Australia

Labor must improve member rights: Shorten

(L-R) MP Nick Champion, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, MP Mark Butler Source: AAP

ALP president Mark Butler has warned that a fall in membership numbers has left the Labor Party "treading water".

Bill Shorten concedes Labor needs to improve after the party's outgoing president Mark Butler hit out at the "backroom buffoonery" of factional warlords and launched a fresh push for reform.

Mr Butler has warned Labor is "treading water" with falling numbers and only 50,000 members out of a country nearing 25 million, arguing the rank and file needs to be given more input.

The opposition leader said Labor must boost membership and involve more people in decision-making.

"The Labor Party needs to do better. We need to improve things. I'm keen to do more," Mr Shorten told reporters in Cairns on Tuesday.

"If we want to restore people's faith in democracy, we've got to talk about the issues that everyday Australians are concerned about, and top of that has to be cost of living."

Mr Butler says many of the party reforms discussed at the ALP's national conference in 2015 have been blocked by factional leaders.

"I'm sorry to say that ours remains a party that gives ordinary members fewer rights than any other labour or social democratic party I can think of," Mr Butler said in a speech to the Victorian Fabian Society on Monday night.

"It is time to issue a strong call for the conference in Adelaide this July to grasp the nettle and to give ALP members the range of democratic and participatory rights that members of our sister parties across the world take for granted."

Mr Shorten said Australians wanted to see political parties which reflected their own experiences.

He argued Labor was a unified force which benefited from trade union affiliation, while the internal mechanics of the Liberals and Greens were as murky as politics in Russia.

Mr Butler also pushed for a new category of member, called a registered supporter, who could vote in leadership ballots.

The president cited British Labour's recruitment of 35,000 new members in four days after the 2017 election, taking its body up to 550,000.

"Our members here in Australia are hardworking, motivated believers in the Labor mission but as a group we are not representative of the broader Australian population," he said.

While Labor can come together for election campaigns, there isn't the army of supporters to organise beyond them and it can't compete with the likes of GetUp, Mr Butler said.

Frontbench colleague Brendan O'Connor agreed the opposition ought look at boosting participation within the party, saying quite often office bearers were products of the factions.

Mr O'Connor suggested it would be better for the ALP president not to be drawn from the frontbench, as Mr Butler was.

"I think Mark is right to say we need to broaden our base and always look at ways to ensure we have the broadest participation of Labor supporters and Labor voters inside the party," he told Sky News.

"I think there's a bunch of things we can do to open up the doors of the party to true participation and that would include making sure we share the office holders, so that executive don't necessarily hold those positions."

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