Bill Shorten walks into Wollongong protest

Bill Shorten arrives at the Wollongong Golf Club. Pictures: ROBERT PEET
Bill Shorten arrives at the Wollongong Golf Club. Pictures: ROBERT PEET

Labor leadership hopeful Bill Shorten has addressed the party faithful in Wollongong, declaring the ALP needs to do anything it can ‘‘to make itself relevant in the future lives of Australians’’.

A protest by angry Trio Capital investors marred Mr Shorten’s visit, with dozens gathering outside Wollongong Golf Club over his performance as financial services and superannuation minister when the institution collapsed.

Mr Shorten defended himself, saying he was responsible for a review into how government regulators handled the matter.

‘‘They’re between a rock and a hard place,’’ he said, speaking of those affected by the collapse.

‘‘The Liberals made promises to them and we’ll be interested to see if the Liberals keep their word.’’

The group, called Victims of Financial Fraud, represents Wollongong investors who were denied access to a $55 million compensation package after the Trio Capital collapse.

Protesters waiting outside the Wollongong Golf Club.

Spokesman Paul Matters said many of those affected by the collapse who were previously Labor members had left the party.

‘‘They are not [members] now after Mr Shorten turned his back on working-class people who had tried to provide a decent future for themselves and their families,’’ he said.

After the event, Mr Shorten said the protesters hadn’t impacted proceedings.

‘‘They were standing on the side,’’ Mr Shorten said. ‘‘There was no drama.’’

Yesterday, the Illawarra Mercury published a letter written by lifetime ALP member Bill Carey, who criticised Mr Shorten for not doing more to ensure the party chose working class candidates during preselections.

Mr Shorten said the party could do more to diversify.

‘‘I think there is a fair range within the party now and I think we can do better.  

‘‘I want to broaden party membership ranks.

‘‘I want to bring in constituents, people on land, in the regions, small business, and more women.’’

Mr Carey also criticised the ALP, saying the only thing offered to him in  the federal election was the opportunity to ‘‘marry a bloke’’ if he divorced his wife.

But Mr Shorten said Labor had a strong track record when it came to getting policy through during its time in government.

He pointed to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, increasing the national superannuation standard and the National Broadband Network as proof of the party’s achievements.

‘‘I think we had been making a difference at the last election but it wasn’t sufficient to get enough votes,’’ he said.

Ahead of yesterday’s meeting, ALP Member for Throsby Stephen Jones said he planned to support Anthony Albanese for Labor leader, while Member for Cunningham Sharon Bird said she was firmly on ‘‘Team Bill Shorten’’.

Mr Albanese will deliver his pitch to Wollongong’s ALP  tonight, also at Wollongong Golf Club.

ALP challengers back free vote on gay marriage

 Neither prospective Labor leader will back moves to force all Labor MPs to vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

The party’s platform currently supports gay marriage but gives its parliamentary representatives a free vote on the matter.

But Australian Workers Union boss Paul Howes thinks that’s a mistake.

He’ll tell an Australian Marriage Equality forum in Sydney on Wednesday it’s an issue of social justice, not individual conscience.

The forum will include supporters of same sex marriage across party lines, including Tony Abbott’s sister Christine Forster.

‘‘Just like with racial discrimination, it is vital to understand that our past discrimination against people in same-sex relationships is not some sort of fundamental starting point for humanity,’’ Mr Howes will say.

‘‘I want tonight to urge my party to finally disown this phoney notion that we should be affording equal respect to both sides of the gay marriage debate, as if it were some exquisitely balanced moral quandary that could never be unlocked by mere mortals. 

‘‘It is not,’’ Mr Howes said.

He wants the party’s 2014 national conference to change the rules so there isn’t a conscience vote.

But both leadership candidates Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese say while they personally support same-sex marriage, it should be a conscience matter.

Mr Albanese said the time for legalising same-sex marriage  had come and Parliament should act.

‘‘But, equally, I believe this can best be achieved when all members and senators are given a free vote on any future legislation.’’ 

With Labor MPs split on the issue and the Coalition insisting its politicians vote against same-sex marriage, several bills have been doomed.

Mr Shorten’s spokeswoman said he was of the view that limiting the vote would not be consistent with his vision for a diverse, inclusive Labor Party.

The Australian Christian Lobby   said it would be damaging for Labor to tie itself to the agenda. AAP

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