By Alex Bainbridge
— Several unions have threatened to withdraw election funding to the ALP head office unless it agrees to hold a rank and file preselection ballot for the seat of Peats, on the central coast of NSW.
Peats became vacant after the former sitting member and opposition spokesperson on corrective services, Tony Doyle, resigned shortly before his death late last year.
The ALP state office used the proximity of the March 25 state elections to invoke rule N38, which overturns rank and file preselections and gives decisive power to the state Administrative Committee. By this method, ALP right candidate Marie Andrews, an official in the Australian Services Union, won preselection on January 16.
This fourth use of N38 in 12 months has angered local branch members. Branches in the Peats electorate appealed to parliamentary leader Bob Carr before the January 16 vote to support rank and file preselection.
Carr refused to intervene, saying that there wasn't enough time and that the party's energy should be focused on winning the election. Previously, Carr had argued that the candidate should be "a woman".
The left-dominated branches in Peats have vowed to continue their campaign in support of their favoured candidate, Joanne Rainford, an industrial officer with the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).
A large meeting of members on January 18 passed resolutions calling for: Andrews to withdraw as the ALP candidate and submit to rank and file preselection; the Administrative Committee to overturn the decision to use N38; to leave it up to each branch member to decide whether to work for the Peats campaign or for another ALP candidate in the area.
A meeting of unions including representatives of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), the MEAA, the Australian Services Union, the Communication Workers Union and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union was held on January 13. The January 14 Newcastle Herald quoted Vicki Telfer, state secretary of the CPSU, as saying that the meeting agreed to withdraw funding for candidates who were not selected by rank and file preselections. Green Left Weekly attempted to confirm this, but no-one from the CPSU was available for comment.
In other ALP factional moves, Allan Morris, the non-aligned federal member for Newcastle, has accused head office of "manipulating" regional branches in order to have right candidates preselected in his and two other Hunter Valley seats. These allegations follow ALP preselections in December for the Newcastle City Council, in which the lord mayor and several other councillors lost endorsement.