At least four state Labor branches have junked Julia Gillard’s urgings to hold primary preselections before the 2013 federal election, with NSW general secretary Sam Dastyari failing to rule out a series of feared national executive interventions to protect incumbent MPs.
The ALP’s December national conference inserted key clauses in the party platform encouraging state and territory branches to hold trial preselections, with the results to be communicated back to the federal party. Labor’s updated guiding document now states boldly that “state and territory branches may trial community selection ballots when selecting lower house candidates” and that the party will support “state and territory branches that undertake a trial of community selection ballots when selecting candidates”.
The prime minister has firmly backed the US-style experiments, which were a key recommendation of the Bracks-Carr-Faulkner review.
But this morning on Radio National’s Breakfast, James Carleton managed to extract a confession from Dastyari that there would be no primaries held in NSW federal seats before the next election and that the hung parliament meant Australians could be forced to the ballot box at any moment.
Dastyari said instead he was “committed to holding five primaries for the 2015 state election”. Labor would move to primaries for federal seats “in time”, but the initial findings would have to be referred first to the ALP national conference.
When pressed on whether the party would act to ring-fence NSW federal MPs that could be turfed out in a rank-and-file vote, Dastyari — who is engaged in a bitter debate with union bosses keen to preserve their heft on the issue — declined to rule out an imminent national executive-led protection racket, saying only that “the days of intervention should come to an end”.
NSW was the site of a bitter series of brutal knifings in the lead-up to the 2010 poll, with Michelle Rowland in Greenway, Stephen Jones in Throsby, and Laurie Ferguson in Werriwa shoehorned into their seats because they would have lost a local ballot. Manoeuvring among local branches to ditch the Left’s Jones has already begun at the behest of the Right’s Noreen Hay.
The NSW branch is currently undertaking a consolation primary to finger its candidate for the unwinnable Sydney Lord Mayor gig, attracting high-profile Australian columnist Cassandra Wilkinson and NSW Council for Civil Liberties’ chief Cameron Murphy. General public voting opens today.
But other state secretaries were hesitant on rolling out their own trials when contacted by Crikey this morning.
ALP Victorian State secretary Noah Carroll said the state branch had not committed to any primary preselections either at state or federal level, but would re-assess the possibility at state level after the Victorian Electoral Commission rules on final redistributions in mid-2013.
Tasmanian state secretary John Dowling said that with the state conference due to finalise federal preselections in August, the party “would have to get cracking” if it was going to give a preselection “serious consideration”. One possibility for a preselection was in a non-held seat such as Dennison, currently occupied by independent Andrew Wilkie. Labor had previously attempted a preselection for the state seat of Hobart, but the failed experiment attracted only one candidate, Dowling said.
North of the Tweed, Queensland state secretary Anthony Chisholm announced 10 days ago that selecting future ALP candidates for the Brisbane City Council was an option but has ruled out primaries at state and federal level.
Western Australia ALP boss Simon Mead and South Australian secretary Kyam Maher did not respond by deadline, but Crikey understands plans for federal primaries are rapidly receding from view in those states.
If state branches eventually go down the primary path, they may have to refine their approach.
Alan Griffin’s impressive review of the 2010 Victorian campaign questioned the efficacy of the state branch’s April 2010 primary experiment in Kilsyth — in which just 136 non-members voted, noting no significant bounce in ALP membership (Vicki Setches was smashed in the seat with an outsized swing against her). Crikey understands that of those 136, just two went on to become Labor members.
Other Bracks-Carr-Faulkner reforms have also been left stillborn. A swingeing Socialist Left summary, obtained by Crikey in the aftermath of last December’s conference, showed that just 13 of the 31 BCF recommendations were fully adopted. A majority were adopted only in part (30%) or rejected wholesale (26%).
Meanwhile, the Sydney lord mayor race — decided 50/50 between local residents and party members — has started to get interesting with Wilkinson taking to her Tumblr over the weekend to slam Chinatown restaurateur rival Jonathan Yee for a recent bout of concessional ethnic recruitment. But a senior Labor source told Crikey this morning that her decision to preference Murphy may end up backfiring at the hands of Yee, Linda Scott and Damian Spruce, who could gang up to force their common enemies to the wall.
UPDATE 2:35PM: Yee, Scott and Spruce have a done a three-way preference deal that substantially increases Scott’s chances of sewing up the nomination. Inspect the evidence here.