Last week’s apparently nonsensical bomb-throwing from rebel Victorian trade unions eager to force a preselection ballot in the state seat of Broadmeadows had an overriding purpose — the protection of Senator David Feeney’s spot in federal parliament after 2013, Labor insiders say.

The last-ditch Supreme Court action, driven by renegade Health Services Union chief Kathy Jackson, is rumoured to have cost the gang of four — headed by the HSU, the Shop Assistants’ Union, the National Union of Workers and the construction division of the CFMEU, around $50,000 (including costs). It was ostensibly launched to allow locals to elect their poster-boy, Hume councillor Burhan Yigit.

Instead, brother-of-Eddie Frank McGuire is almost certainly headed to Spring Street following a fait accompli by-election on February 19. But behind the scenes the spat reveals more about the continuing cleave in the party’s right — ripped open after the notorious 2008 Kororoit by-election — than the rival candidates’ relative merits.

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Sources say a Yigit bid for Broadmeadows acted as cover for a higher stakes game, with Feeney’s marginalised section of the Right desperate to cling on to any intra-party leverage he can to get its candidates — and himself — on to the red or green leather at Spring Street and Capital Hill.

Yigit, through his army of loyal mostly-Turkish members, controls nine state conference delegates and two spots on the Party’s powerful Public Office Selection Committee. While the numbers seem small, party sources say Feeney is desperate for any leverage he can get when attention inevitably turns to preselections which threaten to cut short his fledgling 30 month parliamentary career.

The Senator is currently slated for the unwinnable number 3 “death spot” on the ALP’s 2013 ticket. However there is a strong possibility that under the terms of a stability pact signed by rival factions he will be shunted off completely, leaving him to hunt for lower house scraps from a deal that effectively locks him and his acolytes out of parliament for the next 10 years.

The rival Bill Shorten-Stephen Conroy/Socialist Left tie-up currently controls about 60 delegates on the 100 member POSC, with the remainder split between Feeney’s rebel right and fringe left-wing defectors including the AMWU.

The court submissions (see here, here, here and here) contained some interesting arguments. But on Friday Justice Tony Pagone ruled that internal ALP rules were irrelevant to the outside world and that even then, the complainants had failed to follow the state branch’s labyrinthine dispute resolution processes. And while the case stood limited chance of success given tight timelines, the Right maintains that an abridged emergency ballot could have been held yesterday under party rules, similar to the situation in Kororoit.

The festering dispute in the Right can be traced all the way back to 2008, when Yigit’s POSC numbers were a crucial factor in a tight vote held on the same night as the local ballot (under ALP rules, preselections are decided by a 50% vote of the POSC and a 50% vote of local members). After rebel candidate Marlene Kairouz triumphed over Natalie Suleyman with Yigit’s assistance, the pillar of the Turkish community was employed as an electorate officer and the relationship flourished.

Crikey understands that as part of that arrangement, Feeney and the SDA’s Michael Donovan promised mutual support for Yigit if and when a vacant state or Federal seat — most likely Calwell — came up. Insiders say the futile court challenge aimed to demonstrate that backing and that a lack of action could have seen Yigit walk to the ShortCons, further entrenching the state-wide pact that leaves fringe agitators powerless.

Another curious factor was the involvement of Jackson — who, in her position as HSU national secretary would not appear crucial to the democratic aspirations of the seat’s battler constituency. Insiders say that the fiery chief remains embittered over the internal split in her union’s ranks with Stephen Conroy’s forces, that mirrored the Victorian ALP as a whole.

“A spontaneous challenge isn’t beyond her. Even a very expensive one,” the source said.

A spokesperson for Senator Feeney did not comment on the various scenarios when contacted by Crikey.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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