The Brimbank Council rats in the ranks saga, already dubbed “the tale of two warlords” by ALP insiders, is likely to have far-reaching repercussions — not just for the state MPs named in Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer’s report, but also for the ALP’s Left-Right stability pact that controls pre-selections at federal and state level.
The notorious western suburbs fiefdom operated as a site of influence peddling of zero relevance, or comprehension, to the vast majority of local constituents. But while the over-the-top floridity — sexually explicit online avatars, laptop p-rn, dodgy toilet contracts — is good for a giggle, the crisis could prove perversely useful for party stability in the long term.
In a twist worthy of the best prime-time crime dramas, it appears the explosive report initiated by Keilor MP George Seitz has blown up in his face, putting an effective end to two decades of factional dominance. Seitz’s renegade sub-faction that successfully elevated Marlene Kairouz to lower house glory last June is now irrelevant, insiders say.
The Hansard transcript of Seitz’s outburst in State Parliament last year likening former Brimbank mayor Natalie Suleyman to “Robert Mugabe” has the distinct whiff of a suicide note. Following the speech, the opposition wrote to Brouwer to demand an inquiry. But the winner by default appears to be the same sub-faction whose members came under the microscope — the Shorten and Conroy group that backed Suleyman in her failed bid for the state seat of Kororoit.
Before Brouwer’s bombshell, the forces excluded from the stability pact, comprising the shop assistants union, the National Union of Workers and the internally-divided HSU, were still hopeful of forging a deal to bolster the détente negotiated in January between Shorten and the Socialist Left. Insiders claim the sticking point was Seitz — before Thursday’s carnage Shorten and Conroy were ready to invite the NUW in on one condition: the NUW would have to give up Seitz’s army of recruits.
The dissidents controlled around 30% of state conference votes. Now, with Seitz fading from view, that’s looking more like 25% — a decidedly less savoury prospect. The so-called “ambition faction” will be forced to fall in behind the stability pact, with all other options exhausted, insiders say.
And in the ultimate insult the ALP National Executive may move to decommission memberships in the irrevocably-tainted Gorton FEA, with the potential for a Robert Ray-led truth and reconciliation commission to sweep out Seitz’s dead wood.
In the world of ALP influence peddling, warlords like Seitz and Hakki Suleyman are only necessary for the temporary purposes of preselection. The crack-up in the Right, regaled in all its glory in the Ombudman’s report, can be traced to the utter dispensability of the votes they control. After the beneficiaries (most notably Shorten) ascend to the heights of Federal Parliament, all bets are off.
While the micro-level squabbling continues to consume local soccer clubs, the ultimate beneficiaries of branch stacking maintain an air of detachment in the rarified climes of Manuka and Ainslie.
At state level, it seems the ministers named in the report will escape unscathed, despite this online campaign to eject Hakki Suleyman’s employer, Justin Madden and this one to sack the council. The mysterious Sunshine Residents and Ratepayers Association (SunRRA – not the band) even erected an overpass banner overnight claiming Madden had known about Brimbank’s irregularities for years.
Some heat may also be felt in the offices of The Age, following the apparent leaking of the contents of Brouwer’s report last week to veteran journalist Royce Millar. Interestingly, Millar’s story contained quotes from Natalie Suleyman’s new lawyer George Defteros, who shot to fame representing gangland figures including Mick Gatto.
While the factions mull a Seitz-free future, this saga, like so many Underbelly plotlines, still has the potential to turn very, very nasty.