Victorian deputy opposition leader Rob Hulls has defied his own faction in its search for a deputy chief of staff to Daniel Andrews, slapping down Labor Unity’s first pick for the prized gig and forcing a drawn-out interview process.

Crikey understands that two weeks ago the Victorian Labor Unity caucus met to discuss their candidate for the vacant role — which they control — and settled unanimously on the Western Australia-based former Geoff Gallop and Alan Carpenter adviser Luke Walladge.

The efficient operator received strong in-principle backing from key right powerbrokers Fiona Richardson and Marsha Thomson, alongside other senior figures John Lenders, shadow sport minister Luke Donnellan and Danielle Green.

But Hulls — who is understood not to have been present at the meeting — demurred, later launching his own personal probe into Walladge’s bona fides. He is said to have contacted Andrews’ office to request a more thorough interview process, angering his long-time allies and placing him at risk of a no-confidence knifing.

The assistant’s gig is believed to focus heavily on economics, with others in the running said to include Lenders’ former adviser and Maxine Morand CoS David Bell. The appointee is also expected to serve as the Right’s eyes and ears inside Left-wing Andrews’ inner sanctum, controlled by productive chief-of-staff Brett Curran.

Walladge, who once worked in Victoria as a communications adviser in the Department of Justice and later as an administrator of the ACMA Do Not Call list, cropped up as a campaign strategist during last year’s federal poll to ensure the re-election of Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby. During the subsequent state election he worked closely with former ALP state secretary Stephen Newnham to see off the Greens threat in Richardson’s semi-marginal seat of Northcote.

The internal stoush will further inflame tensions inside the already divided Right over a successor for Hulls, who is expected to quit parliament well before the 2014 election. A group of fresh opposition front-benchers, led by Richardson and Donnellan, are believed to be positioning themselves for a higher calling within the party, as first reported by Crikey in early December. In some circles Richardson is even regarded as a future premier.

Walladge is believed to be a respected figure within that clique thanks to a past untainted by the John Brumby era. Crikey understands that both Hulls and the former premier have had difficulties coming to grips with last year’s defeat and remain of the view that the people, rather than Labor, got it wrong.

Walladge distanced himself from the fracas when contacted by Crikey this morning: “I respect the Unity Caucus and the leaders’ office’s right to appoint whomever they choose. I’m not going to comment on internal procedures, now or ever. That’s a job for other people and I have no comment on that.”

Hulls’ office did not return calls, but the appointment, described by others as an “ongoing process”, is expected to be made in the next few days.

Meanwhile, this morning unaligned Kevin ’07 svengali George Wright was confirmed in the ALP National Secretary role as expected, with Bracks/Carr/Faulkner review report supremo Nick Martin staying on as his deputy.

A second deputy role created as a chop-out for the national Right will see SDA-aligned Victorian assistant state secretary Nathan Lambert or Unity loyalist George Droutsas jostling for the spoils before a victor is finally fingered in the months ahead.