Labor push to cut union links

Andrew Probyn, Shane Wright, Nick Butterly and Andrew Tillett
Labor push to cut union links

Labor leader Bill Shorten will move to sever the link between unions and ALP MPs as he battles to make the party relevant to voters after a terrible result in WA's Senate re-run election.

The ALP produced its worst Senate performance since Federation, attracting less than 22 per cent of the vote, and Senator Louise Pratt is now in a life-and-death battle with the Liberal Party's Linda Reynolds to claim a place in the Upper House.

There is also soul-searching within the Abbott Government after it had a near 6 per cent fall in its primary vote just seven months after its Federal election victory, with only two Liberal senators guaranteed of retaining their positions.

The major parties were shunned by WA voters on Saturday, who instead delivered Greens senator Scott Ludlam almost 16 per cent of the vote and all but guaranteed the election of Palmer United Party's Dio Wang.

Mr Wang enjoyed a surge in support from disaffected voters, with his primary vote growing by more than 7 per cent.

Party leader Clive Palmer, who carpet-bombed voters with one of the nation's biggest one-person advertising campaigns, and Mr Wang disappeared yesterday, refusing to give interviews despite their apparent success at the poll.

Within Labor, there are recriminations over the poor showing.

_The West Australian _can reveal that Labor's Left lobbied the ALP Federal secretariat to intervene to put Senator Pratt ahead of Joe Bullock on the party ticket, as happened in South Australia where Don Farrell gave up top spot for Penny Wong.

This push occurred between the botched re-count of September's WA Senate vote and the High Court ruling in February.

But the ALP Right, led by shopworkers union national secretary Joe de Bruyn, refused to co-operate, citing Senator Farrell's defeat when he was relegated to second spot on the ticket.

"The issue in WA was the quality of the candidate, not whether he was one or two," a Labor source told _The West Australian _.

In the wake of the WA Senate election, Mr Shorten will push for significant party reform to break the nexus between unions and the ALP.

Mr Shorten, who last week detailed how Labor would build a new constituency of supporters among small business, is to propose dumping the requirement for Labor MPs to also be members of a trade union.

He is also expected to propose making it easier and cheaper for people to join the party and endorse the 50:50 Federal leadership election model at a State level to give party members equal say with MPs on who is leader.

The Greens were among the biggest winners on Saturday.

The original count at last year's election resulted in Senator Ludlam losing his position, but he gained a 6.4 per cent swing towards him at the weekend.

Senator Ludlam said the surge in support for his party and slump in the Liberal vote demonstrated the people of WA were not convinced the carbon tax should go.

"The Liberals said this was going to be a referendum on the carbon and mining tax and the Liberal vote went backwards," Senator Ludlam said.

In Japan, Prime Minister Tony Abbott - who described the swing against Labor and Liberal as "little" - said the overall result showed support for the Government. "There is an overwhelming rejection of the carbon tax and the mining tax on these results," he said.

Despite the avalanche of micro-parties on the cluttered ballot paper, most lost support from what they achieved in the September election.

The Australian Sport Party's Wayne Dropulich, who won a Senate spot in last year's disputed re-count, increased his support to 0.38 per cent of the total vote.

But a shift in preference allocations suggests he has no chance of sneaking into the Senate.