MP says Merlino ‘needs to make it very clear that everyone is safe’

MP says Merlino ‘needs to make it very clear that everyone is safe’

05/05/2021

Labor MPs are calling on acting Premier James Merlino to step in and ensure vulnerable colleagues do not face preselection challenges as the party bickers over a new power-sharing arrangement.

MPs aligned with the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the National Union of Workers (NUW) – including Treasurer Tim Pallas and Major Events Minister Martin Pakula – are not included in a new “stability” deal which locks in preselections and party positions for the next decade.

One MP said Mr Merlino “can’t sit and watch union leaders putting his colleagues under threat”.Credit:Joe Armao

In meetings over the past two days, Labor MPs have expressed concern about what they claim to be a lack of consultation about the deal and its implication for those who are not covered by it.

The tense discussions are occurring against the backdrop of imminent legal action to thwart federal preselections being held on Friday.

Three MPs said that in the absence of the injured Premier Daniel Andrews, Mr Merlino needed to step in and declare all sitting MPs would not be challenged and would only leave Parliament before next November’s election if they chose to retire. Similar decrees have been made in the past to ensure unity and allow MPs to focus on election campaigning rather than internal disputes.

“He needs to make it very clear that everyone is safe, otherwise this will fester,” one MP said.

Another said: “James can’t sit and watch union leaders putting MPs, his colleagues, under threat.”

The MPs spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters and reveal private discussions.

Tensions heightened on Wednesday as word spread within Labor circles about a comment made by Michael Donovan, secretary of the Victorian Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA), during a factional phone hook-up. Mr Donovan, according to two sources familiar with the comments, said the National Union of Workers was a “non-existent” faction.

Mr Pakula said: “I’ve had Mr Donovan’s comments reported to me, and having known him for almost 30 years, I’ve got to say I’m surprised by them.”

Minister Martin Pakula.Credit:Simon Schluter

“I’m not sure why he seems so intent on having a blue, but I can’t see how it adds to stability.”

As part of the stability deal, the SDA is set to gain up to four additional state seats. This has prompted fears from MPs excluded from the pact that these additional seats will come at their expense. Mr Donovan was contacted for comment.

“This is his tribe,” a third MP said of Merlino, who is aligned with the SDA.

MPs in the NUW grouping are associated with the union formerly known as the National Union of Workers, which amalgamated with a left-wing union in recent years. Despite this, the senior ministers in the group still identify with the NUW faction and sit in the broader Right faction. The group has about eight MPs, including minister Jaala Pulford and probable future minister Steve Dimopoulos who is the parliamentary secretary to the Premier.

Unions including the CFMEU, AWU, Health Workers Union and United Firefighters Union are set to launch court action on Thursday to stop the party’s national executive from picking a candidate for the new seat of Hawke in Melbourne’s north-west.

The move to fast-track preselections is seen by disaffected 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.

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 are at risk of preselection challenges, causing potential disunity and destabilising the government.

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