The powerful head of the Plumbing Trades Employees Union, Earl Setches, has slammed “gutless” labour movement rivals for peddling rumours surrounding the departure of veteran assistant secretary and federal president Tony Murphy.

Murphy, considered one of the chief industrial backers of federal Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, stepped down from the union last month following a cancer scare and has been replaced by respected PTEU industrial officer Paddy McCrudden.

Nefarious anonymous allegations have been swirling ever since about the reasons behind the 13-year veteran’s exit, which has until now not been revealed publicly. The PTEU website that listed current office bearers has been taken offline.

Much of the ill-informed scuttlebutt, including an anonymous 3AW Rumour File complaint, are thought to emanate from other unions and hardline PTEU delegates involved with the hornets’ nest that is the Wonthaggi desalination plant.

“In our game you’re either the duck or the dinner and when you make enemies when the sun shines they make hay,” Setches told Crikey. “It’s a cruel game our game and there’s just no evidence at all and we totally reject the rumours.”

Setches, the son of former Ringwood Labor MP Kay Setches and brother of ex-Kilsyth Labor candidate Vicki Setches, says Murphy — the father of former Labor upper house MP Nathan Murphy — had always intended to step down following the completion of the PTEU’s barnstorming enterprise bargaining agreement last year, which shunted Gippsland salt-sifters an impressive 25% pay rise over five years.

“Tony helped to deliver the new EBA late last year, it was always his intention to resign following its completion,” said Setches. “Tony has served the union for 13 years and has had recent serious health scares. The PTEU is grateful for his years of service and wishes him all the best.”

The PTEU’s national umbrella, the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union, remains divided after a bitter election brawl last year when Howard Worthing, an ally of ETU firebrand Dean Mighell, unsuccessfully attempted to dislodge Peter Tighe as CEPU national secretary. In 2009, Worthing challenged ETU turncoat Shaun Leane’s upper house preselection while Vicki Setches served as Leane’s electorate officer.

Tighe and Setches remain fervent moral and financial backers of the ALP at state and federal level but Mighell has withdrawn the ETU from the party because of its lack of progress on industrial issues. Last night, the regular 3AW guest and sporting shooter declined to comment on the rumour mill surrounding Murphy.

The Plumbers’ new national president will be elected by the state-based groupings in coming months.

Meanwhile, Setches’ comrades inside Labor Unity have welcomed an outbreak of peace with the socially conservative Shop Assistants Union following the ascension of the quick-witted SDA convert James Merlino to the prize post of deputy opposition leader.

The 2009 stability pact signed between LU and Socialist Left divvied up state and federal seats among the two factions, but included provisions if LU were to expand from its Shorten-Stephen Conroy rump so as not to dilute the SL’s allocation.

SDA sources maintain the raw numbers on the ground in Melbourne’s north to resist any bomb throwing in the lead-up to the 2014 state poll from the still-marginalised National Union of Workers and that, in any case, previously NUW-associated MPs like Robin Scott in Preston would be protected to ensure “no bloodshed” (in fact, Scott is now part of an unofficial SDA bloc).

A lot will hinge on the outcome of state lower house redistributions next year, they said.

A senior Labor Left source agreed that the intent of the pact would be preserved, essentially locking the factions into the status quo. “There might be some fiddling around the edges but we’ll have to wait for the redistribution to be sure,” they said, adding Merlino was “an excellent choice” to take the deputy’s reins.

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Peter Fray
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