This morning’s backing by CFMEU overlord Bill Oliver of a Supreme Court challenge to block the ALP National Executive’s parachuting of Frank McGuire into John Brumby’s seat of Broadmeadows is almost certain to founder and will instead shine a light on the electorate’s notorious history of branch stacking, party insiders say.
The Victorian branch’s shaky factional truce is threatening to implode over McGuire’s pre-selection, with the party’s administrative committee deciding on Tuesday to bypass a local ballot and waive a requirement of party membership to install him as a candidate for the safe Feburary 19 poll. Oliver claimed that the decision was an affront to democracy because it ignored the wishes of grassroots members.
But others say the veteran unionist should be careful what he wishes for. If the infighting continues, the resulting probe will almost certainly feature an in-depth investigation into the party’s Coolaroo “ghost branch”, in which over 200 members never meet and a mysterious anonymous benefactor services most of the membership fees. There are around 500 ALP members on the Broadmeadows roll, split between McGuire rival Burhan Yigit and the region’s ruling Socialist Left, which controls Hume Council and the broader federal fiefdom of Calwell.
Yigit — a minority Hume Councillor — has repeatedly denied claims of branch-stacking that emerged in the wake of McGuire’s Peter Garrett-style bid for public office, which is supported by federal heavyweights Stephen Conroy, Bill Shorten and — under the terms of the party’s 2009 stability pact — the Socialist Left. Although the SL controls the area, a local Broadmeadows ballot would be poised on a knife edge, with Yigit utilising his high profile to project far-reaching influence.
Yigit-supporting ALP members are said to be centred mostly around Broadmeadows central, Coolaroo and Somerton, while embers loyal to SL stormtrooper Maria Vamvakinou are concentrated further north in Craigieburn and further west to Sunbury.
The working class heartland has been the site of a series of escalating brawls between Yigit’s rebel right and the Socialist Left. In 2009, Geelong-based Australian Manufacturing Workers Union official Andy Richards launched a nuisance bid to topple Vamvakinou with the notional support of Yigit’s forces. But the sitting MP survived after Richards withdrew thanks to her strong support from the Kurdish community and Lebanese activists associated with savvy numbers man Mo Abbouche.
Oliver’s comments come nearly a year to the day after the CFMEU backed away from the state party’s preselection pact to pursue rolling deals with the AMWU, the anti-abortion agitators in the shop assistant’s union and the National Union of Workers. Under the deal, the SL and the so-called “ShortCons” pledge mutual support for each other and neatly carve up Victoria’s state and federal seats between them. The union chief’s opportunistic alliance with the party’s right — while simultaneously backing progressive candidates like Yarra Councillor Steve Jolly in the Victorian election — continues to raise eyebrows.
Meanwhile, McGuire is shaping as an important tool in Labor’s talent box, with a future front bench position almost assured. Media reports to date have focused on his history as a staffer for Natasha Stott Despoja, however much less has been said about McGuire’s time working as a spin doctor for former Labor Premier John Cain. In fact the subliminal push for his services has been bubbling away inside the ALP for years, with continued work amid projects local community cited as reasons to elevate him to Spring Street.
McGuire, last spied by Crikey at Bruce Guthrie’s ‘Man Bites Murdoch’ launch last year, did not return calls this morning.