Andrews caught out in faction brawl
Wade Noonan, MP.
OPPOSITION Leader Daniel Andrews' authority over the Labor Party has been called into question after an unedifying factional brawl erupted over a front bench vacancy.
The sudden departure of shadow treasurer Tim Holding from State Parliament has exposed fresh factional wounds, with key elements of the Labor Right locked in a bitter dispute over a replacement to fill the front bench position.
As expected, Mr Holding has been replaced as shadow treasurer by employment, industrial relations, infrastructure and ports spokesman, Tim Pallas. Mr Pallas, who was chief of staff to former premier Steve Bracks, is widely regarded as a strong performer with a sound grasp of economics.
But Mr Andrews' plans to announce a new promotion to the front bench to fill the vacancy were derailed when some members of the mainstream Labor Right faction failed to attend a caucus meeting at the last minute, with a vote for the promotion dead-locked nine-all between Williamstown MP Wade Noonan and Keilor MP Natalie Hutchins.
The stoush was later resolved when MPs loyal to the conservative Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association and the Australian Workers Union combined to back Ms Hutchins over Mr Noonan, who was previously seen as the front runner.
The stoush comes at a crucial time for Mr Andrews and State Labor, which is leading the Baillieu Government by 10 percentage points in opinion polls. The party is desperate to avoid being tarnished by the factional shenanigans plaguing Federal Labor and the Gillard Government.
Mr Andrews, who was left exposed when forced to conduct a press conference without a frontbench promotion to announce, said he would not be adopting a dictatorial approach towards internal processes.
''I am not someone who dictates to my colleagues,'' he said. ''I think you need to be respectful of processes as someone who leads the party. That has always been my way.''
But the failure to intervene has led to fresh questions about authority, with accusations he has allowed old tensions to once again flourish.
The dispute has also provided much-needed respite for Premier Ted Baillieu, who last week faced fresh leadership speculation after former premier Jeff Kennett delivered a stinging assessment of his ability to communicate with the public.
Deputy Premier Peter Ryan yesterday said Mr Kennett had been one of the great premiers, but pointed out he had left politics 14 years ago.
''I think as a government we have contemporary responsibilities to be able to look after the interests of all Victorians,'' Mr Ryan said. ''Issues around messaging and being able to convey that sentiment to people, they are things that are of course constantly on our radar.''