A review of the round of Labor preselections which followed the exodus of safe seat members after Julia Gillard was deposed.
The recruitment of Peter Beattie to run for Labor in the crucial marginal seat of Forde was without question yesterday’s play of the day. However, Beattie will be far from the only Labor newcomer should his bid succeed, the weeks before the election announcement having seen an avalanche of preselection action as Labor scrambled to cover an exodus of senior figures in safe seats. In turn:
Kingsford Smith: Peter Garrett will be succeeded as Labor’s candidate by Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, who had a 136-105 victory in a local ballot held last month over Tony Bowen, Randwick mayor and son of Hawke-era deputy prime minister Lionel Bowen. Thistlethwaite first aspired to the seat when previous member Laurie Brereton retired at the 2004 election, at which time he was vice-president of the state branch of the Australian Workers Union. However, he was frozen out by then leader Mark Latham’s insistence that the seat go to Garrett. Thistlethwaite went on to serve as the party’s state secretary and convenor of the Right faction from 2008 until he was eased out of both roles with the promise of a Senate berth in 2010, having ruffled feathers by backing then Premier Nathan Rees in his determination to choose his own cabinet (which Rees used to dump Right potentate Joe Tripodi, together with the now notorious Mineral and Forest Resources Minister Ian Macdonald) and throwing his support behind Environment Minister Frank Sartor to replace Rees as Premier rather than Kristina Keneally. His Senate seat was secured in relatively bloodless fashion when incumbent Michael Forshaw chose not to contest the 2010 election, although this resulted in Graeme Wedderburn, who has been Bob Carr’s chief-of-staff both as Premier and Foreign Minister, being denied the seat promised him when he was lured from the private sector to serve as chief-of-staff to Rees.
New South Wales Senate: Matt Thistlethwaite’s Senate vacancy will now go to his successor as state secretary, Sam Dastyari, who today hands over the reins in that position to the erstwhile assistant state secretary, Jamie Clements.
Charlton: Greg Combet’s successor in the Hunter region seat is his deputy chief of staff, former Australian Metal Workers Union official Pat Conroy, who easily won a local preselection ballot with 57 out of 90 votes. Conroy’s path was smoothed by the late withdrawal of Daniel Wallace, a Lake Macquarie councillor and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser said to have had strong support locally. Wallace reportedly faced pressure from factional leaders concerned about his two convictions for assault. An earlier withdrawal had been Sonia Hornery, member for the corresponding state seat of Wallsend. The three unsuccessful candidates who saw out the process were Joshua Brown, a Muswellbrook Council policy officer and former staffer to Combet’s predecessor Kelly Hoare; Marcus Mariani, assistant director at the Department of Defence; and Chris Osborne, a local party activities. Mark Coultan of The Australian reported rumours that key factional players wanted the local preselection process to be overridden to impose the party’s assistant national secretary, Nick Martin, a Left faction member who unsuccessfully sought preselection for the ACT seat of Fraser before the 2010 election.
Rankin: In a rebuff to Kevin Rudd, the preselection to replace Craig Emerson was won by Jim Chalmers, former chief-of-staff to Wayne Swan, ahead of his favoured candidate Brett Raguse, who held Forde for Labor from 2007 to 2010. A ballot of local branch members reportedly ended in a 74-74 tie, which rendered decisive a 36-14 majority for Chalmers among the electoral college of union delegates which determined 50% of the final result. The preselection caused a split between the two main right unions, the Australian Workers Union having supported Chalmers and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association backing Raguse, and also within the Left, with the Electrical Trades Union backing Raguse but the rest supporting Chalmers.
Hotham: Simon Crean will be succeeded as Labor candidate in Hotham by Geoff Lake, a Minter Ellison lawyer and former Municipal Association of Victoria president who shares Crean’s association with the National Union Workers. Lake won the preselection ahead of Rosemary Barker, a disability worker with the Office of the Public Advocate, winning firstly the local party ballot 252-117 and then the public office selection committee vote 41-22 (with each accounting for 50% of the final total). Lake’s win was partly down to a split between Right potentates Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy, who had long been the pillars of a stability pact with the Socialist Left from which the NUW had been frozen out. Tensions between Shorten and Conroy emerged during the preselection to replace Nicola Roxon in Gellibrand, in which Conroy failed to support the Shorten-backed Kimberley Kitching, and inflamed considerably when Shorten decisively defected to the Kevin Rudd camp. The Left pleaded that the split made adherence to the stability pact a practical impossibility and abstained from the vote. John Ferguson of The Australian reports that a further layer of complexity was added by the fact that Lake and Barker had respectively had success in courting support from the local Cambodian and Vietnamese communities, in the former case with help from state Clayton MP Hong Lim.
Lalor: The candidate Julia Gillard backed to succeed her in her western Melbourne electorate, Moonee Ponds Primary School principal Joanne Ryan, emerged an easy winner after her stronger opponents fell by the wayside prior to the vote. The Australian reported that factional and gender balance considerations meant the seat was always likely to go to a woman from the Right, early contenders in that mould including Kimberley Kitching and Lisa Clutterham, who respectively had the support of erstwhile allies Bill Shorten and Stephen Conroy. Clutterham withdrew after a disastrous radio interview with the ABC’s Jon Faine, in which she appeared stumped as to how to finesse her obvious lack of connection to the electorate, while Kitching pulled out and threw her support behind Ryan. Kitching had reportedly won support to seek the number three position on the Senate ticket instead, but here too she ended up falling short (more on which below). Yet another withdrawal was Sandra Willis, the daughter of Keating government Treasurer Ralph Willis. Facing only low-key opposition from two local party members, Andrew Crook of Crikey reported that Ryan ended up securing 74 votes out of 88 in the local party ballot and all but one of the 100 votes from the public office seleection committee.
Victorian Senate: The number three candidate on Labor’s Victorian Senate ticket will be Mehmet Tillem, Turkish-born electorate officer to Senator Stephen Conroy, who won 37 votes from the public office selection committee to 25 for the aforementioned Kimberley Kitching, a former Melbourne City councillor, current Health Services Union No. 1 branch acting general manager, and the wife of controversial former VexNews blogger Andrew Landeryou. The result was another rebuff for Kitching and her backer Bill Shorten following unsuccessful tilts at the Gellibrand and Lalor preselections. As had been the case in Hotham, the Socialist Left abstained from the vote on the grounds that the Shorten-Conroy split meant the Right had failed to fill its end of the stability pact bargain. Tillem will at the very least serve out the remainder of Feeney’s Senate term, which expires in the middle of next year, although his prospects for extending his tenure beyond that by winning a third Senate seat for Labor at the election appear slim (hence Feeney’s determination to abandon the spot for a move to the lower house).