Ten News reported on Tuesday the “Otis Group” – named after the Canberra restaurant which serves as a meeting venue – had met without the knowledge of party leader Anthony Albanese.
At least nine of them are Labor frontbenchers.
Group member and South Australian Right faction powerbroker Don Farrell said it was a meeting of “good solid Labor people”.
“The Otis Group is just a group of Labor people who are interested in supporting coal workers,” he said.
Otis heavily features the veteran politician’s Farrell Wines, including his 2017 Clare Valley Riesling and the “The Godfather Too” 2017 Cabernet, on the list for $110 a bottle. The Farrell Wines website sells the Cabernet in a pack of six for $199.
Farrell, one of the most powerful figures in South Australian Labor, owns the winery in Sevenhill with his wife Nimfa.
EXCLUSIVE: We can reveal that a well-organised and powerful group of rebel Federal Labor MPs have been meeting and plotting behind the back of leader Anthony Albanese. And he didn’t know about it until our political editor @vanOnselenP broke the story. #auspol pic.twitter.com/pkKo5QhWfE
— 10 News First (@10NewsFirst) February 12, 2020
In an email obtained by Ten News, another member of the group, NSW MP Joel Fitzgibbon, expressed frustration with internal party processes.
“While they are not regularly used, I try to submit draft ‘questions without notice’ every day,” he wrote.
“One of the things I’d like our group to do is provide feedback and ideas to improve both our electoral fortunes and reflect the group’s views.”
A third member, Victorian senator Kimberley Kitching, said the group had been set up to “discuss ideas and put forward views”.
“It’s a group of parliamentarians who are trying to support working Australians,” she said.
Albanese has said there is no place for new coal-fired power plants in Australia and that any decision about future coal mines is a matter for the market.
In December he visited coal-mining areas in Queensland to talk to workers about the future of industry and jobs and the transition to a zero emissions economy.
The Labor leader played down the group’s existence today, despite only finding out about the group’s existence through the media.
“That’s what happens in Canberra. People go out and people chat about ideas. There is nothing unusual about this,” Albanese told reporters on Thursday.
“The Labor Party is united in our position that climate change is real, that we need to act on lowering our emissions.
“Good action on climate change means more jobs, lower emissions and lower energy prices.”
Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said reporting on the group was a “total beat up”.
“At the end of the day, people were having a dinner,” he told Sky News.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, from the party’s right faction, also found out via the media.
“There’s nothing unusual about colleagues catching up for dinner, and there’s certainly nothing unusual about people getting together to talk about policy,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison poked fun at the breakaway group.
“I don’t know if that’s Milo and Otis (1980s movie) or it’s just Otis or how many others there are involved in this,” the prime minister told reporters.
“But more than 20 Labor MPs getting together … I don’t think there’s a Lazy Susan at the Otis, but that tends to be the way things are done in the Labor Party.
“They go off to lunches, they make deals, and it seems the leader of the opposition has a few things to explain.”
– with AAP
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