ACT Labor’s coming Senate preselection battle

Earlier this week, Labor Senator Kate Lundy announced that she would be stepping down as a Senator for the ACT after 18 years. It has led to frenzied speculation about who might replace her with no clear successor and competition likely to be fierce.

Unlike most other ALP branches, ACT Labor conducts all preselections by a 100% rank-and-file ballot. While the Left holds a majority on the Conference floor, this is primarily due to the size of union delegations. The largest union in the ACT, the Community and Public Sector Union is affiliated to the Left and larger unions that are traditionally in the Right elsewhere such as the Transport Workers Union are aligned to the Left Caucus or are relatively much smaller (AWU, SDA, NUW).

The recent ballot for ACT President gives an indication of the breakdown of active rank-and-file membership and potentially the results. Approximately 63% of party members participated in the ballot and the Left Caucus’ candidate Louise Crossman topped the poll on primaries with 214 (34%). The Independents faction’s candidate Tom McMahon can second with 195 (31%), the Centre Coalition’s Jennifer Newman received 157 (25%) and non-aligned candidate John Kilcullen received 56 votes (9%). No factional grouping has an outright majority so preferences will matter. For a candidate to be successful, they will need to appeal to the other groupings.

The eligibility to vote will be much tighter for preselection so there will be a smaller pool of voters. Anyone who was a member could vote for President while those voting in preselections will need to be a member for more than 12 months and attended 3 meetings in one year (or 6 over 2 years). The requirements are less strenuous for those who have been a member for a longer period of time with only 2 meetings required for between 5 and 10 years membership and only 1 if a member for 10 years or more.

A big unknown factor will be the timetable and process for preselection. Many inactive members are likely to attend meetings to get preselection rights and whether pre-poll and postal voting is available will affect turnout. For example, half of the voters in the Presidential ballot voted by postal ballot.

Whatever occurs, it is likely to be a vigorous contest between the three groups and the candidate each grouping backs will matter significantly.

UPDATE 5/12/14: Katy Gallagher has announced she will seek preselection for the upcoming Senate vacancy. Given that Bill Shorten and Penny Wong approached her, it’s likely she will have no or minimal opposition.

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