A member of the Victorian ALP’s powerful administrative committee has accused leaders of the party’s ruling Right faction of deliberately delaying preselection for the Victorian seat of Broadmeadows to shoehorn Frank McGuire into state parliament.

In an internal email sent to Labor members and obtained by Crikey, Eric Dearricott, who has waged a lonely war on branch-stacking and faceless men for years, slams the imposition of McGuire by the party’s national executive as a “betrayal of the long-suffering rank and file.”

Dearricott suggests that shadowy powerbrokers aligned to Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy sat tight on a replacement for former premier John Brumby for weeks after he quit parliament on December 21. When nominations were finally called following the issuing of writs on January 20, there was insufficient time to find suitable candidates and organise a ballot of grass-roots members.

As it became clear that the ALP was running out of time, the contest ossified into a choice between a McGuire parachute and Hume councillor Burhan Yigit, who controls Labor’s largest Victorian branch in Coolaroo. The administrative committee then voted to refer the preselection to the national executive, with special dispensation for McGuire who wasn’t a party member and lived outside the electorate.

“Internal matters, including lack of a quality local candidate within their ranks and keeping things sweet with their local operatives resulted in the ShortCons having great difficulty in anointing a quality candidate without connections to Broadmeadows — thus procrastination in making the decision and starting the preselection ball rolling within the Party,” Dearricott writes.

“For the ShortCons, ensuring that one of their own was preselected for Broadmeadows was of far greater importance than keeping faith with the party membership at large and the intent of the rules through a preselection of an existing party member by enabling a timely local plebiscite carrying equal weighting with the Public Office Selection Committee.”

Last week, supporters of Yigit, led by Health Services Union strongwoman Kathy Jackson, launched an spurious Supreme Court challenge (read the submissions here) to force an emergency poll under party rules. However, the bid was nixed by Justice Tony Pagone, who said the court lacked the power to intervene in internal party processes. Critics suggested the bid was more about corralling Yigit’s future support than getting his name on the ballot paper.

A illuminating report of the meeting by Dearricott’s proxy David Imber highlighting spats between the warring groups is also included.

Dearricott says the sh-t sandwich could have been avoided if other members outside Broadmeadows had been encouraged to nominate: “Yes there were Party members connected with ‘creative local recruitment’ seeking the seat but Labor also has talented loyal members of the Party who would have made excellent candidates and parliamentarians — we should have chosen one of them and in a properly managed party we could have had a preselection which included local party members.”

McGuire — who will almost certainly represent the so-called “ShortCons” in state parliament — also received the backing of the SL, as required under the terms of a January 2009 cross-party “stability pact”. The one-time bitter rivals effectively divided up Victorian state and federal preselections between themselves for 10 years in order to freeze out the “rebel right”, led by Jackson’s HSU, the Shop Assistants’ Union and the National Union of Workers. At the time, the rebels were plotting to seize control of the state branch via a series of “thrill kills”.

However, a left source accused Dearricott this morning of double standards because he had previously supported referrals to the national executive after the Brimbank scandal to set the party back on a righteous path.

The veteran member of the short-on numbers but big-on-morals Independents faction also backs claims made last week by senior members of the SL that the majority of members in Broadmeadows consist of stacks enlisted at the concession rate of membership. The party needed to bus in volunteers to man booths at last November’s state election, despite it being the Premier’s electorate: “Broadmeadows is heavily stacked with 95% of Party members renewed at the two lowest possible membership payment levels — in non-stacked electorates the proportion at these levels is around 50%,” he writes.

The Independents have struck at the heart of Labor’s internal stasis before. In 2009, Dearricott observed and printed details of a string of rorts in which memberships were paid in bulk with bank cheques and wads of cash in contravention of party rules during the notorious annual membership deadline renewal day at Labor’s King St HQ.

Interestingly, he tells members irate about the Broadmeadows fracas not to quit the party and instead to agitate for internal reform: “I believe that, despite this appalling preselection decision, change for the better is imminent and the more members express their displeasure to about this decision (and the exclusion of members even being informed of their right to nominate for preselection) and other undemocratic aspects of our Party, the greater the chance of real change.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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