West Australian Labor senator Joe Bullock is quitting politics after less than two years in parliament because the ALP has voted to remove a conscience vote on same-sex marriage.
Bullock, a former union official and right wing faction boss, announced his departure in the Senate last night and is expected to go within weeks, despite being elected for six years.
The ALP plans to remove a conscience vote on the issue in 2019.
Bullock is a fierce opponent of same-sex marriage and took the top Senate position on the 2014 WA ballot paper in 2013 by deposing the openly gay Louis Pratt in a factional deal.
But he was forced to apologise for comments he made about Pratt prior to the election during a speech in which he called some ALP members “mad” and admitted he voted against Labor.
Last night, he said he could no longer back his party’s policy.
“As a Labor Senator, it’s my job to tell voters that it doesn’t matter that Labor will outlaw the conscience vote on homosexual marriage, and to recommend a vote for Labor without reservation,” he said.
“That’s the job description of a Labor Senator. It’s a job which I can’t do.”
Senator Bullock, an Anglican, is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage and more recently, was at odds with his party when he called for the Safe Schools anti-bullying program, currently being investigated by the Turnbull government, to be abolished immediately.
“How can I in good conscience recommend to people that they vote for a party which is determined to deny its parliamentarians a conscience vote on the homosexual marriage question, which I regard as of fundamental significance to the future shape of our society,” Bullock told the Senate.
He said he felt “morally obliged” to resign from parliament, rather than just sit on the crossbench, but the former state secretary of the “Shoppies” union, which successfully opposed Sunday trading in WA, also took a swipe in his parting remarks at diversity in his party saying Labor needed to preselect candidates who would change people’s votes.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten issued a statement saying senator Bullock was “a man of deeply held faith and convictions”.
“I don’t agree with his views on a number of issues — including marriage equality — but I respect his right to hold those opinions,” he said.
“I respect the decision he’s made to step down tonight, knowing it’s come after a long period of consideration. The Labor Party wishes Joe and his wife Helen good health and happiness in the next chapter of their lives.”
Bullock is the fourth WA ALP politician to quit politics in the past month, with three lower house MPs, party stalwart Gary Gray, Melissa Parke, and Alannah MacTiernan all announcing they will step down at the next election.