The newly elected member for Batman, former senator David Feeney, has taken charge of Bill Shorten’s campaign for the Labor leadership, pitting him against key South Australian MP Mark Butler in a friendly war for the future of the party.
Feeney acted as Shorten’s delegate in negotiations with the National Executive over the campaign rules, which is beginning to ratchet up after the national Right moved to bind supporters in an old-fashioned lockdown, while Butler is hitting the phones for Left-aligned rival Anthony Albanese around the country.
“Albo” has embarked on a campaign blitz, appearing this morning on Jon Faine’s high-rating ABC radio show, fronting a sold-out event at the Wheeler Centre this afternoon put on by thinktank Per Capita and launching his Victorian bid this evening at what is expected to be a packed out Tuscan Bar on Bourke Street.
The leader will be decided by a 50% vote of rank-and-file members and a 50% caucus component. Members have already turned out for “Albo”, with unofficial Facebook page Anthony Albanese for Labor leader already topping 3100 “likes” Bill for Labor languishing on 658. Albo’s personal page has 7,878 likes, compared to Shorten’s 6,823.
The Shorten campaign has been very Victoria centric so far, but Bill will apparently be attending a “rally” at a Brisbane school shut down by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman this afternoon. Shorten appeared alongside his former flame Nicola Roxon at a school this morning, delivering a speech about something to do with science. He issued a warning against sledging to disrupt the Albanese juggernaut after Albo indulged in a bit of cheeky dog-whistling last night over his “loyalty” to Kevin Rudd.
The Australian reported yesterday on its front page that former Wayne Swan press secretary and election campaign HQ superstar Adam Collins was “co-ordinating” Shorten’s campaign. However, Crikey can reveal that if a 2IC to Feeney were to be anointed, the key lieutenant is more likely to be long-term right-hand man Steve “Mocca” Michelson. Collins is much more likely to be working on building support among his National Union of Workers powerbase.
Feeney confirmed to Crikey his senior role but declined to engage further: “This is about advertising the best rather than the worst about the party.” Interestingly, he says he has “never heard of” Collins. Crikey explained his senior role as the former treasurer’s main media contact and fixer. “If people are saying he’s running the campaign I better call him!” Feeney responded.
Former Sydney University student representative council president and long-term Albo staffer Moksha Watts is providing hands-on support for her boss.
Despite claims from Shorten’s camp that he has the national Right “sewn up”, there was a tranche of Queensland Old Guard right-wingers at Albanese’s Brisbane launch last night, including stalwarts Arch Bevis, Robert Schwarten and Mackay MP Tim Mulherin. The Old Guard is strongly associated with the National Union of Workers. Craig Emerson (Australian Workers Union) is also on board.
Crikey understands Albanese will not be locking in official support from Left unions and the campaign is confident of securing well over 60% of the grassroots vote. A senior campaign source told Crikey that “there is nothing more important to elect their national president and their national leader, that’s a privilege that should be fairly exercised”. Funding is expected to be drawn partially from Labor’s central office, while some progressive unions could also provide ballast.
In Victoria, Senator Stephen Conroy, tipped by some to be stepping down before his term expires in June 2017, has used the contest as an attempt to re-solder the Victorian Right back together, which effectively means bringing the National Union of Workers back into the tent, ceasing attacks on the “Shorts” from the Conroy part of the “ShortCons” faction and mollifying the tetchy Shop Distributive, Allied and Employees Association. Feeney has been traditionally associated with the “Kathy Jackson” faction and his participation signals an intention to move back under the broader tent.
Nominations for leader formally close at 5pm tomorrow, with the victor to be announced on October 13 after a blind ballot of caucus on October 10.