The three-way battle for control of the Health Services Union in Victoria has descended into acrimony after a vicious postal leaflet depicting a candidate as a sexual predator was sent to thousands of union members.

The glossy postcard includes a frightening image of a man in a leather hood, and is accompanied by the tagline “Jamie Martorana is a candidate for Assistant State Secretary of the Health Services Union”.

The anonymous leaflet is believed to have been sent by one of Mr Martorana’s rivals for control of the union. Around 80% of the 15,000-strong HSU Victorian membership are women.

Mr Martorana is running alongside Marco Bolano for Secretary and Carol Carmichael for President as part of the so-called “Stronger Together” ticket. On the Stronger Together website, Mr Martorana says his house was recently destroyed in the Black Saturday bushfires.

The other tickets jostling for control of the HSU #1 branch include “OneHSU”, helmed by Darebin Mayor Diana Asmar, and a ticket centred on current President Pauline Fegan and candidate for Secretary Doug Byron.

Senator Stephen Conroy, dumped ALP Secretary Stephen Newnham and Conroy acolyte George Droutsas are believed to be close to the Fegan camp. Ms Fegan has been involved in an bitter dispute over control of the union that led to claims and counterclaims over expenses rorts.

Neither Ms Asmar or Ms Fegan could be located as Crikey‘s deadline approached. However, in this morning’s Northcote Leader Ms Asmar announced that she would quit her position as Darebin Mayor if she was elected secretary of the union.

HSU National Secretary Kathy Jackson, who is believed to be close to the Stronger Together camp, told Crikey that the distribution of the postcard was an “awful slur”.

“The fact that they’ve used this against an openly homosexual man is appalling and and it won’t go down well with our membership. It has no place in this union.”

“He’s just been through the bushfires and this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable”.

The postcard reprints quotes from a Sunday Herald Sun article published in March, that recounted the details of an 18-year-old murder trial. Mr Martorana assisted police with their investigation into the murder, which led to the jailing of Jamie Koeleman for the 1991 “thrill kill” of Francis Arnoldt. Mr Martorana was a former partner of Mr Koeleman’s, but played no role in the crime.

Mr Martorana could not be contacted this morning, but sources have told Crikey that he is preparing to launch legal action over the postcards.

However, sources close to both camps have told Crikey that Mr Bolano and Mr Martorana could fall foul of the law themselves after they reportedly sent out SMS messages plugging their campaign to members. It is unknown whether rival legal action is planned on that front.

The HSU’s Victorian Branch is currently being over-seen by a Federal Court-appointed Administrator after a battle for control between the departing Secretary Jeff Jackson and Ms Fegan turned ugly in April. Allegations over expenses escort services were referred to police before the court ruled on the fracas. Two weeks ago, Mr Jackson announced that he would retire from the union after the current elections.

The poll concludes on 7 December and will decided via a postal ballot of members.

Peter Fray

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