Queensland Labor is embroiled in a preselection factional showdown with the premier backing local mayor Margaret Strelow against party stalwart Robert Schwarten for the seat of Rockhampton.
Annastacia Palaszczuk on Friday endorsed Ms Strelow, a fellow member of the Right, before the mayor indicated she was interested in running for the seat vacated by outgoing Agriculture Minister Bill Byrne.
It has set the scene for a heavyweight stoush with Mr Schwarten, a former Beattie and Bligh government minister, who said he would seek preselection if his Unity faction’s preferred candidate, Dan Coxen, was blocked from running.
Mr Schwarten, a Unity powerbroker who held the seat from 1995 to 2012, believes he would win Rockhampton again but would prefer to see Mr Coxen pre-selected.
Ms Palaszczuk acknowledged Mr Schwarten’s experience but vigorously threw her support behind Ms Strelow, a long-time factional foe.
“I think Margaret Strelow would make an outstanding candidate,” she said.
“She has been a strong voice for Rockhampton; she has been an excellent mayor.”
Just hours after the premier gave her “blessing”, Ms Strelow announced she had lodged an expression of interest and had a “huge decision to make”.
“I haven’t quite really settled on what I’m going to do but I felt that I needed to at least show my hand in a more formal way,” she said on Friday.
The decision will upset the Labor Unity faction which has held the seat of Rockhampton since the 1970s, and is also in an alliance with the Left to hold more influence in government than the Right.
Party rules state aspiring candidates must have been members of a local branch for at least six months.
Even though he’s been a party member for eight years, teachers union delegate Mr Coxen has belonged to a Rockhampton branch for only three months.
He would be preselected if he ran unopposed, but if Ms Strelow officially enters the race, he could be excluded.
Mr Schwarten says it would be hypocritical to apply the rule to Mr Coxen as he had seen it ignored “more than a dozen times” in his 48 years in the party, including when Dr Anthony Lynham was shaping up to run in the Brisbane seat of Stafford.
“They’re clearly using the mayor as a ‘stalking’ horse,” he told AAP.
“They’re hypocrites. It’s just a bit of raw, stupid, factional bastardry.”
Opposition Leader Tim Nicholls seized on the premier’s support for Ms Strelow, saying it was “on like Donkey Kong” before the election, which could be held next month or otherwise early next year.
“We’ve seen the Labor party break out in their usual factional brawls up in Rockhampton,” he said on Friday.
“If you can’t govern yourself you can’t govern the state, and Labor clearly can’t govern themselves.”