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ALP special executive meeting to be held on Monday will override the normal preselection ballot for the seat of Batman

TONY EASTLEY: Well, tensions within the Labor Party in Victoria are set to explode following an announcement today that the National Executive will intervene to install ACTU President, Martin Ferguson, as the ALP candidate for Batman at the next election.

ALP National Secretary, Gary Gray, announced in Canberra today, that a special Executive meeting will be held on Monday to announce the Federal intervention that will eventually override the normal preselection ballot due to occur on 25 August.

Martin Ferguson's nomination for Batman some weeks ago, unleashed a bitter preselection row in the Victorian electorate, with two other Left candidates, Theo Theophanous and Jenny Mikakos, claiming they had the support of ALP members in the division.

A short time ago, ALP National Secretary, Gary Gray, spoke to chief political reporter, Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: Gary Gray, you've described this as 'a very neat solution'. Isn't it a little naive to think that this will be neat and clean and quick?

GARY GRAY: I think it would be. I would expect the decision in the short-term to cause a considerable degree of unrest within the sub-factions in Victoria that have taken particularly harsh views of the preselection in Batman. But, I think, it's certainly in the long-term interests of the party, but most importantly it's in the interests of those people who support us: working Australians, people who've been traditionally Labor supporters.

FRAN KELLY: You said repeatedly that this action is necessary because of a sub-group of a faction in Victoria, but how can you say it's one sub-group when all the factions, in fact, aren't supporting Martin Ferguson and the National Executive are the only lot who seem to be?

GARY GRAY: I think you really have to look beneath the surface of the way in which some of the factions have lined up in Victoria. There's considerable support for Martin across all the groups in Victoria, but there are a lot of people within Victoria who are not prepared to stand up and be counted and I understand that because of the way in which this preselection has been conducted. At the national level, however, that's not the case and there is a massive coalition on the National Executive, of people across all the groups of the party, who will be supporting Martin on Monday.

FRAN KELLY: So who, in fact, are you blaming for it coming to this - to Federal intervention?

GARY GRAY: Oh, to some extent, I think, it was inevitable, Fran. I don't think it's necessary to blame any individual.

FRAN KELLY: Is it though, the fault of the factional leaders of the Socialist Left in Victoria, which I believe is the sub-section you're talking about here. Have they dug themselves in and are you saying that they are acting against the .. well, you certainly are inferring they're acting against the best interests of the party, aren't you?

GARY GRAY: I certainly think that they've dug themselves into a position that they needn't have put themselves in. At the same time, I think it's reasonable to say that these sorts of battles within the ALP usually are emotional, they usually are run at a very high temperature and they usually create little groupings within the party that last for a short time. But I do think you'll see us get over this and the National Executive, on Monday, will deal with the matter.

FRAN KELLY: The Socialist Left have threatened ongoing divisions within Victoria - within the ALP in Victoria - if the National Executive intervenes - why risk that for Martin Ferguson? Why is the best solution for Batman - when there was already two candidates standing - Martin Ferguson?

GARY GRAY: The first answer to that is; whereas, people in that faction saw some people in a sub-grouping of that faction, have said there'll be on-going splits - they would say that because they are trying to create the pre-conditions that would cause the National Executive to back off. So, of course, they would claim hell, fire and damnation.

The next part of your question, which is about Martin for Batman: Batman is the right seat for Martin because it comes along at the right time for Martin. When you're the President of the ACTU and when you've made the contribution - not just to our party but to the movement that Martin's made - I think, there should be people within our party who are prepared to stand up and say: Now is the time for you to continue making your contribution to public life and the best place to make that contribution is in the Parliament.

FRAN KELLY: Though it's not the people of Batman who've stood up and said they want Martin Ferguson - aren't they being disenfranchised in this?

GARY GRAY: I think, when you speak of the people of Batman you're speaking of some people within the ALP in Batman. There is a large body of support for Martin within the Victorian branch of the ALP and certainly within our affiliates and I think that will come through after we've made this decision.

FRAN KELLY: But could you blame the electors of Batman for feeling left out and feeling as if they've joined a party and now they're being given no say in who represents them?

GARY GRAY: Well, there are something like 80,000 electors in Batman and the party membership in Batman is something considerably less than three-quarters of one per cent of that. And so, we are looking at the overall interests of our party, of our broader constituency and the interests of the people of Batman.

FRAN KELLY: So as National Secretary you're not worried about negative fallout from this decision?

GARY GRAY: I am worried about that. I have to be sensitive to that. But, I think that if I allowed myself to be bullied and if I allowed our party to be cowered by those people who threaten hell, fire and damnation, then I would not be doing the right thing by our party or by those millions of Australians who support us and always have supported us and who expect that we will put up the best possible candidate.

FRAN KELLY: What about the prospect of an Independent now standing? An Independent Labor person standing in Batman - are you worried about that?

GARY GRAY: That's always a possibility. That may or may not happen. But I am confident that if the National Executive makes a decision to preselect Martin, it ought to be making the decision to preselect the strongest candidate and, therefore, the candidate best placed to ensure that we hold the confidence of the people in Batman and that seat. Thank you, Fran.

TONY EASTLEY: ALP National Secretary, Gary Gray, speaking there to Fran Kelly.