Fears are growing among senior ALP figures that mooted Karl Bitar successor Anthony Chisholm would serve as a part-time National Secretary to allow him to helm Anna Bligh’s bid for a second elected term in office.

The AWU machine man, a rusted on factional player since the tender age of 17, is expected — on the current numbers — to assume the federal secretary role when it becomes vacant on April 8. However, Chisholm’s expertise might still be needed in the Sunshine State to ensure a second successful Bligh tilt, especially if the Queensland poll proceeds in the second half of this year.

Despite Bligh repeatedly ruling out an early election, some party hard heads are urging her to tap the public mood in late 2011 with a mandate to see through her state’s Snowy Mountains-scale flood reconstruction effort.

That would leave the ALP’s top job effectively unattended during a crucial period, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard attempts to shepherd her carbon tax through the parliament and win support from the Australian people.

Yesterday, Bitar, a close associate of ambitious senator Mark Arbib, opted to jump ship after just 30 months at the helm of the party’s organisational wing, presumably for a well-paid gig as a government relations string-puller with a leading New South Wales developer.

A logical alternative to Chisholm, being pushed hard by lower house leader Anthony Albanese this morning, is well-regarded left-wing assistant national secretary Nick Martin. The 32-year-old was the brains behind the much of the Bracks-Carr-Faulkner review into the 2010 federal poll. However, currently he sits one short of forcing a deciding vote from Julia Gillard on the 21 member voting portion of the National Executive, with nine backers to Chisholm’s 11.

A possible fillip could come from the divided right in Victoria, where David Feeney loyalists could exact revenge for the recent Broadmeadows pre-selection fight where their preferred candidate Burhan Yigit was savagely necked by Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy. The decision of the Queensland and New South Wales elements of the national right, of which Feeney is ironically convener, to automatically fall in behind Chisholm could be regarded as treachery.

Take the aggrieved elements of the Feeney-auspiced right out of Chisholm’s column and Martin would command a majority.

Anthony Albanese Catryna Bilyk
Julie Bignell Joe Bullock*
Carol Brown Stephen Conroy
Mark Butler Joe de Bruyn*
Kim Carr Paul Howes
Luke Foley Annette Hurley*
Sue Lines Joe Ludwig OAM
Michael Ravbar Tara Moriarty
Linda White Bernie Riordan
Bill Shorten
Jennifer Thomas

*possible defectors in Feeney-led Broadmeadows revenge attack

Or, alternatively, sections of the Victorian right aligned with Bill Shorten could shift their votes across to Martin in honour of the stability pact with the Left that prevails south of the Murray.

One senior ALP left figure told Crikey this morning: “The key point here is that half the right were not consulted about this. This is a replication of the same old attitude that got Bitar into office. It remains a winner-takes-all mentality to the detriment of the Party.”

“But Chisholm is no Bitar,” they added. “Bitar had an agenda. It was the wrong agenda, but he had it.”

Chisholm’s role as the AWU-backed state secretary is regarded as decidedly mixed. Multiple logistical failings in the lead up to the 2009 state poll were sheeted home to his office, despite the result panning out marginally better than expected with a loss of 10 seats and swing of 4.7%. Brisbane City Council was re-surrendered under his watch in 2008 with a primary vote of under 30%.

While some commentators have suggested that Chisholm would be in a good space as national secretary to win back the Queensland seats surrendered at last year’s federal election, the former Wayne Swan staffer must himself bear some responsibility for a swing that was double the national average on a two-party preferred basis.

Meanwhile, machinations over a replacement for Chisholm in Queensland are afoot given the State Secretary position’s AWU ownership. Logic would dictate that the role would go to the resident AWU organiser in the office, currently Linus Power. However Bligh loyalist Jackie Trad is also expected to vigorously agitate to get her hands on the poisoned chalice, despite her factional inappropriateness.

Alternatively, Swan chief-of-staff Jim Chalmers could be leaned on to run Bligh’s repeat bid for ballot box glory on behalf of the AWU bruvvas.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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