ALP push on ‘divisive’ Danby to move aside

ALP push on ‘divisive’ Danby to move aside

Samantha Hutchinson — The Australian — 1 August, 2017


ALP stalwart Michael Danby is facing pressure to bow out of contention for the federal seat of Melbourne Ports next election, ending a near-20-year stranglehold.

The veteran MP and ardent ­Israel supporter is the subject of an internal push at state and federal levels not to recontest the marginal seat, which has a large Jewish community, as the Liberals and the Greens sharpen their view on a fierce three-way contest.

Changing demographics and an influx of young professionals in the inner-city area that neighbours the Greens-held seat of Melbourne have put Labor’s 3.6 per cent margin under unprecedented threat, prompting some insiders to demand a fresh candidate.

Ari Suss, a Linfox executive and former staffer to ex-Victorian premier Steve Bracks, has been widely named as a potential successor, but Mr Danby said he still backed his chances to win. “I’ve made no decision. I’ve won Melbourne Ports seven times. Understandably the Liberals and Greens fear my ongoing presence. That’s good,” he told The Australian.

The ALP scraped over the line at the last, scoring 51.4 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote, with Mr Danby secured 27 per cent and Greens candidate Steph Hodgins-May secured 23.8 per cent.

Liberal Owen Guest nabbed 42 per cent of the primary vote, and 48.6 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.

A senior state Labor member said the margin was too close for comfort. “He’s just too divisive,” the member said of Mr Danby. “We came so close to losing the seat last time. I don’t think there are too many people in the party prepared to run that risk again.”

Mr Suss, a prominent figure at Labor Party functions, said he was yet to decide whether to seek preselection.

But inside the party, there is disquiet at the chances of winning a campaign with Mr Danby in place, after the Greens preselected Ms Hodgins-May for the second time.

Ms Hodgins-May, a former government lawyer, sparked controversy and a deep rift with Mr Danby during the last election after pulling out of a debate organised by Zionism Victoria. At the time, she told Australian Jewish News she did not “believe it is ­appropriate and right to speak at an event co-organised by a politically active organisation”.

The incident drove a stake through the Greens-Labor preference deal for the seat and saw Mr Danby hand out how-to-vote cards putting the Greens last.

Liberals also were disappointed by Ms Hodgins-May’s preselection, even if they believe it played to their advantage.

“The people of Melbourne Ports deserve a representative who strongly supports the Jewish community and Israel’s right to exist, not a candidate who refuses to share a stage with supporters of Israel,” senator James Paterson told The Australian. “It would be a travesty for Melbourne’s largest Jewish community to be represented by an anti-Israel MP.”

Liberal preselection is scheduled for early next year, with Mr Guest having widespread support to run again. Private practice lawyer and former senior state government lawyer Kate Ashmor is also believed to be in contention.

Last week Ms Hodgins-May told The Australian her views last year had been “mischaracterised”. She says she supports the broader Greens platform, which endorses a negotiated two-state solution and, contrary to the NSW Greens, does not support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

This article originally appeared in The Australian.

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