Paul Keating: The former prime minister has dramatically weighed into Victorian politics. Photo: AFR
Former prime minister Paul Keating has dramatically entered the Victorian political fray, describing state opposition leader Daniel Andrews as a man of "energy and pluck" and warning Labor's talent pool for selecting competent candidates is shrinking.
Throwing his weight behind former federal MP Christian Zahra to contest the state seat of Macedon, Mr Keating argued the party's track record selecting candidates "who can think strategically and carry an argument" has been getting "progressively lower".
I see a bit of Daniel Andrews and admire his energy and pluck. He is easily the most energetic of the State Opposition Leaders.
In a letter sent to Mr Zahra late last year, the former prime minister also singles Mr Andrews out as the most energetic of all state opposition leaders.
Daniel Andrews: a man of 'energy and pluck', says Paul Keating. Photo: Craig Abraham
"I hold some substantial hope that Victorian Labor might be returned at the next poll," Mr Keating writes.
"I see a bit of Daniel Andrews and admire his energy and pluck. He is easily the most energetic of the State Opposition Leaders."
A first-term Government has not been defeated in Victoria since 1955. Coalition MPs remain nervous after a series of published opinion polls placed Labor in an election-winning position.
The letter comes amid an increasingly heated row over the marginal rural seat. The local branch had overwhelmingly voted in favour of Mr Zahra, who is a local with backing from powerful party figures, including Mr Keating.
But that was overturned by Labor's public office selection panel, which instead selected Northcote local Mary-Anne Thomas under a pre-arranged factional carve-up designed to prevent internal brawling.
Locals are furious, this week releasing a petition signed by 85 per cent of local branch members calling for Ms Thomas to resign or be sacked. Locals are so incensed they are threatening to vote against Labor if the decision is not overturned.
Mr Zahra is also being backed by former ACTU president Jennie George and local upper house MP Candy Broad.
Mr Andrews, who is believed to have also privately thrown his support behind Mr Zahra, is avoiding publicly weighing into the stoush.
"Mary-Anne Thomas is the duly preselected candidate for that seat and she like me is completely focused on winning the trust and support of the Macedon community," he said.