When the right-wing Centre Unity faction meets in Sydney on Friday it will accept the resignation of Karl Bitar as the general secretary of the NSW Labor Party and select Matthew Thistlewaite to succeed him.

It’s then over to the party’s ruling administrative committee to endorse Thistlewaite’s promotion at its November meeting.

Bitar is moving to Canberra to become the ALP national secretary in place of Tim Gartrell who quit unexpectedly after five years in the hot seat.

Thistlewaite’s background is in the trade union bureaucracy, not the ALP’s Sussex Street machine from where previous general secretaries have been recruited — e.g. Graham Richardson, Stephen Loosley, John Della Bosca, Eric Roozendaal, Mark Arbib and Bitar.

A former organiser with the Australian Workers Union, Thistlewaite is the deputy assistant secretary of Unions NSW and had been tipped to succeed current secretary John Robertson when he eventually goes into politics.

He was a former partner of Reba Meagher, the ex-health minister and former MP for Cabramatta, and served on the Unsworth Committee which conducted a review of the abortive plan to privatise the State’s electricity industry.

Thistlewaite, a political ally of the right-wing Maroubra MP Michael Daley who also served on the committee, kept loyal to the anti-privatisation line of the ALP conference and Unions NSW, and is now being rewarded.

Daley was a fierce supporter of the ill-fated sell-off but he was rewarded by the incoming Premier Nathan Rees with a Cabinet post as Roads Minister.

Thistlewaite has little or no experience as an election campaigner, a pollster or political strategist. With a federal election in two years and a state election in 2011, he is on a fast learning curve.

Labor’s national executive also meets on Friday to confirm Bitar’s selection as the new national secretary. He has the support of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the majority right faction and the left-wing faction led by Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Minister Anthony Albanese, the husband of NSW Deputy Premier Carmel Tebbutt.

Bitar is a protégé of Senator Mark Arbib, who was NSW ALP general secretary until his election to Canberra last November, but the two have different interests.

Arbib yearns to be a factional powerbroker in the style of Graham (Whatever It Takes) Richardson, while Bitar is a faction free-zoner who is a campaign technician, a marginal seat specialist and an election junkie (he travelled to the US for the Democratic Party Convention).

His first job will be to shake-off the appalling legacy of the Iemma Government which he and Arbib were instrumental in creating.

Peter Fray

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