The Labor Party is seeking a female Merv Hughes to serve as a Senate nightwatchman in the event of a David Feeney preselection victory in the federal seat of Batman.

Senator Feeney, if successful in his battle against Left-aligned Plan International executive Mary-Anne Thomas, will be forced to resign from the Senate after writs are issued (but before September 13) in order to contest Martin Ferguson’s old lower-house seat on September 14. The preselection result will be known within two weeks.

A casual Senate vacancy would then arise and would be filled after a joint sitting of the Victorian Parliament. The gig would stretch to the end of Feeney’s term of office — June 30, 2014 — and could prove crucial to blocking the legislation of an incoming Abbott government, including the repeal of the carbon tax.

The ALP would also need to finger a candidate for the seemingly unwinnable number three position on Labor’s Victorian Senate ticket (which Feeney would vacate if he wins lower-house preselection). Party sources said this morning they would likely be the same person.

The vacancy is considered the property of Labor Unity, the Victorian faction comprising forces aligned to Stephen Conroy, Bill Shorten and the shop assistants’ union. Multiple sources this morning suggested it would go a promising Right-leaning woman.

Names in the mix include Gellibrand preselection candidate Julia Mason, ALP senior vice president Lizzie Blandthorn and Health Services Union general manager (and Gellibrand runner-up) Kimberley Kitching.

Male names mentioned in despatches include postal workers union organiser, state Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) member and former Union and Community Alliance stalwart Ray Gorman (who immediately ruled himself out when contacted by Crikey), Victorian state secretary Noah Carroll (ditto) and former Melbourne deputy lord mayor and Unity stalwart Peter McMullin.

Newly selected Victorian upper house MP and Unity member Cesar Melhem told Crikey that that while he had yet to turn his mind fully to the decision, there would be some “younger, talented people in the mix” with potential to serve at the highest level for years to come. “This will be part of a five or 10-year plan to hopefully get someone to excel,” he said.

Melhem said he would expect the successful candidate to be in the running for a subsequent casual vacancy in the lower house, should one arise in the new Parliament. While he didn’t specify, Crikey understands possibilities include the Prime Minister’s seat of Lalor, Kelvin Thomson’s Wills and even Brendan O’Connor’s Gorton.

But first steps first — Feeney still needs to convince the 900 ALP members in Batman and the POSC (preselections are determined by a 50/50 vote of each) of his worthiness for office. And that is far from a done deal, as Crikey has documented.

At Victorian level, a recent memorable nightwatchman scenario occurred when Theo Theophanous resigned his Northern Metropolitan upper house slot in February 2010 and was replaced by plumbers union scion Nathan Murphy. Murphy lost the seat at the November 2010 state election and is now a Health Services Union (soon to be renamed the HWU — pronounced “aitchwoo”) official.

To complete the circle, the HSU still has three delegates on the “old” POSC, elected three years ago, that will help decide Feeney’s fate.

Peter Fray

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