The Labor Party has fractured further over the appointment of a new national secretary, with the Right faction split down the middle for the first time in years ahead of its caucus meeting on Thursday night.
The slapdown from far-right Shop Assistants supremo Joe de Bruyn yesterday to the candidacy of Julia Gillard’s dumped chief-of-staff Amanda Lampe has left senior MPs reeling in the lead-up to Friday’s national executive meeting to decide the matter, with a viable Right alternative nowhere in sight.
The cleavage could play well for Left-aligned assistant state secretary Nick Martin’s nomination, with senior Left sources claiming this morning the contest was “wide open” and hailing the prospect of a Steven Bradbury-style triumph for Martin as the compromise candidate.
Backbench MPs, Labor officials and campaign staff across the country have deluged Crikey with bile over the possibility of a Lampe-helmed ALP, citing her dubious record in the PM’s office and the unhappy precedent set by the Victorian party in appointing one of the premier’s advisers, Nick Reece, to the role of state secretary to run the 2010 election.
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“Amanda Lampe, to put it bluntly, is Nick Reece in a skirt,” said a senior SDA-aligned campaign operative who worked on the Victorian and federal elections last year.
“Do people have short-term memory loss? Reece was parachuted into the job at the insistence of Brumby, who came to regard the Victorian ALP head office as an extension of his own considerable ego and insisted it be staffed with craven sycophants and babbling fools from the premier’s penthouse. Has the Victorian campaign taught the ALP nothing about the stupidity of running the whole campaign from the leader’s office and staffing party HQ with yes-men wielding rubber stamps?”
Lampe ran the 2010 campaign for Gillard in which the party lost 11 seats. She was intimately involved in the controversial decisions including “Real Julia” and the citizen’s carbon committee and the eventual coalition arrangement with the Greens. The running of the PM’s office is believed to have been blasted in the unreleased portions of the Bracks/Carr/Faulkner probe into the disaster.
As flagged by Crikey on March 17, the Right’s first pick, Queensland state secretary Anthony Chisholm, was eventually forced to withdraw from the race when it became clear the national gig would clash with Anna Bligh’s re-election bid.
The successful candidate will be tasked with lifting Labor’s primary vote above 32% in the lead-up to the 2013 election — a possible hospital pass given widespread displeasure with Labor and the apparent inability of Prime Minister Gillard to connect with the electorate.
De Bruyn controls three votes on the 21-member voting portion of the national executive via WA Shoppies boss Joe Bullock, outgoing Senator Annette Hurley and himself. He has nominated South Australian state secretary Michael Brown as a compromise candidate, but Brown will struggle with support from the other side of the divided Right.
The pressure is now mounting on Maribyrnong MP Bill Shorten to corral non-SDA forces behind Martin, whose Left faction maintains an alliance with Shorten and fellow national executive member Stephen Conroy in Victoria under a 2009 stability pact. If the duo defected, Martin would command an 11-9 majority, without the need for a deciding vote from the Prime Minister.
A former senior Victorian party official aligned to Shorten told Crikey a rubber-stamping of Lampe would have disastrous consequences: “Bill Shorten has to realise that on current polling, Labor is set to lose around 20 seats. If that happens he will never be prime minister; if he wants the ALP to sink under a Lampe secretaryship he’ll see his chances sink along with it.
“If Shorten wants to be PM he will scuttle Lampe’s candidacy before it leaves the dock.”
The well-regarded Martin is thought to have written most of the Bracks/Carr/Faulkner “three wise men” report and senior Left sources told Crikey this morning he’ll hit the phones hard in the next few days to secure defections from voting members and settle.
The source said the situation within the divided Right remained “fluid”: “In that situation anything can happen. They could hate the other side’s candidate so much that they could shift their votes in an instant.
“It’s literally wide open.”
Another Left source calls for stability at the top, with a proven track record: “There’s only one candidate with those credentials being put forward. With a primary vote in the 30s we can’t afford to have factional bickering determining who the national secretary will be.”
Other non-serious hopefuls include Chris Forrester and Western Sydney councillor Alison McLaren.
The Lampe push highlights the growing presence of a shadow faction inside leaders’ private offices. Gillard was previously John Brumby’s chief-of-staff and intervened to demand Reece’s installation as Victorian state secretary. Reece is now a senior adviser to Gillard after lobbying from Brumby.
One observer branded the wannabe power nexus as a “cosy little cabal” that had fast become a “mutually congratulatory circle jerk of failure”.