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Factional stalemate looms as Wortley digs in for another tilt

Politics

Former Labor minister and Upper House president Russell Wortley has signalled his intention to seek another eight-year parliamentary term – a move that could thwart the mooted upper house ambitions of the ALP’s most senior SA official.

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Insiders have told InDaily that the party’s state secretary Reggie Martin is considering putting his name forward for the ALP Legislative Council ticket at the 2022 election, when he will have served almost a decade helming the party administration.

But the right-faction powerbroker could hit a stumbling block, with only four winnable spots on the ticket, and only two of those allocated to each faction. That would mean one of the two incumbent right-wingers – Wortley and first-term MLC Tung Ngo – would have to vacate their seat to avoid a potentially-messy ballot.

When contacted by InDaily today, Wortley insisted: “I’ve got no intention of stepping down.”

“I’d like to continue my time for another term,” he said.

“My intention is to continue.”

Wortley has served as a minister, replacing the disgraced Bernie Finnigan who was forced to stand down to contest child pornography charges in 2011, but quit the frontbench in 2013 after then-Premier Jay Weatherill told him he was set for demotion.

He later served as Upper House president, his elevation sparking an extraordinary spray by left-winger John Gazzola, who later apologised for branding him a “parasite and an embarrassment to the Labor movement” under parliamentary privilege.

Wortley said he hadn’t heard of Martin’s interest in an Upper House seat, nor spoken to him about it, but “I thought that might be the case”.

In that instance, he said, “people would either have to challenge and there’d be a preselection contest, or they’d have to look for something else”.

“That’s the system we have,” he said.

“I’m happy to go through the process for preselection, not a problem.”

Asked whether it would be appropriate to vacate his seat for a senior colleague – as left-winger Steve Georganas eventually did in Hindmarsh recently after factional powerbroker Mark Butler’s neighbouring federal seat of Port Adelaide was abolished in a re-draw – Wortley said: “It’s not a matter about being senior.”

“Reggie needs to make a decision where he wants to go,” he said.

“We need high-calibre people like Reggie running in lower house seats… we need good people in good positions in the lower house, to help us win government.”

Party sources presume Ngo will similarly seek to extend his political career after his first eight-year term, although he said today he was “just really focussing on working with Peter [Malinauskas] and hopefully trying to keep the government accountable, and hopefully in four years time getting back to government”.

Martin would not be drawn on his intentions, saying: “My sole focus is on putting Labor in a position to win back government in 2022.”

“I’m not worried about anything else,” he said.

While some within the party are adamant Martin’s name will be on the Upper House ticket, he’s understood to be loath to prompt internal unrest by challenging an incumbent MP, and could well be forced to bide his team assuming both Wortley and Ngo put their hands up to recontest.

Wortley has some industrial muscle behind him, with the Transport Workers Union, whose gas sub-branch he previously headed, firmly in his corner.

TWU state branch secretary Ian Smith told InDaily: “We’ll continue to support Russell Wortley, as an ex-sub-branch secretary, loyal member and servant of the [union] for a long, long time”.

Smith said Wortley had earned the “right” to stand again, saying “he’s been loyal member of the Labor Party and held some senior positions… and we’ll be supporting him strongly to do that”.

That could mean Labor’s 2022 Legislative Council ticket has a very familiar look to it, with every chance the two left-wing MLCs up for re-election will also recontest.

One of those, Labor’s Upper House leader Kyam Maher, is certain to run again, while former minister – and current whip, Ian Hunter is still considering his future.

Hunter told InDaily it was “too soon for me to be conclusive” but that he was “keeping the option open” to run again.

If he does stand down, his former chief of staff Tom Mooney, now an adviser to federal left-wing frontbencher Penny Wong, is one name mentioned in dispatches to carry the factional baton, as well as Weatherill’s former CoS, barrister Simon Blewett.

It is something of an unofficial Labor tradition for former state secretaries to transition into the Upper House, with both Hunter and Maher shifting to parliament at the end of their respective tenures, while right-winger Michael Brown’s long-planned move fell foul of several setbacks before he snared the safe lower house seat of Playford.

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