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Macarthur musical chairs

Just days after the Liberal Party actually conducted a local preselection to choose their candidate for Macarthur, the ALP has delved into the unedifying spectacle of dividing up the federal electorates of southwestern Sydney without any consideration of what any actual members might think about their candidates, or local links to seats.

According to reports in the Australian, Sydney Morning Herald and Macarthur Chronicle, the musical chairs have been triggered by desperate attempts to save Laurie Ferguson after his seat of Reid was effectively abolished in the recent redistribution.

Reports suggest that Chris Hayes, Member for Werriwa, could be shifted from his safe seat to nearby ultramarginal Macarthur, with Werriwa going to a member of the Left. The Australian reports a deal to impose the Left’s Damien Ogden, 31, who appears to be a former Sutherland Council candidate (nowhere near Werriwa’s territory in Liverpool and Campbelltown) in exchange for which the Right would choose the candidate for Hughes, which covers parts of Liverpool, Bankstown and Sutherland and is held by a slender margin by Liberal MP Danna Vale.

However, the Chronicle reports that the “soft Left” is pushing Wendy Waller, Mayor of Liverpool, in Werriwa, and a number of reports suggest Ferguson, who has no links with that part of Sydney and whose entire career has been based in Granville, could be shifted to Werriwa. The Campbelltown branch of the ALP has clearly stated its support for Chris Hayes continuing in the seat.

Hayes has reportedly refused to move, understandable considering how he would be moving from a safe seat that he currently holds to an ultramarginal one. While he does appear to have the support of local members, that appears unlikely to be of any relevance to the ALP.

Meanwhile, the deal is tied up with agreements around the parcelling out of Greenway, Macquarie, Fowler and Throsby between the factions. None of them seem to involve any actual members ever having a say or seeing candidates tested in rank-and-file preselections.

In Macarthur, apart from Hayes, candidates named include 2007 candidate Nick Bleasdale, local paediatrician Mike Freelander, Deputy Mayor of Camden Greg Warren and paralympian Paul Nunnari. While Bleasdale claims strong local support, he was effectively preselected in 2007 without any opposition in a climate where the party did not think Macarthur was winnable, and can expect to face fiercer competition this time around. What may ultimately doom Bleasdale’s chances are his seeming lack of factional support or political capital. While his candidature saw a major swing to the ALP in 2007, no-one would claim that was due to the individual candidate, rather than a mixture of national factors and a backlash against Pat Farmer.

It appears that the party machine is enthusiastic about Mike Freelander as a contender, although he would likely be pushed aside too if it was needed to get Chris Hayes out of Werriwa (a terrible deal for Hayes, of course). With ALP preselections being decided by a panel of the Prime Minister and five factional headkickers in Canberra, what ALP members in Western Sydney actually want will not come into consideration, but they will surely take it lying down, like they always do.