The opposition halls of Parliament House are abuzz with this morning’s news that Victorian Right factional warlord Senator Stephen Conroy has resigned from Parliament.
In one of the oddest resignations in living memory, he made a short contribution last night regarding the omnibus bill and then tabled his remarks (starting on page 135 of September 16 Hansard) because it was getting “very late”.
Nobody in the Senate chamber at the time was aware of the content of his tabled remarks until Hansard was released on the parliamentary website today.
Given what I know of Conroy’s personality and involvement in Victorian Labor politics and the Centre Unity faction, this is not done willingly or happily and looks to have been done at short notice. The nature of his resignation appears to show that he has begrudgingly decided to give it away two weeks into the 45th Parliament as he wasn’t prepared to even read his speech.
Conroy was shocked to have not been reappointed as shadow minister for defence.
I have no doubt this would have put Conroy’s nose out of joint and impacted his relationship with Shorten.
The ShortCons need the relationship between these men to be solid, and it clearly isn’t.
The opposition leader appoints roles within shadow cabinet, and Conroy is used to getting the role he wants.
He was instead allocated the roles of shadow special minister of state and shadow minister for sport by his factional ally.
Senior roles like defence are highly coveted and the embarrassment that has come from being overlooked for the role he clearly would have wanted to have been reappointed to appears to have rendered his relationship with Shorten inoperable, angering him and severely denting his ego.
He’s most likely seen this as the end of his influence in the Australian Labor Party -- if not his close relationship with Shorten -- and isn’t interested if he’s not one of the big boys.
Rather than hang around and cause rancour within the Right he’s chosen to jump ship at short notice, to the surprise of even acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek.
Bill Shorten is said to have become increasingly alarmed at Conroy’s strong comments about the South China Sea dispute, but it’s unknown if there is anything else that has been testing their relationship recently.
It’s unknown how many comrades he told of this decision or when he made the decision. He has said he will leave Parliament September 30.
The Centre Unity faction will be in meltdown as the main players jockey to be nominated to take up his six-year seat in the Senate.
[Labor branch stacking becomes an arms race, with Stability Pact a possible casualty of war]
Former Conroy staffer and senator Mehmet Tillem will most likely be Conroy’s anointed to replace him, but with his vice-like influence within the Right stunningly vanishing overnight it’s unknown whether that will carry weight within the Right.
Conroy might have been abandoned by his allies, or there could be a split between the Shorten and Conroy forces.
It should be noted that Conroy’s candidate for the seat of Wills for the 2016 election was defeated soundly in the rank-and-file ballot, 152 to 224. The Public Office Selection Committee, which has a Right majority, rejected Conroy's candidate too.
In a dirty preselection, Bill Shorten and his AWU bloc, along with David Feeney, ensured now MP Peter Khalil prevailed in the Wills preselection.
This bust-up between Shorten and Conroy will test the ShortCons bloc that now makes up the majority of the Centre Unity faction grouping, only months after they finally became united bringing the NUW back into the fold.
*Ben Chiefly is a Labor activist and Crikey's man in the room. Know something he should know? Get in touch or drop Crikey a line (you can stay anonymous)
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