The Victorian Labor Party is preparing for a smooth and uncontroversial leadership transition, with the party’s Socialist Left faction now in a commanding position to install health minister Daniel Andrews after it lost just one MP on Saturday night.
Depending on what happens in Rob Hudson’s seat of Bentleigh, the Socialist Left emerges from the election with either 25 or 26 seats in the new Labor caucus, with the divided right battered by 12 lower house losses in the Melbourne basin and the evacuation of two MPs — Jennifer Huppert and Nathan Murphy — from the upper house.
Assuming those two lose and Labor holds on to the six lower house seats still technically in doubt, the fresh factional architecture shows the SL on 25, Labor Unity on 19 and the SDA/NUW on 13 out of a severely diminished caucus of 59 (there are two independents).
Caretaker premier John Brumby, who is expected to concede defeat today and potentially force a byelection in his seat of Broadmeadows, will lose seven MPs from his faction, with the “rebel right”, comprising the SDA/NUW, down four. The Right’s preferred candidate is the NUW’s Tim Holding, who was seen in deep conversation with factional associates at the Imperial Hotel opposite State Parliament until just before 3am on Sunday.
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However, the avid bushwalker would have to rely on a substantial vote from his estranged Unity colleagues to be in with a chance. In early 2009, the SL and Labor Unity entered into a stability pact with the expectation of mutual support across internal party ballots, leaving Holding’s ambition clique out on limb.
The loss of a swathe of LU-held seats including Mitcham, Mordialloc and Carrum means that Andrews, who recorded an impressive performance on ABC TV’s election coverage on Saturday night sparring with Liberal Party attack dog David Davis, has now emerged as the front runner.
The Wangaratta wunderkind first entered State Parliament in 2002 as a freshman parliamentary secretary at the tender age of 30 and was made health minister in 2007 after a stint in the gambling portfolio. Although soaking up some damage over the vexed issue of hospital waiting times, he is generally thought to have done a solid job inside the Department of Human Services’ 50 Lonsdale Street headquarters.
A possible scenario emerging this morning was the installation of Andrews as opposition leader with Bendigo East MP Jacinta Allan — also from the Left but less factionally committed — as his deputy. This would give Labor an impressive double-headed punch in state parliament, although Holding and the Right would want significant concessions elsewhere in the shadow ministry, including a possible succession plan for the 38-year-old.
But despite the enthusiasm for Andrews, the wash up is bittersweet for the Left, with simmering unease over the Liberal Party preferences that delivered its three candidates victory in the inner city seats of Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick. Despite several rounds of Jagerbombs on Saturday night at the Imperial Hotel, advisers were also downcast over the looming reality that most had lost their jobs.
At around 1am, freshly-minted MP Jane Garrett emerged to scattered applause wearing a “Made in Brunswick” t-shirt after earlier beating off the Greens’ Cindi Dawes.
Holding was holding court with a clutch of loyalists at the other end of the pub, but refused to speak to Crikey claiming that the open-to-the-public event was a “party”.