From Nine Media's Melbourne team.
Labor Leader Anthony Albanese might have to go all the way to the High Court in his fight to expel controversial building union leader John Setka from the party.
The party has conceded in its court submissions that the Setka matter is doing political damage to Labor and that the expulsion would end the pain.
But a hearing in Victoria’s Supreme Court on Thursday heard the dispute between the union leader and the party looks set to be put on hold in the short term while the case is decided.
Mr Setka is challenging the legal basis of the request for expulsion and the ongoing coverage of the "dispute", according to the party's national secretary Noah Carroll, is "detrimental and disruptive to the ALP."
"Once the [ALP] national executive makes a decision on the motion to expel Mr Setka (whatever that decision might be) much of the adverse media coverage and consequential political risk in connection to this issue will cease," Mr Carroll wrote in his affidavit to the court.
Labor’s national executive was due to meet on Monday to decide on Mr Setka’s future with the party but Supreme Court Justice Peter Riordan told lawyers for Mr Setka and for the ALP on Thursday that the case was unlikely to be decided before that meeting.
Mr Albanese wants the union leader out of the party, arguing that Mr Setka has repeatedly embarrassed the ALP over the years, most recently with reported comments, that Mr Setka denies, denigrating the work of domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty.
But the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union’s Victorian construction branch secretary argues that Labor’s executive committee does not have the power to expel him and that power lies with the party’s Victorian branch.
In court on Thursday, Michael Borsky, QC, appearing for Mr Carroll said Mr Setka’s legal argument was ‘‘nonsensical’’ and that it was ‘‘unworkable for a national political party’’ to have to make its decisions according to the differing rules of its various state and territory branches.
Geoffrey Kennett, SC, for Mr Setka, wants an undertaking from Labor that it will not push ahead with Monday’s planned meeting or an injunction from the court to stop the ALP’s ruling body from holding the expulsion vote until the case has been decided.
Mr Borsky argued that the expulsion could go ahead and then be reversed if the court decided that it was indeed unlawful.
Justice Riordan did not rule on the timing of the meeting but indicated that the ‘‘balance of convenience’’ was in Mr Setka’s favour and that the union leader would face ‘‘some prejudice’’ of being kicked out of the party and then reinstated.
The judge said the complexity of the materials put before him by the contending legal teams meant that would have to reserve judgement after hearing the evidence and there would be no decision before Monday.
Justice Riordan also note that the parties to the case were ‘‘at least considering the possibility’’ that the dispute might end up in the High Court.
The case continues.