Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s plan to expel controversial construction union boss John Setka from the Australian Labor Party next week has been thwarted in the Victorian Supreme Court. The battle, which has been described by national branch as “disruptive and detrimental” to the Labor party, could drag on for months, and the matter may end up in the High Court.
Moves to expel union boss John Setka from ALP put on hold awaiting court injunction decision
This afternoon the ALP agreed to delay its plans while the Supreme Court considered an injunction request from Mr Setka, the CFMEU construction division secretary, to prevent his expulsion.
Labor’s national executive was due to meet on Monday to vote on the motion, and it was expected that Mr Setka would be kicked out of the ALP.
But Supreme Court Justice Peter Riordan said he would not be in a position to make a ruling in time for the July 15 meeting.
Labor agreed to an undertaking to not act until the court made its decision.
Appearing for Mr Setka, Geoffrey Kennett SC argued the national executive did not have the power to expel Mr Setka because it was a matter for the state branch.
But Labor’s counsel, Michael Borsky QC, said it was “unworkable” and “nonsensical” for a national political party to follow the rules of different state branches.
Who is John Setka?
He is arguably the most famous union official in the country, and yet John Setka’s refusal to step down from his role is creating woes for federal Labor and the broader union movement.
In an affidavit, Labor national secretary Noah Carroll argued the national executive was the supreme body of the ALP and so had the authority.
He also outlined how the negative media coverage of the dispute was doing harm to the party and painting a picture of a political party mired in internal disputes.
“This coverage is disruptive and detrimental to the ALP in a number of respects,” he wrote.
Justice Riordan also noted that the parties were “at least considering the possibility” the issue may end up in the High Court.
Last month Mr Setka was ordered to attend a behavioural change program and placed under a good behaviour order after pleading guilty to harassing his wife, Emma Walters, via text messages.
He also pleaded guilty to breaching a court order.
Mr Albanese’s move to expel Mr Setka from the ALP has divided the wider labour movement, with a number of industrial unions backing Mr Setka.
Some have privately questioned why Mr Albanese took this course of action before the court case.
But several unions have backed calls for Mr Setka to stand down as secretary of the powerful CFMEU.
Mr Albanese moved to dump him from Labor ranks after allegations emerged that he denigrated anti-violence campaigner Rosie Batty — a claim Mr Setka denies.
The Opposition Leader said the expulsion motion was due to the culminative effect of Mr Setka’s conduct over a number of years on the ALP.
On news on Mr Setka’s injunction proceedings last week, Mr Albanese said: “He won’t be advocating as a member of the Labor party after July 15th.”
This afternoon Mr Albanese’s office declined to comment.