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Federal

Oct 16, 2012

Dobell locals mull Labor successor as Craig Thomson heads to court

As Craig Thomson faces a civil claim by Fair Work Australia, Labor will wait to finger a replacement candidate for his NSW electorate. But whoever wins ALP pre-selection will face a tough contest against the Liberals at the federal election.

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As Craig Thomson prepares to fight civil action brought by Fair Work Australia, local ALP members in his NSW Central Coast seat of Dobell will have to wait until 2013 to discover who will fight the Liberals at the next federal election.

NSW ALP General Secretary and right-wing powerbroker Sam Dastyari told Crikey that a pre-selection vote would now be held in “February or March” for the seat, despite media reports earlier in the year it would happen this year.

Thomson is formally suspended from the NSW Labor Party, even though one source said he was technically still a member because the state’s powerful Administrative Committee had only “noted” rather than “passed” his suspension request. But Fair Work’s looming Federal Court action means the Thomson case is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, meaning he would be ineligible to stand for Labor under party rules.

Dastyari has previously said he expected the Thomson actions to drag on for “years”. That puts him at odds with his struggling MP, who said this morning that he expected the FWA actions to be imminently “thrown out”.

The Liberals have already picked public servant Karen McNamara, the wife of former Dobell candidate John McNamara, to run in Dobell despite initial grassroots protestations.

At the 2010 election, Thomson, who now sits as an independent, extended his margin by 1.1 percentage points to 5.1% — even though the brothel allegations had been raised over a year earlier on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald by then-journo (now Greg Combet adviser) Mark Davis.

In early 2010, popular local LUCRF super fund manager Dave Mehan, who ran unsuccessfully for Dobell in 2004 and The Entrance at last year’s NSW state election, challenged Thomson but dipped out 66 votes to 21.

This time around, Dobell Federal Electorate Council watchers say that the contest will boil down to a “battle of the Daves”. The other Dave is former Wyong MP-turned local Point Clare Public School principal David Harris, who did not return calls.

Multiple local sources said today that Emma McBride — the daughter of former Entrance MP Grant McBride — was out of the race and was concentrating instead on greener pastures after recently deciding not to stand for another term as a Wyong councillor (McBride declined to comment this morning). McBride Jr previously had her state political ambitions cut short when her dad realised his seat, which he planned to keep in the family, had become unwinnable as the Labor brand turned toxic.

Mehan, who put his hand up again for Dobell back in March, told Crikey today he was still interested in another tilt and believed that “the seat is winnable … Labor is turning it around federally and this will flow through to the Central Coast”.

But feisty local Labor identity Norman Hanscombe, a former president of Mehan’s Ourimbah-Narara branch, told Crikey that the retiree-strip had become a poisoned chalice. “The only two are the two Davids … and both of them couldn’t cope with Goliath,” Hanscombe quipped. “You can say with safety that the only value from someone running is to use the money from the public purse to raise their profile as someone who tried courageously against the odds.”

Hanscombe slammed any suggestion that a candidate would end up being imposed from above via the controversial “N40” rule and that it would be decided by a democratic vote of members. “The NSW Labor party wouldn’t be sufficiently stupid, despite their strengths in that area, to interfere again,” he said.

Mehan was recently elected as a delegate to NSW state conference — a move that Hanscombe told Crikey was deliberately engineered by Suss-x Street forces to shut him out.

Hanscombe said Mehan would need to gather support from a motley bunch of local branches, while Harris would have to rely on backing from the 30-member The Entrance branch that previously backed Thomson. The Entrance is believed to take its direction predominantly from NSW HQ.

Andrew Crook —

Andrew Crook

Former Crikey Senior Journalist

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