Victorian upper house MP and Labor Right powerbroker Cesar Melhem says Australian Workers Union forces will move to block the candidacy of school principal Joanne Ryan in Julia Gillard’s seat of Lalor ahead of a make-or-break meeting of the ALP’s national executive tomorrow night.
The intervention comes as local Lalor branch members frantically email the 25-member ruling body to demand Ryan, Gillard’s retiring captain’s pick, be granted immunity from the party rules that mandate 12 months continuous membership prior to nomination.
“I can confirm that we won’t be supporting her,” Melhem told Crikey today.
Crikey revealed yesterday Ryan was ineligible for preselection because she had let her ALP membership lapse in December 2010 after 14 years on the books. Usually, special dispensation is granted by the state branch’s administrative committee if a promising but ineligible candidate throws their hat in the ring. But there is no admin meeting before nominations close on Friday, with the decision resting in the hands of the executive, which includes Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a voting member.
The executive boasts “plenary powers” that let it sidestep rules to govern in the best interests of the party.
Ryan, who is factionally neutral but is drawing some support from local right-aligned members, told Crikey today “members have been madly emailing nat exec asking them to wave it through. We’re doing the things to make sure there’s a plebiscite. The local branches see me as a local person. They consider me to be a Labor member. That’s why they’re asking the executive to hold a ballot.”
There are three branches in Lalor: Tarneit, the left-leaning Hoppers Crossing and Werribee. Key members of the executive expected to have a say tomorrow night include Keilor MP Natalie Hutchins, Queensland AWU secretary Ben Swan and AWU national secretary Paul Howes. But the decision will be forensically discussed beforehand by Unity forces, who have claimed the seat under a 2009 stability pact with the Socialist Left. The pact technically binds the Left to support a Unity candidate. Health Services Union manager and former Melbourne City Councillor Kimberley Kitching is a Unity member and Melhem confirmed the AWU would be “supporting Kimberley”, however a Left source pointed out this afternoon an official Unity candidate had yet to be selected. Kitching is also yet to nominate.
Fellow Unity powerbroker Stephen Conroy, who together with Bill Shorten makes up the so-called ShortCons alliance, is not supporting Kitching. The manoeuvre is a repeat of the Gellibrand preselection, contested unsuccessfully by Kitching, where Conroy rounded instead behind his former staffer Tim Watts. However, as yet, a Conroy-aligned candidate is yet to materialise.
Howes told Crikey he had not had any communication over the issue and that it was yet to cross his desk. “Mate, I read Crikey to get the lowdown on what’s happening with the internals in Victoria, so at the moment we’re just waiting to hear,” he said.
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ABC Radio host Jon Faine took on Shorten, Howes’ AWU predecessor, over the preselection live on air this morning. Shorten told Faine:
“I am friends with Kimberley and I think she would be good but I also know that there’s other good candidates running in Lalor so I’m not getting directly involved. This is a matter where we’ll let the locals have a say, I think that’s the best course of action.”
Faine suggested Kitching was an inappropriate candidate because website Vexnews, formerly run by her husband Andrew Landeryou, was full of “disreputable, defamatory and disgraceful material about politics in Victoria and nationally”.
Faine, who also raised the issue on Friday’s program, said the preselection was now being referred to as the “anyone but Kimberley process”. But Shorten refused to be drawn, telling Faine he was “really not going to have a discussion” on the matter.
There is an outside possibility that if Rudd, buoyed by resurgent polling, decides to announce a pre-September 14 election before tomorrow night’s meeting, that all current preselections would be ‘called in’ and candidates parachuted from above. That would mean National Union of Workers-aligned Hotham contender Geoff Lake could be fingered ahead of Unity rival Rosemary Barker.
Ryan was again pictured on the front page of today’s Age, posing with Gillard and dog Reuben the Cavoodle at the ex-PM’s Altona residence. Intriguingly, the Werribee local was toting a copy of War of the Roses fantasy tome Pull of the Yew Tree by Pauline Toohey. The book promises to “take the reader on a journey through a world fraught with death, dishonour and betrayal“.