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Labor seeks parachute for powerbroker as seat abolished

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UPDATED | Labor powerbroker Mark Butler appears set to parachute into his left-faction colleague Steve Georganas’s federal seat of Hindmarsh after the Australian Electoral Commission today confirmed plans to abolish his safe seat of Port Adelaide, in a move that will spark an intense game of musical chairs within the ALP.

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The AEC ignored objections to the abolition of Butler’s Labor stronghold, pushing ahead with its original planned redistribution, which will see South Australia go from 11 federal seats to 10 – and spark furious factional manoeuvring in state Labor.

The commission said today it would redistribute South Australia’s electorates in line with its original plan, released for consultation in April.

There is a broad expectation among Labor insiders that Butler – a convenor of SA’s Progressive Left Unions and Sub-branches faction that together with the Right’s Labor Unity controls the state party – will shift to neighbouring Hindmarsh, regained by fellow left-winger Georganas at the 2016 federal poll after he lost it in 2013. 

But sources say there is a priority to ensure both MPs are taken care of, with the redistribution shifting a chunk of Georganas’s current seat into Adelaide, which will be vacated by the retiring Kate Ellis.

A shift there, though, could cause friction with the Right faction, to which the seat is nominally aligned, and which has two prospective candidates – former Julia Gillard advisor Marielle Smith and two-time Labor state election candidate Jo Chapley – waiting in the wings.

One factional insider told InDaily: “We’re not giving up Adelaide.”

Georganas could instead shift to the Senate, where there is a vacant spot on the ticket after the loss of Anne McEwen in 2016. There is also an outside prospect of him being handed a safe state seat at the next election, possibly in Cheltenham, with former Premier Jay Weatherill expected to retire.

Regardless, it’s been a bad month for Butler: the shadow minister for energy lost his coveted national Labor presidency to right-winger Wayne Swan, having publicly hit out at Victorian factional manoeuvring as “backroom buffoonery” that “does not reflect a healthy party organisation”.

He will now rely on some factional manoeuvring of his own to ensure he continues his parliamentary career.

Butler today implied he was set to continue on, saying in a statement: “I will look at all my options as I continue to serve my community.”

He said he had been “the proud member of Port Adelaide since 2007 and am obviously disappointed in the decision to abolish the seat”.

“This seat is deeply entrenched in the local community, with a proud and long history,” he said.

“‘The Port’ is perhaps the best-known and most iconic part of South Australia – home to the state’s oldest football club, one of the oldest local councils, and to a proudly progressive community.

“I know that the Port is a resilient community whose spirit and character will shine through, regardless of the federal seat in which it lies.”

But in a statement of his own late this afternoon, Georganas suggested nothing should be taken for granted, pointing out his long record in Hindmarsh and saying: “While the boundaries of Hindmarsh have moved, I will explore all available options to serve the community I love.”

“I was elected for a three year term in 2016 and my focus is to represent the people of Hindmarsh for the parliamentary term,” he said.

“I look forward to discussions with my colleagues to determine the best way forward.”

South Australia was always going to lose one of its 11 seats, due to the state’s relatively slow population growth.

Port Adelaide will be carved up, with changes to be made to the boundaries of all of SA’s remaining 10 electoral divisions – although it will not impact on next month’s Mayo by-election, which will be conducted according to the existing boundaries.

The seat of Wakefield will be renamed Spence, in recognition of women’s suffrage advocate Catherine Helen Spence.

Objections to the original plan to abolish the seat of Port Adelaide were submitted by a range of local groups, including the Labor Party and the local council, who were concerned about retaining the name of the historic seat.

Significantly, and surprisingly, the ALP did not mount a substantive appeal against the loss of the seat itself.

In explaining its reasoning, the Electoral Commission simply stated that the objections were not “substantive enough” to warrant a change to its plans.

Commissioner Tom Rogers said the objections and comments on the redistribution had been “thoroughly considered”.

“The final boundaries have resulted principally from the need to reduce the number of electoral divisions from 11 to 10,” he said.

“Abolishing an electoral division, together with the need to ensure that all of South Australia’s 10 electoral divisions then meet the numerical requirements of the Electoral Act, means that changes have been made to the boundaries of all electoral divisions in South Australia.”

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