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New rules in play as Left standoff rocks SA Labor

Politics

The ALP national executive may have to intervene in an increasingly messy standoff within SA Labor’s Left faction to avert a looming preselection battle between two senior figures.

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The party appears no closer to resolving what at first blush appears a fairly straightforward dilemma – the abolition of Progressive Left Unions and Sub-branches faction powerbroker Mark Butler’s safe seat of Port Adelaide in a federal redistribution.

It’s understood Butler wants to usurp factional colleague Steve Georganas in his neighbouring seat of Hindmarsh, with Labor insiders confident Georganas could be mollified by a shift into Adelaide, which is being vacated by retiring right-winger Kate Ellis, or into the vacant number two spot on the party’s Senate ticket.

The complicating factors appear to be that the Right faction, as InDaily reported yesterday, is unwilling to cede Adelaide to the Left – and that the Left, bizarrely, is yet to offer Georganas the Senate seat.

It’s believed this is because the convenors of the PLUS Left have already promised the Senate spot to someone else – understood to be Butler’s former chief of staff Karen Grogan.

Grogan, a former boss of SACOSS, was subsequently an adviser to former Premier Jay Weatherill and is now deputy chief of staff to his successor as state Labor leader, Peter Malinauskas. InDaily has sought comment from her.

The push for Butler to shift into Hindmarsh has the backing of senior figures within the state party – but some in the Left faction, which has been riven by internal conflict in recent years, are rallying behind Georganas.

If the incumbent is pushed out of Hindmarsh without the offer of a consolation seat, insiders believe there’s a chance he’ll dig in his heels and stand for preselection against Butler – with sources insisting he is yet to privately rule out that prospect.

And in a twist, a factional stoush in Hindmarsh could be decided by new preselection rules that were brought in by Malinauskas himself, when he was party president three years ago.

The then-convenor of the Right’s Labor Unity faction led the charge for “positive change” at the 2015 state conference, championing a change to preselection rules to curb the influence of union block votes in picking prospective MPs.

The reform sees the rank and file members and sub branch delegates each given a third of the total vote in preselection ballots – up from 25 per cent each. The influence of the union vote is reduced from 50 per cent down to a third.

The change passed in 2015 but only came into effect after this year’s state election, making the current round of preselections a test case for the new system.

Ironically, Butler just this month lost a ballot to remain as ALP national president, in which role he has lately pushed for the democratisation of the party, railing against “backroom buffoonery” and factional deals that “do not reflect a healthy party organisation”.

That democratisation could well count against him in his bid to shift to Hindmarsh, with insiders adamant Georganas would have strong backing among the rank and file members and sub-branch delegates.

When he last ran for preselection to win back Hindmarsh – which fell to the Liberals in 2013 – he was challenged by Delia Brennan, who withdrew from the contest after failing to garner any significant support.

“He’s very, very strong at a grassroots level,” said one.

“The rules have changed [and] he’d pick up a massive amount of the branch.”

That scenario, while unlikely, would formalise a split among the Left faction, which could have far-reaching ramifications for the state branch.

“It could get ugly,” said another insider.

“The only thing that could stop it getting ugly is a direction from the top that it gets fixed.”

Sources are confident that a preselection standoff remains an outside scenario.

“I don’t think it will get to that,” said one.

“The Left have two seats – they should give one to Butler and one to Georganas.”

Confidantes believe the Hindmarsh incumbent would be open to a Senate seat, but remain concerned that the Left faction – convened by United Voice official David Gray – is yet to resolve the matter, despite the party failing to formally oppose the draft redistribution after it was handed down in April.

“They’ve gone to the right and tried to negotiate for Adelaide, but the reality is there’s a solution and the solution is it can be fixed,” says one factional insider.

“There’s two seats – Hindmarsh and the Senate – but you can see it’s not their preferred option because they’ve already earmarked someone for that Senate spot.”

State members believe the national executive will have to intervene to resolve the impasse, to avoid a messy split.

“Steve could leave the faction and take three delegate spots with him,” warned one.

“It will have to be sorted out,” said another, noting that the Left faction’s convenors “will have to swallow it”.

In a statement late yesterday, Georganas noted his long service in Hindmarsh, which will become a safe seat in the redistribution after he won it repeatedly as a marginal seat MP.

“While the boundaries of Hindmarsh have moved, I will explore all available options to serve the community I love,” he said.

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

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