Our man on the spot in the Victorian seat of Monash gives the low-down on the ALP’s candidate who looks to be on a hiding to nothing to win the seat from a solid Liberal candidate, something of a rarity these days in state politics.

Peter Katsambanis, the ambitious and capable Liberal MLC for Monash, must be thinking all his Christmases have come at once with the Labor fiasco in Monash province. It’s been a great year for Katsambanis with the deposing of Dennis Napthine, and his successful number crunching for Robert Doyle, who grows in stature in the role every day.

Doyle quickly acknowledged his role by immediately promoting him to Parliamentary Secretary status. His portfolio of Industrial Relations gives him ample scope to reveal corruption within the building and other unions.

A couple of months ago, Katsambanis successfully led the fight to reverse the Port Phillip Labor Council and the Bracks Government plan to allow street prostitution tolerance zones in residential streets in St Kilda. So the Labor feud over the Monash pre-selection has threatened to make a good year for Katsambanis into an annus fantasticus.

Katsambanis has always worked his seat hard, investing a lot of time and effort into local groups and never taking them for granted.

The local left leaning weekly the Emerald Hill Times ran a huge headline “ALP Elder Slams Local MP” this week.

The story read “ALP elder statesman Clyde Holding has accused Melbourne Ports MHR Michael Danby of inciting disunity by distributing a “slanderous” letter to local party members.

“Mr Holding who held the seat of Melbourne Ports for 20 years until his retirement in 1997, said of his successor: “For the federal member to go public and attack a member of the party in the way he did was appalling.”

And so an internal war has developed making both Danby and Holding look like the mumbling backbench time-servers they both were.

The fighting is all about John Scheffer. Scheffer is now the selected Labor candidate for Monash, giving Katsambanis a dream run into the next election. Some Liberals were worried that a strong showing by Thwaites in Albert Park, and a sane candidate in Prahran would create some serious momentum behind the Labor Monash campaign. Labor is believed to have targeted the seat as one it could win.

But Scheffer has a history that makes it impossible to win the seat which contains a thriving Jewish community increasingly supportive of the Liberal Party given the ALP’s record of supporting fanatical Palestinian groups in foreign policy. Major figures in the Jewish community such as Dr Colin Rubenstein and Leon Kempler are increasingly close to the Liberal party while twenty years ago their equivalents would have supported Labor.

Katsambanis is believed to be preparing a campaign which will be highly critical of Scheffer’s past and ideological commitments. Scheffer is a member of the notorious Socialist Left grouping and works for State Chair of the Socialist Left and Cabinet Secretary Gavin Jennings.

According to a book written by prominent left-wing academic Phillip Mendes titled “The New Left, the Jews and the Vietnam War 1965-1972”, Scheffer is revealed to be a pro-Palestinian zealot.

Selected highlights from the turgid text include:

“In September 1969, Margaret Galea established an Arab-Australian Student Association which set out “to highlight the human suffering of the Palestinian people, driven from the homes by Israel, which has received inadequate coverage in the western press.” Galea and her friends arranged for the printing of Free Palestine, the first pro-Palestinian publication in Australia, which was produced intermittently by Monash students John Scheffer and Les Scott, and the Reverend Stan Moore from the Uniting Church.”

“Scheffer recalls: “At the time of the Six Day War, I possessed an uncritical view of Israel and Zionism. I opposed the draft (naturally) and supported the Viet Cong (with Hanoi Jane) but was not anti-Israel. I had never encountered an alternative view. In 1969, I met Les Scott and Margaret Galea. Margaret and her family were Palestinian and gave me an entirely different perspective. They spoke about their lives in Palestine in the twenties and thirties. I then read and was heavily influenced by Maxim Radinson’s Israel and the Arabs. I began to develop an alternative image to what I’d felt from reading Exodus.” (I bet he did).

The footnotes explain that “Scheffer was associated with the Monash Labor Club network and sometimes worked for Print (a Marxist publishing group), but never joined the Labor Club and did not view himself as part of the wild Left. He later joined the CPA (Communist Party of Australia).

Katsambanis is a respected young Parliamentarian because of his excellent research and debating skills. He frequently exposes incompetence in the Bracks Government and gives Ministers a terrible time. His appointment as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Industrial Relations proves that the leadership are confident giving him tough assignments. By giving Katsambanis such a generous gift in the form of Comrade Scheffer, the voters of Monash will have an opportunity to see Katsambanis unleash his full talents on a quiet and ineffectual little lefty who may be left wondering why he was so stupid to nominate in the first place. Scheffer will face a barrage of questioning about his views about the Middle East, the former Soviet regime from where thousands of Monash voters fled as refugees and his involvement in the Socialist Left and Communist Party of Australia.

With even the local federal Labor MP Danby calling Scheffer “detested” and “hard-line” and Socialist Left, Scheffer will need all the friends and short memories he can find to avoid the ignominy of having a swing against him when Labor is travelling so well in the polls.

Scheffer’s defender Clyde Holding put it best when he wrote that Scheffer’s “political objectives are well within the parameters of Labor history and thinking.”

Well said Clyde.

An anti-Israel member from the Communist Party is clearly made very welcome in today’s Labor Party.

No wonder Katsambanis has been so smiley lately.

Peter Fray

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