Speculation that Labor's ideologically polarised Senate candidates could not bring themselves to campaign together prompted a hasty display of unity alongside Federal leader Bill Shorten yesterday.
Right-wing former shop assistant unionist Joe Bullock and left-wing gay marriage advocate Louise Pratt had been conspicuously absent from Mr Shorten's media events in Perth this week until the party brought them together for _The West Australian. _
Mr Bullock, who took Senator Pratt's number one spot on Labor's Senate ticket during a bruising preslection ballot in April, described her as "a person of principle who fights for what she believes in".
Senator Pratt, who was narrowly re-elected in the original Senate election in September but missed out after the botched re-count, said the debates she and Mr Bullock had within the party were necessary and constructive.
Mr Bullock, an Anglican and former Sydney University ally of Tony Abbott, brushed off a suggestion he had more in common with the Prime Minister on abortion and gay marriage than most of his party colleagues.
But asked what Mr Abbott's weaknesses were, Mr Bullock initially refused, before it was pointed out that Mr Shorten had declared the April 5 poll a "by-election on Tony Abbott" and hadn't he better think of one.
"He speaks without thinking a bit," Mr Bullock eventually offered.
Mr Shorten said critics could not on the one hand accuse Labor of being too narrow while also portraying it as divided for having diverse candidates.
"I don't think the degree of difference in our party is anywhere near the degree of difference with Tony Abbott," he said.
Mr Bullock hit back at the prevailing view that he used his union muscle to secure his position, saying he won 109 of 170 votes at preselection despite three Left unions voting against him among the 80 union votes.
"That says that I had a lot of support from the party's rank and file," he said.
He also pointed to his 5271 personal, below-the-line votes in September's re-count, compared with 2900 for Senator Pratt and 4936 for the number one Liberal candidate, Defence Minister David Johnston.
Asked if he would feel bad if Senator Pratt was not elected because he was at number one, he said: "I would feel terribly bad, but not because I'm at number one."
Senator Pratt was confident Labor would win two seats.
'He speaks without thinking a bit.'" Unionist *Joe Bullock * referring to Prime Minister Tony Abbott