Victorian ALP pro-life warrior Lizzie Blandthorn has lobbed a bomb in the direction of the senior apparatchiks ahead of Labor’s state conference on Saturday, in an eleventh hour bid to become party president.
Crikey understands that the ambitious Blandthorn, the early-30s chief-of -staff to SDA-aligned Victorian sports minister James Merlino, has submitted a nomination for party officer and has been actively canvassing for votes as the ballot looms.
But she will face stiff competition from Rail Tram and Bus Union stalwart Trevor Dobbyn, who currently serves as the party’s Senior Vice President and is likely to garner the support of Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy to ascend to Labor’s administrative pinnacle, alongside votes from his own Socialist Left.
Under ALP rules, the three leading “party officer” vote getters are allocated the positions of President, Senior Vice President and Junior Vice President respectively. Crikey understands that Blandthorn was originally intending to settle for the junior role, but that senior party figures convinced her to declare war.
A successful putsch would breach the terms of a peace deal thrashed out last year between the Socialist Left and the so-called “Shortcons” and throw Labor into factional chaos in the lead-up to November’s state election.
On state conference floor, Blandthorn’s faction holds around 30% of the votes with around 60% commanded by an alliance between the Socialist Left and the right-wing Labor Unity. Blandthorn would almost certainly have to convince the divided right to re-unite for her bid to be successful.
But the former SDA organiser is also believed to be courting potential defectors from the left including the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, despite their virulent opposition to her former union’s conservative social agenda. Electrical Trades Union firebrand Dean Mighell and Peter Marshall from the firefighters union may have also been sounded out.
Under the peace deal, which has been repeatedly challenged by rebel forces aligned to Blandthorn’s SDA and the National Union of Workers, the party president position is reserved for the Left for as long as Premier John Brumby’s Labor Unity holds the position of state secretary, currently filled by Brumby loyalist Nick Reece.
One senior party source was outraged by Blandthorn’s tactics this morning. “What’s the point of it? This is just another exercise in the sort of value-free tribalism seen in New South Wales.
“I don’t think people seriously think Lizzie’s the right person to tell the Victorian ALP’s story in an election year.”
Outgoing president Charlie Donnelly, who shares Blandthorn’s factional affiliation as national secretary of the NUW, will relinquish his controversy-marred two-year term on Saturday. In a disastrous “Yuletide massacre” attempt in the lead-up to Christmas 2008, Donnelly famously convened a meeting of members to knife then-state secretary Stephen Newnham, which was cancelled after opposing factions rebelled.
The SDA and NUW were also behind the installation of Marlene Kairouz as Labor’s candidate at the Kororoit byelection in June 2008, that led to mass retaliations and bloodletting. Kairouz now serves as Junior Vice President — the same position that was supposed to be gifted to Blandthorn.
Another controversial nomination is that of Kimberley Kitching, the ex-bankrupt Melbourne City Councillor who once harboured aspirations to become Mayor. If she can keep ahead of Blandthorn, Kitching is expected to secure the position of Senior Vice President.
Expectations have reached fever pitch in the lead-up to Saturday’s conference, with a special “curtain raiser” panel discussion scheduled for tomorrow night featuring genial Australian columnist George Megalogenis, Waleed Aly and the Socialist Left’s candidate for Brunswick Jane Garrett.
However insiders say the event will likely fall flat as hundreds of officials aligned to the rival Dobbyn and Blandthorn camps remain hunkered down in their respective war rooms.
Neither Dobbyn nor Blandthorn returned Crikey‘s calls this morning.