A fresh factional war has broken out inside the Victorian ALP after Federal MP Bill Shorten and Senator Stephen Conroy came close to backing rival preselection candidates at a fiery meeting of the state Public Office Selection Committee last night.

Amid chaotic horse trading, the left-aligned, high-profile Frankston lawyer Helen Constas was finally endorsed as Labor’s candidate for the federal seat of Dunkley with 54% of the vote, despite a last-minute decision by Conroy forces to abandon the left for right-aligned rival Graham McBride. But voters loyal to Conroy were said to be enormously hesitant, with some indicating their disdain for the Shorten camp by staying home.

The stability pact signed by the left and the so-called “ShortCons” in January contains a mutual support clause that should have seen both the Shorten and Conroy forces supporting Constas. But it is believed Shorten insisted the Conroy camp instead fall in behind the notional right candidate McBride. Ironically, Shorten was then double-crossed by enemies at the National Union of Workers, who endorsed a third candidate, Monash councillor Joy Banerji, despite earlier indications to the contrary. The militant Construction, Forestry Mining and Energy Union, who excluded themselves from the stability pact, again abandoned the Left and backed Banerji.

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“Bill has egg all over his face this morning”, one factional source told Crikey.

In the lead-up to last night’s showdown, Crikey understands that the Conroy camp were feverishly hitting the phones to talk McBride out of running after it became clear Shorten loyalists were preparing to fall in behind him. McBride ran for Dunkley in 2007, substantially reducing sitting Liberal Bruce Billson’s margin.

Constas will now take on Billson at the 2010 election. The Liberal backbencher holds the seat with a 4.3% margin and would face a drubbing if the latest opinion polling is repeated at the ballot box.

In the other contest decided last night, left-backed CPSU official Rupert Evans was endorsed for Aston on the back of a strong grassroots vote held on Sunday and Monday. Evans will now take on Liberal candidate Alan Tudge and is reported to rate his chances of pegging back a 6% margin.

The bloodshed follows last month’s wild meeting of the ALP Administrative Committee meeting, when Conroy acolytes tapped the underqualified Mehmet Tillem for the vacant state secretary position ahead of John Brumby staffer Nick Reece. A compromise was finally reached two weeks later with Reece agreeing to run next year’s election campaign before making way for right apparatchik Noah Carroll in 2011.

One senior Right faction source questioned the future of Shorten’s allegiance to the peace deal when contacted by Crikey.

“The Shorten people are hedging their bets but there’s a residual view among Fiona Richardson and Stephen Conroy that it’s in their best interest to back the left.”

The fresh split in the right another blow to stability after a rift stemming from last year’s Kororoit by-election boiled over into mass bloodshed. The tensions led to the Victorian Ombudsman’s investigation into Brimbank Council. The latest blow-up means there are now at least three rights in the Victorian ALP, with the so-called “rebel” or “fringe right” comprising the SDA and the NUW, continuing to observe the new brawl from the sidelines.

Rumours are rife that Shorten may now throw his weight behind a so-called “PM’s faction” with the Prime Minister already calling for preselections to be halted in La Trobe and McEwen to install hand-picked candidates.

“There is a tangible sense among Stephen [Conroy] and Fiona [Richardson], that the faction has moved beyond them and they lost control,” said one right wing factional player close to the negotiations.

“When an faction eats itself it’s usually a question of what’s next on the menu.”

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In other federal preslection news, Crikey can reveal that the Greens’ lead Queensland Senate candidate for 2010 will be Larissa Waters, who was involved in a three-way contest against Jenny Stirling and Libby Connors. Waters also ran for the Greens in 2007. The decision was set to be announced by the Queensland Greens in first week of November.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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