Labor war over Kimberley Kitching escalates with High Court challenge to Albanian takeover

The federal branch took over the Victorian division on the basis that the party was dysfunctional when dumped MP Adem Somyurek ran a branch-stacking operation before he was exposed.

Since the takeover, Senator Kitching and allied MP Bill Shorten have had their power diminished within the Victorian branch because they were loosely aligned with Mr Somyurek, though not alleged to have been involved in his branch-stacking operation.

The Victorian party is now effectively run by a handful of powerbrokers from the Shoppies Union, the Transport Workers Union, the Socialist Left and a group aligned to deputy leader Richard Marles. They can handpick candidates for seats because rank-and-file members have no voting rights, angering the ousted groups because of the undemocratic nature of this process.

The landmark case will be the first time since early last century that the High Court will test whether political parties, which are voluntary unincorporated associations, are effectively subject to the Corporations Act. It will have implications for the operations of other political parties.

There have been recriminations in the party since Senator Kitching – who had thyroid problems that caused heart issues – died of a suspected heart attack on March 10.

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Her supporters have fueled more than a week of media reporting that claimed that stress brought about by her work life contributed to her death.

Friends of Senator Kitching believed her Senate position was under threat from opposing groups that run the fractured Victorian Right faction, while a wide group of supporters have said she was ostracised by her upper house colleagues, Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher. They deny the claims.

Some MPs believe it was appropriate that she was ostracised because she was believed to be leaking against the party.

Mr Albanese has insisted neither he nor his staff was aware Senator Kitching felt bullied by her colleagues, as he defended the decision to dump her from the party’s Senate tactics committee as a routine political process.

Allies of Senator Kitching have been cut out of the Right faction since the downfall of Mr Somyurek. Despite this, the late senator’s friends had hoped to be able to pick her successor from within their own group, with Victorian Corrections Minister Natalie Hutchins raised as a possible option.

The idea of ​​a consensus candidate was floated in a bid to end the factional war that has been spurring media coverage of Senator Kitching’s alleged mistreatment. However, the probable elevation of former bureaucrat Jana Stewart, who is not aligned to Senator Kitching, means the dispute is unlikely to cease.

In a Supreme Court case in October, Justice Tim Ginnane determined the rarely used so-called plenary power of the ALP allowed it to seize control of state branches when it deemed there were sufficient grounds.

“The national executive has power over preselection when it forms the opinion any state branch, or section of the party, is acting or has acted in a manner contrary to the national constitution,” he stated.

“This power is given by clauses in the national constitution … and also, in my opinion, by the plenary power.”

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