FACTIONAL negotiations that should see five-time Olympian shooter Dan Repacholi endorsed without rank-and-file preselection as the ALP's candidate for the federal seat of Hunter have unsurprisingly angered branch members feeling robbed of their chance to choose their representative at the next election.
The sitting member, Joel Fitzgibbon, announced on Monday he would not contest the next poll.
Mr Fitzgibbon, who has served nine terms in Canberra, followed his father, Eric, into the seat in 1996.
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Before that, he served for eight years on Cessnock City Council and worked for six years in his father's electorate office.
Mr Repacholi, by contrast, appears to be a political neophyte, who only joined the ALP last month.
This need not preclude him from success, but his seeming lack of political experience can be interpreted as a snub to those active party members who had expected the chance to contest a preselection ballot.
The head office intervention in Hunter appears entangled in factional manoeuvres that have flowed out of the Labor leadership's desire to keep Kristina Keneally in Canberra, after factional tensions saw her pushed to an unwinnable third position on the Senate ticket.
Senator Keneally has been parachuted into the safe western Sydney seat of Fowler, over similar branch protests.
READ MORE: Fitzgibbon slams Keneally move
It is unclear, as yet, why head office intervention was considered necessary in the seat of Hunter, when, as Labor leader Anthony Albanese acknowledged yesterday, rank and file preselections will take place in four other NSW seats needing candidates.
Mr Albanese said yesterday that Labor was expecting an election this year.
The last date for a normal House of Representatives and half-Senate election is May 21 next year.
Whatever Prime Minister Scott Morrison decides, an election is in the wind.
Even so, Labor has had ample time to get its house in order as far as candidates are concerned.
Mr Fitzgibbon's big rival last time around, Stuart Bonds, has parted ways with Pauline Hanson's One Nation, and despite Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party interest, Labor should not need "a celebrity candidate" - as one party source described Mr Repacholi yesterday, to hold the seat.
At a time when diversity is a key issue, this could still be an historic opportunity to have the seat represented by a woman.
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