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Quota quarrel looms for Labor as Rau's successor emerges

Politics

Labor’s Right faction powerbrokers are set to anoint commercial lawyer Andrea Michaels as their candidate for the safe seat of Enfield being vacated by retiring former Attorney-General John Rau.

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Michaels, a regular InDaily columnist and managing director of NDA Law, confirmed her nomination this morning in a statement sent to media, saying: “I will be seeking preselection for the Labor Party in the electorate of Enfield.”

It’s understood she is the favoured candidate of the Right Labor Unity faction’s inner sanctum – a coterie which includes state secretary Reggie Martin, party leader Peter Malinauskas and shopworkers’ union secretary Sonia Romeo – with party insiders regarding her as effectively a ‘captain’s pick’.

As usual, the Left and Right factional powerbrokers have managed the process behind closed doors well before the formal nomination process opened yesterday, with the PLUS (Progressive Left Union and Sub-Branches) faction’s convenor, United Voice organiser David Gray, understood to have endorsed trade union boss Joe Szakacs for Cheltenham well before Jay Weatherill announced his retirement last week.

The Right has been less organised, with no-one quite sure of Rau’s intentions until the weekend, but the faction has long understood it needed to endorse a woman for the highly-sought-after seat if the party had any hope of meeting its commitment to a nationally-imposed 50 per cent quota of women MPs by 2025.

However, it’s understood the likely contenders within the faction, including current adviser Lucy Hood and former candidate Jo Chapley, have been overlooked in favour of Michaels – a move some insiders warn could cause angst.

“They brought in someone completely outside the circle [and] they kept it very quiet,” one said.

“That’s a problem… potentially people within the faction might not see there’s a future for them – it’s a very complicated process.”

However, women within the faction are well-positioned to gain preselection in swift order, with another insider declaring: “I don’t think the Labor Party will be preselecting any men for the next eight years.”

That’s based on “just the basic numbers”, with Labor currently falling well below its quota target – and with only one state election with which to rectify the shortfall before the 2025 deadline.

Labor currently has 13 men and six women in the Lower House, and five men sitting alongside three women in the Legislative Council.

But Gray’s decision to annoint Szakacs in Cheltenham – a move that rankled with Right-faction members – means the party will only bring in one woman in the current round of by-elections. Those are expected before parliament resumes in February, with Weatherill and Rau set to formally tender their resignations to Speaker Vincent Tarzia next Monday.

The quota could have significant ramifications in a range of seats. It would make it extremely hard to justify state secretary Reggie Martin’s own mooted move to the Upper House, assuming either of the Right faction’s male incumbents Russell Wortley or Tung Ngo can be convinced to move aside in the first place.

It could also complicate the prospect of former Weatherill adviser and sacked public service executive Rik Morris running again in Florey – another north-eastern seat which would return to the Labor fold if Frances Bedford chooses to retire at the 2022 election.

“That’s just how it is,” one source said.

“It will be very unusual for a man to be preselected for the next eight years – they’d risk federal intervention if they don’t do it [meet the quota]… national executive can undo preselections, and the only opportunity to do it at state level is the next state election.

“It’s a good time to be a woman in the Labor Party, that’s for sure.”

The quota issue is causing some friction between the factions, with many on the Right voicing their displeasure at the Left continuing to fill its key vacancies with male candidates.

“The Left need to pull their finger out,” one insider said today.

Nonetheless, Michaels’ likely endorsement will give the Opposition some star power, with the corporate law high-flyer likely to push for a frontbench position in quick turn.

“I am the daughter of migrants, who came here with nothing and worked hard to make a life for our family in South Australia,” she said in a statement today.

“Our first house was in Blair Athol and my early years instilled in me the importance of a society based on fairness and opportunity. The opportunities I was given allowed me to forge a career in law, specialising in tax law, and ultimately start my own firm.

“I now want to make a greater contribution to South Australia.”

She said she wanted “to use the opportunities I’ve had to advance a society based on fairness and opportunity, for my children, for the people of Enfield and for our state”.

“This is why I want to be part of the Labor team under the leadership of Peter Malinauskas,” she said, adding that she would not comment further “out of respect for the party and its processes” until the preselection is formalised on Friday afternoon.

Her nomination is likely to spell the end of possible moves for Rau’s seat by former MPs Annabel Digance and Tom Kenyon, as well as Port Adelaide Enfield deputy mayor Michael Iammarrone, who yesterday told InDaily he was “seriously considering” a preselection tilt.

Today, though, he said: “I’ve considered my position and have decided against nominating for the seat of Enfield.”

“Throughout this process my first concern has been to ensure that the people of Enfield get a quality representative that they deserve,” Iammarrone said.

“I have been given assurances that the preferred ALP candidate is of that ilk.”

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