Throsby MP Stephen Jones has called for the relationship between unions and the ALP to be fundamentally recast by giving the nation's 1 million-plus union members the right to choose whether their membership fees go to supporting Labor.
Stephen Jones, a Labor MP, has proposed union members be allowed to ''opt in'' to supporting Labor. The major unions channel tens of millions of dollars every year to the ALP in ''affiliation fees'' with no avenue for members to opt out of the system.
The reform proposed by Mr Jones would have the twin effects of reducing union control over the ALP through diminished financial input and by furthering the democratisation of the party following the ''direct election'' of new Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
The opt-in system is an issue in Britain, where Labour leader Ed Miliband has proposed the same thing. He has been warned that just 10 per cent of members would opt in and the party would risk being bankrupted.
On the flipside, nearly 20 per cent of British voters said they would be more likely to vote Labour if union influence was curtailed.
In a post-election essay for the Southern Highlands Branch newsletter of ALP stalwart Rodney Cavalier, Mr Jones, a former ACTU representative and a co-convenor of the Left, describes himself as a ''an unapologetic defender'' of unions but said Labor must find ways to encourage direct membership of the party by unionised workers.
''Union members should have a say about whether their membership of their union should count for the purpose of their unions affiliating to our party,'' he wrote. ''This ensures that union members are engaged with the party - not passive or involuntary numbers.''
The Labor Party relies on the millions of dollars it gets in affiliation fees to conduct election campaigns at all levels of government.
The union movement immediately rejected the idea on Monday.
Paul Howes, the national secretary of the Australian Workers' Union, dismissed the reform as counter to the 121-year tradition between his union and the ALP.
''We collectively make the decision to affiliate or not to affiliate just like we collectively vote for an EBA [enterprise bargaining agreement],'' Mr Howes said. ''We're not a union of individuals, we're a union of the collective.''