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Theophanous gone: Dean Mighell waiting

Controversial Melbourne northern suburbs MP Theo Theophanous formally announced his resignation from state politics in a midday press conference today, bringing to a close his 20-year parliamentary career outside the revolving doors of the premier’s offices at 1 Treasury Place.

After a weekend of intense speculation, Theophanous’ future was finally put to the knife yesterday afternoon by John Brumby, who conveyed his views via operatives of his ruling Labor Unity faction and a one-hour personal phone call.

Unity was set to meet tonight to make a formal ruling on Theophanous, but after flurry of phone calls he was given the option of resigning on his own terms, with his wife by his side.

Brumby, celebrating two years on the job, was a highly visible presence yesterday at the netball grand final at Hisense Arena, but behind the scenes he was making his presence felt.

Theophanous’ place on the Northern Metropolitan ballot paper will now be a battle between by the Plumbers Union and Bill Shorten-backed candidate Nathan Murphy, and Stephen Conroy-backed public servant Vasko Nastevski. Murphy is favoured, in a potential a victory for Shorten-aligned forces against his new intra-factional rival. Conroy owes his spot in the Senate to Theophanous but the Senator would have known the writing was on the wall.

The ALP’s National Executive will meet on Wednesday night, on the eve of its national conference, to decide on Murphy and Nastevski’s future.

By killing off Theophanous, Brumby has effectively sidestepped the role of the factions —  the second of two extraordinary interventions over the past week.

The Premier also flexed his muscle last Thursday, axing the member for Ivanhoe, Craig Langdon, despite strong factional support, as foreshadowed by Crikey.

The pay-off for the installation of Nastevski could be the protection of ETU-turncoat and Kirsty Marshall-favourite Shaun Leane in Eastern Metropolitan.

Ironically, Shorten-backed forces could then face a subsequent challenge at the ballot box from Mighell-endorsed candidates in Brunswick and Footscray, likely to include Phil Cleary and health permitting, Les Twentyman.

Crikey contacted Mighell this morning who declined to confirm the looming challenges, but paid tribute to Theophanous, whom he described as an excellent former energy minister.

One angle that remains to be explored is the role of the media in the Theophanous case, specifically that of Age journalist Carolyn Webb. Webb ignited the case against Theo with a front page splash detailing the allegations which Magistrate Peter Reardon described as “inherently weak”. It should provide interesting fodder indeed for media studies students examining the intersection of journalism and politics.

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