Friday, January 28

The Victorian Supreme Court has rejected the attempt to force a normal preselection process, clearing the path for Frank McGuire’s endorsement. The ABC reports Justice Tony Pagone “found that the internal party rules used as the basis for the unions’ case were not legally enforceable”, while VexNews says the applicants’ failure to pursue the matter through the party’s disputes resolution processes was a “big factor” in the decision. Andrew Crook of Crikey wrote yesterday that the challenge threatened the unintended consequence of a party investigation into local preselectors’ bona fides, which Yigit’s opponents claimed had the potential to expose a “ghost branch” of 200 members where “a mysterious anonymous benefactor services most of the membership fees”. Crook also reported that the local balance of power was finely poised between Yigit in central Broadmeadows and the Socialist Left around Craigieburn and Sunbury, where federal Calwell MP Maria Vamvakinou wields considerable influence.

Thursday, January 27

Evening. VexNews reports the Supreme Court is today hearing a challenge being pressed by HSU national secretary Kathy Jackson, who has engaged Minter Ellison to pursue a strategy that most likely involves seeking an injunction or application to conduct a local vote. Given that nominations for the by-election close on Monday, this would not allow time for local preselectors’ bona fides to be checked. The site tells an intriguing tale of the NUW/SDA bloc of the Right being desperate to remain on side with Burhan Yigit owing to his standing in the local Turkish community and consequent ability to deliver it votes at State Conference. VexNews appears to think a legal challenge more likely to succeed than I suggested in my previous entry, given the disconnect between “the rarefied air of the Practice Court of the Supreme Court” and the “real-world issues and problems” facing a functioning political party. However, it is suggested that the challenge might be a token effort to keep Yigit on side, given that it is being pursued so late in the game.

Morning. As reported by Richard Willingham of The Age yesterday, Labor’s administrative committee has voted 18 to 13 to fast-track Frank McGuire’s preselection by referring the matter to the national executive, while also waiving the usual requirement that candidates be party members of over a year’s standing. David Rood of The Age today reports that the elements who favoured Hume councillor Burhan Yigit, namely the SDA, NUW and HSU on the right and the CFMEU on the left, have threatened legal action to enforce the normal procedure in which preselections are jointly determined by local members and the Public Office Selection Committee. A case brought by former South Australian deputy leader Ralph Clarke in 1999 established the power of the courts to rule on internal party matters, but the effect of this was to overturn a crude branch-stacking operation: what the aforementioned unions appear to be hoping for is a highly prescriptive intervention into the way the party organises its affairs, which would not seem to be promising ground. McGuire’s backing comes from the Shorten-Conroy axis on the Right and the Socialist Left, the latter of which is identified as accusing Yigit of having “effectively killed local activism” through branch-stacking.

The Richard Willingham report also tells us that Gerrit Hendrik Schorel-Hlavka and Joseph Kaliniy have nominated as independents, while the Moreland Leader relates that hardy perennial Phil Cleary is considering once again throwing his hat into the ring.

Saturday, January 23

The by-election to replace outgoing former Victorian Premier John Brumby has been set for February 19. Labor’s state administrative committee will meet next week to select a candidate, having chosen to circumvent the normal process where the vote is jointly determined by local branches members and the party’s Public Office Selection Committee. This decision has presumably been taken to smooth the path for Frank McGuire, a property developer and former journalist best known as the brother of Eddie. Although he has not been a member of the party (and served a decade ago as a strategist for the Australian Democrats), McGuire has in his favour a lifelong family association with an electorate which – with all due respect to it – would count few likely ministerial contenders among its residents. Royce Millar of The Age reported that possible rivals with more current links to the area included Hume councillor Burhan Yigit, a member of the NUW/SDA sub-faction of the Right, and Mehmet Tillem, a convenor for the rival Bill Shorten-Stephen Conroy group. Also hoping for the latter’s support were Nathan Murphy, who lost his Northern Metropolitan upper house seat at the election, and Danny Pearson, a “former Bracks adviser turned lobbyist”. However, Millar also wrote that it was this group which first floated McGuire as a contender. More recently, but The Age’s Richard Willingham wrote that McGuire was “believed to be enjoying growing cross-factional support as the preferred candidate”. State party secretary Nick Reece was believed to have been Brumby’s choice, but he met resistance due to his lack of connection with the area.

The Liberals will not be fielding a candidate at the by-election, which even after a 10.8 per cent swing at the recent state election has a Labor margin of 21.0 per cent. It would thus appear that only the emergence of a strong independent candidate between now and the closure of nominations on February 1 offers the chance of a serious electoral contest. VexNews believes the Greens candidate is likely to be Graham Dawson, a City of Hume librarian who ran for the seat of Yuroke at the state election.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.