A senior union official and a former Brimbank mayor are being touted as future MPs by Victorian Labor powerbrokers as the party moves to fill the state Upper House position vacated by Lyndhurst candidate Martin Pakula.
Crikey can reveal that Victorian Australian Workers Union state secretary Cesar Melhem and Anthony Carbines electorate officer Natalie Suleyman — who lost a bitter battle for preselection in the Victorian lower house seat of Kororoit in 2008 — are shaping as contenders as replacements for the prestigious number one spot on the party’s Western Metropolitan ticket.
Under the Melhem plan, the job of AWU state secretary could be assumed by well-connected state organiser John-Paul Blandthorn. Labor’s 2009 party stability pact effectively mandates the spot as the property of the AWU after former MP Bob Smith unexpectedly lost from the number three position in 2010.
If Suleyman doesn’t get the immediate green light, Crikey has reported that the right wing scion could saddle up in the number three position in Western Metro at next November’s election, allegedly in exchange for a bloc of votes delivered to the Stephen Conroy-endorsed candidate Tim Watts in last week’s fight for the federal seat of Gellibrand (Watts won).
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Multiple sources said a repeat of the fireworks in Gellibrand — which saw a split develop between forces aligned to Conroy and Bill Shorten — will not be repeated this time around. The Socialist Left’s Khalil Eideh will likely hold his place at number two.
In Victoria, 5 MPs are elected for each multi-member Legislative Council region.
Labor rules technically mandate a preselection vote of more than 3000 local members to select Upper House contenders, balanced by a vote of the central Public Office Selection Committee — however timing and logistics issues could short-circuit the process before it has begun.
The party has never held a grass-roots preselection for the revamped Upper House, with candidates usually fingered instead by the ALP National Executive. A joint sitting of both houses would be required to ratify the new Labor MP and the Liberal replacement for retiring Northern Victoria MP Donna Petrovich, who recently announced a tilt at Rob Mitchell’s federal seat of McEwen. The next joint sitting could conceivably be held when the state budget is handed down on May 7.
Other Labor names mentioned in despatches for Western Metro include lobbyist Danny Pearson, one-time Niddrie possibility Jaclyn Symes and Gellibrand contender Katie Hall, however sources close to these camps have tipped cold water on those eventualities.
Melhem told Crikey he was “currently staying put” and was “not interested in the position at this point in time.” Suleyman declined to comment.
The Lyndhurst byelection — for which Pakula is an unbackable favourite — will be held on Saturday week. A timetable to fill the two Upper House vacancies will then be set down by Legislative Council President Bruce Atkinson.