Ten sitting Victorian Labor MPs could end up being pressured to leave Parliament at the next election as part of a factional purge, prompting crisis talks and warnings that some will quit early and trigger damaging byelections.
Half a dozen sources from the Labor caucus, the union movement and factions have told The Age that the MPs, nine of whom are closely aligned with former Labor minister Adem Somyurek, are angry that they are facing internal threats to their seats, and as a result could quit Parliament before next November’s election.
Anthony Carbines’ elevation to the cabinet has sparked anger
The challenges would amount to an unprecedented shake-up of the party, and the MPs under fire have limited ability to win them because rank-and-file ballots were suspended after Mr Somyurek was implicated in a branch-stacking scandal. Reports by The Age and 60 Minutes prompted the federal party national executive, controlled by Mr Somyurek’s enemies, to take control of Victorian preselections.
“This is a real threat,” said one senior MP who spoke on the condition of anonymity to detail the thinking of the frustrated group of members. “It’ll be byelection after byelection after byelection. This will bring the government’s agenda undone if the madness won’t stop. [Dumping] two or three people – maybe people can swallow that – but not this many. It’s madness.”
Another senior MP said the situation was “spiralling out of control” and Premier Daniel Andrews should not expect loyalty from MPs who have been “humiliated”.
When Mr Somyurek exited the party he left a power vacuum that was filled by elements of the Right faction and Socialist Left, with whichMr Andrews is associated. Labor has 55 MPs in the lower house and 17 in the upper house.
Up to 25 MPs who have been cut out of the party’s new power-sharing arrangement met on Monday night to determine a strategy to prevent a significant proportion of their colleagues having their careers ended.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews could face a backlash from angry MPs.Credit:Justin McManus
Mr Andrews is being petitioned by some of his colleagues to protect sitting MPs, but he has refused to meet some colleagues who are in the firing line, and stoked anger among them when he elevated Ivanhoe MP Anthony Carbines to the cabinet to replace Luke Donnellan on Monday.
The Premier is going on leave from Friday, which is about a week earlier than in previous years. He will be away until after Christmas. “The emperor is leaving as Rome is burning,” one MP said.
Several government sources said the Premier reneged on his promise to Mr Donnellan’s faction, the Australian Workers Union, that it would choose the former minister’s replacement. Mr Andrews instead picked Mr Carbines, who hails from the Transport Workers Union, taking the MPs by surprise.
In the lower house, Frank McGuire in Broadmeadows, Mr Donnellan in Narre Warren North, Robin Scott in Preston and Marlene Kairouz in Kororoit could all be facing preselection challenges. A source close to Ms Kairouz speaking on the condition of anonymity, said she was highly likely to quit immediately if she lost preselection.
In the upper house, Cesar Melhem, Nazih Elasmar, Tien Kieu and Kaushaliya Vaghela also face losing their positions. Upper house MPs Mark Gepp and Jane Garrett, who factional heavyweights wanted out, have announced they will not be contesting the next election. Personal reasons played a part in both Ms Garrett’s and Mr Gepp’s departures.
Broadmeadows MP Frank McGuire is among those expected to face a preselection challengeCredit:Justin McManus
The sources said disgruntled upper house MPs could also hinder the government’s legislative agenda by missing key votes, taking leave or, in the most improbable scenario, voting against the government or sitting on the crossbench with Mr Somyurek, who derailed the government’s pandemic legislation in State Parliament last month.
The dominant factions within Labor fear the preselections of Mr Scott, Ms Kairouz, Mr Elasmar and Mr Donnellan – all of whom have been named in an anti-corruption commission investigation centred on Mr Somyurek’s Moderates faction – could hurt Labor’s prospects in 2022, raising further integrity and probity questions.
Elements of the Right, including the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association, and former senator Stephen Conroy’s faction, signed a stability pact with the Socialist Left earlier this year following the power vacuum left by Mr Somyurek’s exit from the Labor Party.
“The Socialist Left and Labor Unity are working together, in good faith, to implement the principles that underpin the stability agreement in ensuring we put the best candidates forward at the 2022 election,” one source from the Right said.
“There are a range of people whose candidacies are no longer viable due to recent allegations of wrongdoing [aired at the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission] and they need to be addressed.”
A senior Socialist Left figure said some within the group had concerns about elements of the plan, despite the faction being part of the dominant group. The attempt to remove Mr Donnellan and Mr Scott in particular had prompted their concern.
“Significant parts of the Socialist Left have significant reservations about this bloodthirsty approach,” the source said.
An MP said Mr Melhem, Ms Garrett, Ms Kieu, Mr Elasmar and Ms Vaghela could disrupt the government’s agenda in the upper house in a multitude of ways if they were forced out of Parliament by the party.
“These things can lose you government,” the MP said. “If you get enough people with shit on their livers for the next year and just pour out bile, that’s a lot of bile.”
The MP said factional bosses were “bullying” MPs by floating their deselection in the media without dignifying the MP by speaking to them in advance, while another said the parliamentarians had been humiliated and were angry.
“This is bullying behaviour. Publicly humiliating people is bullying and it’s designed to maximise people’s distress. People who are being bullied do not want to be with those people bullying them. They think their team has a sick culture,” the MP said.
“If you shoot people, it’s a distressing thing to hang around in a place you’ve been rejected from [Parliament]. You can’t expect them to suffer and then be controlled by the government.”
The Premier’s office declined to comment.
Labor preselection forms for candidates include a section asking if they have ever been subject to an investigation, notwithstanding if they were not named adversely in these investigations. This requirement has been taken by some MPs to be designed to stop any MP named in IBAC from running.
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