, secret commissions and improper fundraising within five of the country's most powerful unions.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the royal commission will shine a spotlight into the dark corners of the community by examining claims of corruption within the union movement.

The terms of reference encompass the unions for electrical trades and transport workers, communications, postal, plumbing and allied services workers, and the Health Services Union (HSU).

The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) will be also scrutinized, and the commission may cover the slush fund scandal that dogged former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Editor: Shen Qing
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