The Victorian Branch of the ALP has descended into high farce after state secretary Stephen Newnham retained his position, in what has been described by a senior party powerbroker as a blatant “f-ck you” to Premier John Brumby.

Attendees at last night’s Administrative Committee meeting this morning told Crikey of “the most surreal meeting in the history of the state party”, as forces aligned to Federal MPs Stephen Conroy and Bill Shorten backed failed Hume council candidate Mehmet Tillem as Newnham’s replacement over the Premier’s pick, staffer Nick Reece.

Brumby had called for Reece’s immediate installation in an attempt to “breath life” into the state branch.

It is believed that the right-wing Labor Unity group, notionally supportive of Brumby, failed to advise the meeting of their preferred candidate in advance. Then, as mass confusion reigned, the sub-faction known as the “ShortCons” offered up Tillem, who had previously failed to enter into considerations. But in a further split, Conroy’s forces were believed to have offered unqualified support, as Shorten-backed delegates looked on incredulously. Crikey understands that some Shorten forces failed to attend the meeting.

Brumby, and forces aligned to the National Union of Workers and the Shop Distributive Allied Employees Association, had lined firmly up behind Reece and were dismayed when the ShortCons rounded on the Premier.

A discussion on terminating the employment of Newnham was then rejected by rival right-wing NUW/SDA group.

“The ShortCons have gone completely bonkers, they’ve just lost of plot completely. They’ve taken no responsibility for the future of the state party,” one senior right-wing source said.

“It is hard to describe how mad it is now”, another leading powerbroker told Crikey.

The group have been locked in a bitter power struggle with a so-called “Premier’s faction” over internal renewal in the party.

In a final twist, Newnham did not resign, and no one demanded his employment be terminated. But at the conclusion of the meeting, Newnham appeared ready to sack himself.

“C’mon, shoot me”, the beleaguered State Secretary was reported to have said, in bizarre scenes reminiscent of hit 1980s action flick Predator.

He is expected to tender his formal resignation in the coming days.

Last night’s meeting was also slated to address renewal in the ALP and its attempt to retain new members.

As expected, a special branch-stacking sub-commitee of the party submitted a two-page interim report. While broadly supportive of the party’s ideas, including reduced membership fees and phone checks, the meeting decided to extend the deadline for submissions until September 11.

On Melbourne radio yesterday, Brumby backed the introduction of US-style primaries in key seats, although this has been rubbished by party sources as unworkable.

The issue of branch stacking will be revisited in one month at September’s Admin meeting. Meanwhile, Newnham remains at his desk at 360 King Street, pondering the ineptitude of a party he once proudly presided over.

Peter Fray

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