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Labor faces difficult transition as faction eyes the future

Politics

Factional tensions are brewing in the state Labor party, with the Left considering dumping one of its highest office-holders ahead of this year’s state convention as the faction looks to bolster its influence.

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Assistant state secretary Steven May – the long-serving deputy to secretary Reggie Martin, the state ALP’s most senior administrator – has not been given an automatic endorsement from his faction to continue in the role.

It’s understood that while the Left PLUS [Progressive Left Unions and Sub-branches] faction may yet throw support behind him to continue, various alternatives are being considered, with a likely view to replacing Martin in the senior role within a year.

While Martin – who has been in the role since 2012 – is expected to seek re-election for another term, he will only serve out a year of his tenure, having been preselected for a Legislative Council seat at the March 2022 state election.

But May has told InDaily he will stand for re-election regardless.

“I’ll definitely be putting my name up again,” he said.

“I was first elected in October 2012, at the same time as Reggie, so I’m obviously pretty experienced – and Reggie and I have been a great working team together.

“In 2014, I was the marginal seat coordinator and we won that election… In 2018, I was responsible for the Legislative Council campaign that saw a swing to us.

“Since I’ve been assistant state secretary, Reggie and I have worked well together in regards to increasing membership as well, and I believe I’ve got broad support of the membership of the party.”

May, who was previously a long-time staffer for Left-faction figurehead Penny Wong, acknowledged there were “discussions in regards to whether I’d be supported again” but declined to comment on the faction’s position, saying only he believed he had “broad support amongst the ALP membership”.

“I believe I’ve got the experience to continue on and we’ve got two elections coming up, federal and state,” he said.

PLUS convenor Karen Grogan told InDaily: “We have not opened nominations yet but I anticipate Steve will be running again.”

However, asked whether the faction would endorse him to do so, she replied: “We will run a process within PLUS prior to the ALP nomination process [and] it would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt this process.”

The PLUS faction has had a shake-up since Labor lost Government, with former long-serving convenor David Gray stepping down and the faction conducting a broad review of its operations and approach, with a view to bolstering its influence on party policy and processes.

PLUS has long been the smaller of the two factions, with the Right’s Labor Unity, comprising the Labor “machine” that accounts for the vast majority of party business, including a stranglehold on preselections.

Recent convention dictates that the state secretary role will switch to the Left when Martin stands down, with some in the party speculating PLUS wants to install their presumptive state secretary in the assistant’s role now, to garner experience before taking the reins.

Others have told InDaily May is considered by some in his faction to be too close to Martin and the Right – an indication the factional détente that marked much of Labor’s tenure in office may have ceased.

One source told InDaily the faction had several options, including “retaining the status quo” until Martin moves to the Upper House, but that the decision will be considered in the broader context of “what it means for the broader machine deal”.

“There are definitely real live options here,” they said.

The dynamics in the state ALP have shifted in recent years with the election of Peter Malinauskas, the party’s first Labor Unity leader since the factions were formalised, with one insider noting the Right had demanded PLUS pay “a very significant price” when it backed Left-winger Jay Weatherill as Premier in 2011.

“All that stuff is being discussed [and] all the negotiations are deeply complex,” they said.

However, with little more than a year before the state election, any discord is unlikely to escalate in the short term.

“I’d be surprised if there’s any significant movements before the election,” the insider said.

“I don’t see any great argument that’s been put about for shaking things up too much between now and then.”

However, others in the party have suggested the Left’s refusal to give May an immediate endorsement ahead of the convention has created unnecessary division and bad blood.

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