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Labor's Right faction wrongfooted again

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UPDATED: Labor has selected a new candidate for the ultra-safe seat of Napier – and it represents another assertion of Premier Jay Weatherill’s authority over the party’s dominant Right faction.

A short time ago, the party’s state executive endorsed a member of the Right, Jon Gee from the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, but he’s not the candidate that the faction would have chosen in the normal run of things. But nothing is normal within Labor right now.

Gee is a local. Like his non-aligned rival for preselection, Dave Garland, he lives in the northern suburbs seat of Napier.

Garland told ABC radio this morning that he and Gee know each other well. They live five minutes apart, and go to the same pizza bar and video shop.

There won’t be a vote of party members on the preselection – there’s no time for that, with an election just over a month away. The executive will choose a candidate.

With the Right holding the numbers, Gee was nominated by the executive and the Right continues to hold the seat.

So what’s the problem?

The issue is that this seat has long been earmarked for a Right faction up-and-comer – a potential “star”. If not a candidate with leadership aspirations, then at least someone who would be expected to be a minister.

Gee, while respected, isn’t in this category, but the Right felt it had no choice but to nominate a local after Weatherill’s extraordinary intervention last Friday.

Readers will recall that sitting member Michael O’Brien, until Friday a Cabinet minister, had offered his seat to Right faction powerbroker and outgoing Senator Don Farrell – most definitely not a local.

Weatherill, the parliamentary leader of the Left faction, rightly figured that Farrell’s presence in state politics would bring with it the shadow of disastrous federal division. He threatened to quit. Farrell backed down, and party office went into overdrive trying to come up with a process to select a new candidate.

The Right felt totally snookered.

With Weatherill’s high stakes threat – and his inflammatory rhetoric about division and uncertainty – the faction knew that anyone but a local would be painted as a factional hack, no matter what their credentials.

So Gee, it is.

He might not quite be a “captain’s pick”, as The Advertiser put it, but Weatherill won’t be upset, particularly with Gee’s connections to the battle for Holden on which the Premier has focused so much of his political energy.

That he’s been able to put another scratch in the Right’s duco won’t upset him either.

The faction has been surprisingly calm – almost with an air of resignation – since Friday when Farrell’s political career was ended.

But these slights will not be forgotten – unless, of course, Weatherill manages to pull off an extraordinary and, now, widely unexpected victory.

Check back here this afternoon for updates on the preselection.

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