Victorian Premier John Brumby has increased pressure on ALP State Secretary Stephen Newnham to resign immediately by barring him from preparations for the 2010 State Election campaign, Crikey can reveal.
ALP insiders say Newnham, who as campaign director is responsible for executing election strategy, was usurped at a recent three-day cabinet planning retreat held in Geelong to discuss the looming state poll and other issues including COAG.
Newnham would not normally attend cabinet planning meetings. But in a deviation from the retreat’s usual running sheet, Crikey understands debate impinged on Newnham’s turf, with rival pointy head Tom Cargill and Brumby staffer Nick Reece believed to be central to the putsch.
Reece has been touted as a possible Newnham replacement. Other candidates include former Theo Theophanous staffer Steve Booth and Right apparatchik Noah Carroll. Brumby’s office is close to finalising its considerations in consultation with factional chiefs.
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Last week, the Premier cleared the path for Newnham’s departure, telling reporters that he thought it was “important to have [a state secretary] who understands the Labor Party in Victoria.”
He called for a new candidate to “inject some new energy into debates and policy discussions.”
Brumby is keen to kick off formal preparations for the November 2010 poll, and is said to be anxious over the possibility of a Federal Election in February or March next year. Despite the modern rhetoric of “continuous campaigning”, it is believed Newnham’s preparations were only at a preliminary stage.
Insiders say the beleaguered state secretary hasn’t been sighted around key decision-making forums for months. An intra-factional split has brought pressure on his position to boiling point, with sections of the Right aligned to Bill Shorten withdrawing their support.
Last month, Newnham was conspicuously absent from a fiery meeting of his own Administrative Committee, raising eyebrows among party faithful, who had been carefully tracking his public appearances.
And in a recent internal vote of Newnham’s Unity faction to resolve Victorian upper house pre-selections, six key Newnham backers failed to show up, with the faction free to install Plumbers Union officials Shaun Leane and Nathan Murphy in key parliamentary posts.
One senior Right faction figure told Crikey that the latest developments “indicates the depth of disillusionment” enveloping the party’s King Street HQ.
“It’s been a very serious internal struggle to replace him, and very one-sided”, the source said.
Newnham’s has been living on borrowed time for months, following a botched knifing by dissident right wing forces in December last year, as revealed by Crikey.
He was granted a temporary reprieve by an historic stability pact between the party’s left and right factions, with the deal preserving his position. The latest struggle to replace him reflects a new fissure in the divided right, pitting Conroy-aligned forces against Shorten’s.
The intra-factional fissure has left Newnham with a minority of the Unity vote on the committee which appoints him. Conroy and Newnham’s wife, right powerbroker Fiona Richardson, are believed to be his sole remaining supporters.
Yesterday, in a parting salvo to salvage his legacy, Newnham announced that he would sue Liberal attack dog David Davis in the Supreme Court after Davis publically accused him of “sleazy rorts” in the wake of the Brimbank scandal.
Despite leading Labor to the 2006 election victory and scoring several by-election wins, Newnham has been criticised for running relentlessly negative campaigns out of ALP Head office.
In March, the Victorian Electoral Commission found that Newnham-authored campaign material used in last year’s Kororoit by-election was misleading, claiming a vote for independent candidate Les Twentyman was a “vote for the Liberals”.
At the time Newnham remained steadfast, claiming he would “do it again” if he had his time over.
But with his support base rapidly evaporating, it seems the former party hero may never get that chance.