Butler wins Labor presidency and backs quick start on party reform

New ALP president Mark Butler has put internal reform high on the agenda ahead of the party’s national conference. AAP/Mick Tsikas

Federal frontbencher Mark Butler has won the ALP national presidency after a ballot that saw nearly 19,500 rank and file party members cast votes.

Butler immediately issued a statement saying the party’s July national conference should respond to the rank and file’s strong calls for reform of the ALP’s internal structure.

Spokesman on the environment, climate change and water, Butler comes from the left, and from South Australia. He was a minister in the Labor government, serving in mental health and ageing, and climate change and environment. Before entering parliament he was a union official.

Butler replaces Jenny McAllister, who is now a senator, and won in a field of five candidates.

Tim Hammond, a Western Australian barrister, becomes senior vice president. Victorian minister Jane Garrett stays junior vice president.

ALP national secretary George Wright said 7900 more votes had been cast this time than in the last election in 2011.

Butler said that during the campaign for the presidency, Labor members had constantly stressed they wanted more direct say on important decisions made in the party.

“They want to be able to vote to select Labor candidates for the Senate and legislative councils, for delegates to national conference and more,” Butler said.

“This ballot – and the leadership ballot of 2013 – clearly demonstrates that providing greater direct influence to rank and file members helps to energise the party, improving our campaigning ability on the ground.

"Over recent years, giants of our party like Bob Hawke, Neville Wran, John Faulkner, Steve Bracks and Bob Carr have recommended such changes to our party. The national conference in July is high time for the party to respond to those calls.”

The conference will be very important for Bill Shorten on some key issues. Unless it gives the opportunity for a Labor government to turn back boats, Shorten will be very vulnerable on border protection in the next election campaign.

It is also expected to consider whether Labor MPs should be bound to vote for same-sex marriage. Shorten wants the present position of a conscience vote for them to continue.