The latest Nielsen poll to emerge this week contained little bad news for federal Labor — unless you happen to be on the other side of the Nullarbor. Already only holding four of 15 federal seats in the wild west, the WA branch of the ALP racked up 34% of the primary, with that result washing out to 43% of the two-party preferred vote.

To put that into context, fully two-thirds of the voting population of Western Australia indicated that they wouldn’t vote Labor. You think they’ve got problems in New South Wales? With the worst economy in the country and the continuing debacle that passes for state Labor government on Macquarie St, the mother colony went 53-47 for Rudd in the same poll.

This all comes on the one-year anniversary of the election of the Barnett Liberal government, which broke the Labor hegemony at state level for the first time since 2002. And in the two major events of the past 12 months, one MP has defected to the Nationals and the safe seat of Fremantle was lost to the Greens in a by-election. A spectacular record of failure, by anyone’s measure.

While Western Australia is a conservative state, is it any more right-wing now than it was in the ’80s, when the ALP held 11 of 14 federal seats and elected Burke, Dowding and Lawrence as Premiers?

Has the party failed to attract talent? Labor’s 2007 candidate in Stirling was Peter Tinley, a former SAS commander and small businessman … and even he couldn’t knock off trust fund baby Michael Keenan. Melissa Parke and Gary Gray are near the top of the 2007 federal class, while newcomers Wyatt, Papalia, Cook and Baker are all quality state members.

It’s clearly not the candidates, the community or the incumbency factor any more. So where exactly is Labor going wrong out West?

For a start, the party is broke. Years of neglect and mismanagement have left the coffers as bare of funds as Mother Hubbard’s cupboard … former Treasurer Radisich, take a bow.

Secondly, the scathing Ray Report into the state branch identified a lack of talent at key levels in the party hierarchy and office, and yet nothing has been done to fix it. There’s no strategic direction and no idea of tactics — much less any attempt to execute either — coming from Unity House. In particular, state secretary Simon Mead is a humble young man with much to be humble about, having presided over the Fremantle disaster and been heavily involved in the 2008 result.

Young Labor is broken in WA — providing no opportunities for talented young people to become involved. The president, Liz Nedela, quit in May quoting a lack of support; hardly surprising when the party at large provides no help to speak of beyond handing out bottles of parliamentary wine. And on it goes.

Federal Labor needs to wake up to what is happening in WA, and do it fast. The ALP is at maximum capacity in Victoria and Queensland, holds all five seats in Tasmania, could easily be dragged down federally by the antics in Sussex St and SA already punches well above its weight in Caucus in Canberra.

Rudd needs the WA Labor Party to start being a threat, not a liability. If the Liberal Party can start to gain any kind of traction nationally, it’ll be too late to start reforming branches of the ALP, which are under-performing. There needs to be a cleanout of the WA branch and a serious renewal at the office-holder level. If the powers of the ALP national executive are ever going to be any good for anything other than imposing rock-star candidates on safe seats and expelling union officials, now is the time.