Diana Asmar looks set to take out the bitterly-fought battle for secretary of the Victorian Health Services Unions No. 1 branch.
Diana Asmar has won the Victorian Health Services Union No. 1 branch election, delivering a potential 13 extra Labor state conference delegates to Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy’s Labor Unity faction.
On preliminary voting figures in the hard fought poll relayed by internal scrutineers, Asmar, who is running for secretary, was on 2019 votes with chief rival — and David Feeney proxy — Marco Bolano on 1848 votes and regional-based candidate Ricky Lovell on 524 with about 81% counted.
While the HSU is disaffiliated from Labor in Victoria, sources confirmed this morning it would look to re-join once the Craig Thomson credit card storm died down in coming years, again granting it influence on state conference floor.
A quietly confident Asmar campaign director, former Daniel Andrews deputy chief of staff Luke Walladge, told Crikey from the tarmac at Perth Airport that victory was in sight.
“Diana has won the secretary position, David Eden has won the president’s position,” he said. “There’s no way Marco can make up the gap.” Walladge says the Asmar-aligned assistant secretary Daniel Govan “would need to sweat” on the count — which is continuing today — but he would likely edge out Bolano loyalist Leonie Flynn.
Walladge says that at every stage of the first-past-the-post ballot, the vote was splitting 46% to Asmar, 42% to Bolano and 12% to Lovell. Official Australian Electoral Commission figures covering about 50% of the vote confirmed the emergent trend.
The results for the 11-member national council and the eight-member committee of management were less certain and were likely to split about 80-20 between the Asmar and Bolano camps. Turnout in the bitterly fought ballot was relatively strong, with 5395 ballots returned out of a total No. 1 branch membership base of about 12,000.
The interim figures are an apparent slapdown for the future preselection hopes of “death spot” Victorian Senator David Feeney, who had been accused of using his office to canvass for Bolano’s “New HSU Team”. The allegations, which Feeney denies, are being investigated by the Gillard government, with attention likely to focus on the role played by Young Labor president, Feeney staffer and late-night SMS fan Ben Maxfield.
The initial ballot was delayed after the AEC ruled last month that Asmar, who resigned as the deputy mayor of Darebin Council to run, was ineligible under union rules. However, her candidacy was reinstated after a successful Federal Court challenge, with eagles accusing Bolano’s acolytes of deliberately conspiring to deny her membership in the wake of the vicious 2009 campaign won by Bolano and a grab-bag of other Kathy Jackson supporters.
On 2009 ALP figures, a re-affiliated No. 1 branch would be entitled to between 11 and 13 delegates in the 600-strong state conference, which would also grant it two positions on the 100-member Public Office Selection Committee that controls state and federal parliamentary preselections. A vigorous membership recruiting drive could further inflate that number.
“This was about re-affiliation, pure and simple,” one senior ALP head office source told Crikey this morning. “If the union can grow their membership base over the next few years then it could represent substantial influence.”
One potential stumbling block is an incoming Abbott government, which is likely to regulate to require a membership vote for ALP affiliation.
The second Victorian HSU election for the No. 3 branch was won last month by cleanskin candidate Craig McGregor and his CleanSweepHSU3 team. In 2009, No. 3 commanded four state conference delegates. Both polls were fiercely contested.
Last week The Age reported a re-election fund overseen by Victorian AWU state secretary Cesar Melhem had assisted Asmar’s campaign in the 2009 elections in her unsuccessful bid to defeat the now beleaguered former HSU national secretary Kathy Jackson. However, the newspaper is yet to speculate on how her campaign was funded this time around (Crikey understands that large personal contributions were received from “supporters”).
Meanwhile, the Victorian Fraud Squad continues to investigate the former entrails of the No. 1 and No. 3 branches which, until they were placed into administration following the unedifying collapse of the merged HSU East branch, were controlled by Jackson and her ex-husband Jeff.