Joe Bullock is now an elected Senator for Western Australia and there he will remain for another six years. Presumably he will be deselected in five and half years time but for now Labor are stuck with a Senator who happily admits to having voted for parties other than Labor and who seems pretty content to mouth off about his parliamentary colleagues. This is bad news for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten. Labor Unity types are assuring their colleagues in the Socialist Left branches that Bullock will be bound by the Whip and therefore his bluster will amount to very little but where do the Whips get their authority from if the individual in question already expects to lose his parties patronage before the next election?
The large crossbench in the Senate at the moment makes matters worse for Labor, if Bullock is prepared to break free of the pack he could wind up with a deciding vote on key pieces of legislation. And if he spends six years behaving like a boorish, socially conservative protectionist in the Bob Katter mould, there’s no certainty he won’t be able to make a successful run as an Independent next time. Western Australia is a parochial state and an historically anti-Labor one, it’s not beyond the realms of plausibility that Bullock could build up a strong personal vote by bagging his own party like Graeme Campbell before him.
Barnaby Joyce took advantage of the delicate balance of Senate numbers to carry on like a showpony during the Howard government before Abbott finally added him to Shadow Cabinet at which point he began to behave himself. Maybe the trappings of office would be enough to help Bullock forget his deeply held convictions and throwing him a junior shadow ministry might be the solution but such a move would enrage the Doug Camerons of the party and with that would come a new set of headaches for Shorten. And if appeasement doesn’t work, then when the showdown finally arrives there will be a much greater beast that requires slaying.
There’s no obvious solution as far as I can see, Joe Bullock is going to be a big headache for the Labor Leadership over the next six years and quite possibly more.