Party reform is vital to regain public support: Shorten

Opposition leader Bill Shorten says the Labor Party must change itself to win back public support and the opportunity to govern. AAP/Tim Clarke

Opposition leader Bill Shorten will formally call on the Labor party to drop its rule making it compulsory for prospective members to join a union.

He sees the change, though symbolic, as important in signalling Labor wants to broaden its base, and will argue it should be accompanied by other party reforms.

These include making it easier and cheaper for people to join the ALP, and giving the rank and file a say in choosing state leaders, following the federal model where they represent 50% of the vote for leader.

Shorten intended to make his rallying call for party reform in a speech to party members and supporters in Melbourne today but has pulled out due to a death in his immediate family. The address will be delivered at a later date.

It builds on his recent National Press Club address when he said the party needed to increase its 44,000 membership to 100,000, and appeal to a wider range of people.

In part of his speech distributed yesterday he warns the party must change itself to win back public support and the opportunity to govern, saying that for too long Labor has explained its situation as being due to an “image”, “message”, or “selling” problem.

But its problem is more serious than just one of perceptions. “We need to change ourselves. We need to change our party,” he says.

“The reality is, if we want to change the government, if we want to change the country, we must change too.”

It was the Australian people, not Tony Abbott, that put Labor into opposition. “And unless we change, it is where we will stay.”

Dropping the union membership requirement is needed because “we must make it clear that Labor is not for one group of Australians, or one sector of the economy, at the expense of others. We are for an economy where everyone prospers, a society where everyone benefits, where the fair go is for everyone”.

Reform is never painless – but it is less painful than the alternative of a weaker, less relevant Labor party, his speech says.