Legal threat looms over Labor preselection ‘volcano waiting to erupt’

Legal threat looms over Labor preselection ‘volcano waiting to erupt’

05/04/2021

Powerful Victorian unions have asked for legal advice on whether they can stop the preselection of a candidate for a new safe Labor seat after they were cut out of a power-sharing deal.

Their action follows a move by Labor’s national executive, under the direction of federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, to order the selection of a candidate for the new federal seat of Hawke, in Melbourne’s outer west, by Friday.

Four senior sources from across the union movement, commenting on the condition of anonymity, told The Age the Australian Workers Union, a major union of the party’s Right faction, had joined the group seeking to thwart the fast-tracked preselection deadline. The group also includes some left-wing, blue-collar unions such as the CFMEU that have been excluded from the deal.

The unions have been considering court action over recent months to test the validity of the federal intervention into the Victorian party branch, prompted by branch-stacking allegations first reported by The Age against key figures in the state Labor Party including Adem Somyurek.

Corrections Minister Natalie Hutchins is considering a run for the new seat of Hawke.Credit:Justin McManus

Labor’s Socialist Left faction this week signed a new “stability deal” – which carves up seats and shares power between the major factions – with some sections of the Right but excluded others like the Australian Workers Union.

Australian Workers Union boss Ben Davis (left) and state MP Tim Richardson leave an MP’s office recently after peace talks.Credit:Joe Armao

The move to fast-track preselections is seen by non-signatories to the stability deal as an opportunistic smash-and-grab. The injunction may not be filed if it is deemed unlikely to succeed.

Some MPs expressed concerns about a lack of consultation during a meeting of Right faction MPs at Parliament on Tuesday, fearing they could be challenged at preselection if their group was not a signatory to the deal.

“This is a volcano waiting to erupt,” one MP from the Right said. “This could split the Right in Parliament and mean internal discipline is gone.”

The MP said the potential fracture of the Right could affect the faction’s ability to unite behind a candidate in the event Premier Daniel Andrews resigned either before or after the November 2022 election. Mr Andrews is from the party’s Left.

A meeting of Labor women is to be held on Wednesday night to discuss the Hawke preselection. It is being organised by state government minister Natalie Hutchins, who is weighing up a tilt for the seat. The meeting may decide which female candidates should contest the seat and it may pass a motion or petition calling on the party’s national executive to pick a woman.

The Labor Party aims for 40 per cent of its members to be women – a target the party is currently achieving in Victoria. Women make up a greater proportion of the Left faction than the Right in the state.

Major Events Minister Pakula, a member of the Right faction, said on Tuesday morning that he had not been consulted about the factional deal and questioned its implications for his preselection.

“Apparently this deal’s been done and they’ve put certain designations against certain seats and no one’s bothered to have a conversation with me,” he said.

Minister Martin Pakula.Credit:Simon Schluter

But the preselection may be delayed if the group of disaffected unions has its way. Lawyers were engaged on Tuesday to determine the likelihood of success if an injunction were filed to stop it taking place.

Other left-wing unions, including the United Firefighters Union, Australasian Meat Industry Union and the Victorian Postal and Telecommunications branch, have all been scathing of the deal.

A senior Right faction source said of the proposed legal threat: “What a complete waste of members’ money by unions with some of the lowest-paid members in the country to challenge the party on a matter that’s already been decided in the courts.”

Stability deals provide long-term certainty for groupings within the party over which people it will send to Parliament, meaning operatives can spend more time mobilising ground campaigns against other parties and less time fighting internal battles. In the absence of a deal, or one that does not have broad enough support, MPs can be opened up to preselection challenges, causing potential disunity and destabilising the government.

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