Right-wing forces inside NSW Labor have declared war on sitting Throsby MP Stephen Jones, calling an end to a 1997 deal guaranteeing his preselection and claiming he would be “absolutely f-cked” if a grassroots vote ruled on his future.

NSW General Secretary Sam Dastyari confirmed yesterday that rank-and-file preselections would be held in the federal seats of Throsby, Reid, Chifley, Greenway, Fowler and Werriwa later this year as part of a renewed commitment to party democracy. In 2010, candidates in those seats were imposed by the ALP’s national executive.

However, senior Right sources told Crikey this morning that the clear implication was that Jones, from the Left, would be crushed in an internal ballot, and could only command the support of “50 out of the 300” Throsby members.

The former unionist hit back hard this morning, saying he was confident in his position and was staring down potential challengers: “I’ll stand and I’m confident I’ll be the candidate standing at the next federal election,” he said.

“I’m focused on doing my job, I’ve made it a practice of mine that I don’t get involved in internal bullshitting and leaking against various individuals. It’s a pretty grubby sort of game, you might come out on top one time and it comes back and bites you on the arse the next time.”

The rumours were unfortunate, Jones said: “I don’t think there’s much to be gained in the long term … other people can play their shenanigans, I’m all about doing the best job possible for the Labor Party and frankly I haven’t heard anyone suggest that they’ve got somebody who can do a better job.”

Jones’ future could be decided as early as August, with the preselection timetable set to be laid down at the NSW party’s state conference in two weeks time. Jones says at this point he has not heard of any proposed candidates, “but they were entitled to stand”.

Rivals mentioned in dispatches this morning included Wollongong councillor Ann Martin, former “underpants MP” Matt Brown (who lost the state seat of Kiama last year) and Macedonian community leader Lou Stefanovski.

NSW Right notable Noreen Hay, who holds the state seat of Wollongong, has been vigorously organising against Jones in preparation for the coming assault. Last year, she embraced her inner suicide bomber at a Dapto branch meeting, moving a motion that marriage should be “between a man and a woman” in defiance of her member’s views.

On Capital Hill, the national Right has been aggressive in prosecuting a sortie against Jones’ gay marriage bill, demanding the “smelly carcass” be  banished off the notice paper to stop it hurting Julia Gillard’s diminishing re-election prospects. There is also apparent latent anger over his’ “flip flopping” during February’s leadership ballot, with the Right believing Jones shifted his support from Rudd to Gillard at the last minute.

Jones rejected that this morning, saying he was “consistent” during that period and had made “very few public statements”. He remained supportive of the leader.

“We’re in a tough position at the moment but the Prime Minister needs to be given the chance to turn it around. I don’t think public speculation helps the chances of doing that,” he said.

A grassroots vote would signal an end to an infamous 1997 carve-up that saw Fowler shunted to the Right and Throsby to Jennie George from the Left. The apparent rationale was to cleanse elements of the NSW soft Left from the south-west region and develop an unrivalled fiefdom stretching across Labor’s blue-collar heartland.

During the 1990s, a proxy war for control of Fowler exploded with stacks — from the Left and Right — numbering over 3000. But the last redistribution round is said to have moved many of the Left branches into Laurie Ferguson’s Werriwa.

The seat became embroiled in unprecedented preselection gymnastics in 2010 when Ferguson’s Reid was abolished (the name was preserved in Lowe), with the former front-bencher eventually accommodated in Werriwa after Gillard personally intervened. Werriwa’s Chris Hayes shifted to Fowler following right-winger Julie Irwin’s resignation, dodging an earlier plan to shift him to the electoral purgatory in Macarthur.

The other MPs parachuted in last time would appear to be safer, despite blow-ups last time around Michelle Rowland in Greenway and Ed Husic in Chifley. But Left sources reject this analysis, saying incumbents will be protected after the forced withdrawal of potential jihadists.

“The iron law when it comes to these things is that nine out of 10 times when a sitting MP is challenged, the sitting MP gets back,” one senior NSW Left figure told Crikey. “For example, Laurie Ferguson can hardly string a sentence together but he’s been an MP since 1984.”

They suggested a deal could be reached to avoid a ballot in Throsby, with the Right extracting a chop out elsewhere.

But Dastyari told Crikey this morning he would do “no deal” and he was “committed to rank and file preselections and party democracy” in line with his broader commitment to run community preselections ahead of the 2015 NSW state election.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey