Labor’s national executive is poised to run a scythe through the nascent political ambitions of the son of Australia’s most powerful unionist when it moves to end his controversial reign as head of the party’s Victorian youth wing.
Michael de Bruyn, whose politics mirror the socially conservative bent of his father Joe, was controversially elected president of Victorian Young Labor in 2011 in a battle with sprightly Australian Workers Union organiser Shannon Threlfall-Clarke.
At the most recent 2013 ballot, Threlfall-Clarke, from the party’s moderate Labor Unity grouping, had the numbers in league with the Left, but the SDA-aligned de Bruyn and national Young Labor president (and David Feeney adviser) Ben Maxfield arced up to the Victorian party’s powerful appeals tribunal. When the duo’s bid was rejected their gripes were referred all the way to Labor’s national appeals body.
Victorian Young Labor has been in caretaker mode for the past five months, with the August vote still up in the air and ballots and proxies being pored over in a manner recalling the worst excesses of Bush v Gore. But Crikey understands the tribunal will soon recommend to the national executive the eligibility claims are bunk and Threlfall-Clarke will then finally seize her long overdue ceremonial robes.
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Even if the appeal is upheld by the Executive — that includes Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Michael’s dad — the six ballots in question are unlikely to impact the election result. Threlfall-Clarke received broad support from a majority bloc comprising the National Union of Workers, the Left and her comrades in the so-called ShortCons faction.
Young Labor Left co-convenor and Bob Brown koala protester Khaled Chakli told Crikey this morning that de Bruyn’s reign at the top was doomed and that he and Maxfield had sprayed appeals all over the shop in a noxious attempt to keep their crumbling power base erect.
“At the Young Labor conference Michael sadly didn’t have the numbers,” Chakli explained. “The Left and the moderate Unity group forged an agreement that would support a progressive Right candidate in return for the Left achieving a broad range of reforms.”
Chakli defended the authenticity of the ballots and delegates in person at the Victorian tribunal but the SDA claims collapsed under scrutiny, he says.
The previous VYL presidency was finally decided in de Bruyn’s favour on a technicality following appeals over disputed ballots also found their way to the national tribunal and the national executive.
Some of the ructions in 2011, documented in painful detail by Crikey, included de Bruyn, who did not immediately return calls, likening his enemies’ tactics to popular video games Call of Duty and Super Mario Brothers.
Meanwhile, Maxfield, who was elected AYL national president in 2011 by virtue of a complex intra-Right deal, is also staring down the end of his tenure.
The looming AYL conference — that would have seen Maxfield cast aside as president and replaced by a rival representative from the national Right — was originally set down for September but will now take place in February. A senior young Labor source slammed the delay to Crikey: “The deliberate moves by these individuals show their intent to maintain and wield power at the expense of the Australian Labor Party and the Victorian Young Labor movement.”
Chakli agrees, accusing Maxfield, a Kathy Jackson supporter, of embarking on an ill-advised victory lap. “He’s tried to delay to hold on to his position for that much longer so that he can walk around and say ‘I was president for three years’ … what a glorious achievement that would be.”
Control of Young Labor’s national body is considered vital because the group elects three delegates to the party’s national conference, the premier decision-making body.
Meanwhile, in other nail-biting Young Labor-related news, tension continues to surround the Facebook wall posts of National Union of Students welfare officer and former RMIT council member Hovig Melkonian. Word has reached Crikey that Melkonian, a member of the Melbourne chapter of the Armenian National Committee of Australia, inadvertently raised sub-factional eyebrows with a Turkish bloc comprising vigorous recruiters Hakki Suleyman and Burhan Yigit.
While relations between Turkey and Armenia have normalised in recent years, there remains significant unease over whether the 1915 massacre of Amenians in Anatolia amounted to genocide, not to mention the territorial dispute over the Azerbaijani enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.