Bill Shorten

The Victorian Labor Right (Centre Unity) continues to offer up unending intrigue following the Public Office Selection Committee (POSC) approval of lawyer and former Victorian Health Services (HSU) general manager Kimberley Kitching to replace Stephen Conroy following his shock resignation.

Regular readers of Crikey will know by now that Victorian Labor Right (Centre Unity) is a messy tangle of inter and intra-factional deals and understandings coloured by often tense personality clashes within the factions and between factions.

These connections and clashes date back decades to relationships formed and enemies created during their time as hot shots within Victorian Young Labor.

[Why Stephen Conroy departed in such a hurry]

There were 8 candidates being considered to replace Stephen Conroy at last night’s POSC meeting, all of them women.

The men who initially sought to be considered for the position stood down when confronted by the weight of argument that newly implemented affirmative action rules required the replacement be a woman.

EMILY’s List will be pleased.

Bill Shorten privately threw his weight behind Kimberley Kitching while publicly stating no preference.

Under the terms of the “Stability Pact” — which controls 80% of the POSC — between the Socialist Left and Centre Unity, the candidate for the position was the choice of Centre Unity alone. The Socialist Left were bound to wave through Centre Unity’s pick.

The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) locked in behind Kitching at Shorten’s request, and the Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) locked in behind lawyer and Geelong Football Club director Diana Taylor, seemingly at Conroy’s request.

Kitching is said to have only just edged out Taylor at the Centre Unity meeting to determine the candidate they would present to the POSC to endorse.

That formality concluded, Kitching carried the POSC vote almost unanimously, with 20 or so POSC delegates boycotting the meeting in disgust.

Interesting to note Shorten still carries sway within Centre Unity — if only marginally — over Conroy’s TWU-aligned forces.

The TWU considered this to be “their spot” and won’t be pleased with this outcome.

I have previously alluded to the fact that the stability within Centre Unity may be tested by Conroy’s resignation, and this may be starting to play out.

[What will Conroy’s departure mean for Shorten’s leadership?]

The presumptive replacement as convener of Centre Unity in the post-Conroy era, Richard Marles, the increasingly less influential MP David Feeney and Stephen Conroy himself are all said to have issues with the former general manager of the scandal-plagued HSU being endorsed by POSC. Socialist Left Senator Kim Carr is also reportedly not happy.

They were however all bound to vote for her once the decision had been made by Centre Unity.

The amazing part of this saga is that scandal-plagued HSU Victorian Branch isn’t even affiliated with the Australian Labor Party. This fact might be one of the reasons senior members privately object to Kitching’s endorsement.

So how has Kitching found herself in this fortunate position?

The answer relates to how Bill Shorten climbed the ladders of power, first within Victorian Young Labor, then the union movement and then into Parliament.

Kitching is married to Andrew Landeryou, the son of former National Union of Workers (NUW) union official and minister in the Cain government Bill Landeryou.

[Labor branch stacking becomes an arms race, with Stability Pact a possible casualty of war]

Bill Landeryou is credited with masterminding the creation of Victorian Centre Unity in the early ’90s and along with Greg Sword allowing the Right to take control of Victorian Labor from the Socialist Left.

Andrew Landeryou remains an influential figure within Centre Unity and is a trusted confidante of Bill Shorten to this day. having risen through the party at around the same time.

He was recently caught defacing opponents’ election signs in the electorate of Melbourne Ports, along with another influential Centre Unity figure, David Asmar.

Asmar is another figure upon whom Shorten relies within Centre Unity.

He’s been linked to numerous branch-stacking scandals within Victorian Labor in Shorten’s electorate and branches but has managed to remain unscathed.

He’s believed to have been central in Shorten defeating an incensed Bob Sercombe for preselection in Maribyrnong in 2005. Sercombe resigned before a local vote was conducted.

David Asmar’s wife, Diana Asmar, was elected secretary of Victoria’s No. 1 branch of the HSU in 2013, and  Shorten is said to have thrown AWU support and funds behind getting her elected.

These connections may explain why Bill Shorten selected Kimberley Kitching as his pick and persevered with her despite the objections of powerful forces within Centre Unity.

You got all that?

This appears to be Bill Shorten looking after his allies who have got him to where he is and due to their long and close connections may know “where the bodies are buried”.

The labyrinth that is Victorian Labor continues to intrigue.

The ramifications of Kitching’s endorsement will continue to play out for some time to come.

Peter Fray

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