Labor warhorse Schwarten threatens shock comeback
LABOR Party in-fighting over the electorate of Rockhampton could see former long-serving member Robert Schwarten run again for the seat.
In the wake of incumbent Bill Byrne's retirement announcement over the weekend, only Queensland Teachers' Union organiser and former Biloela school teacher Dan Coxen has publicly stated his intention to nominate for the seat.
Rockhampton Region Mayor Margaret Strelow on Wednesday said she had written a formal expression of interest, but was yesterday still considering whether to formally nominate for party preselection given the weight this decision could have.
However, former Rockhampton MP and powerful Labor Party figure Mr Schwarten yesterday said the potential for a protest to be lodged against Mr Coxen's eligibility may knock him out of the race.
The Morning Bulletin understands the Australian Workers' Union would support Cr Strelow were she to nominate. If that were to happen, Mr Schwarten said he would stand for preselection.
Mr Schwarten said the local Labor "admin committee" had accepted Mr Coxen's nomination on Monday.
People looking to nominate for preselection must be registered with a Labor branch for at least six months.
Mr Schwarten said Mr Coxen had only been registered for three months, but this was only because there were no branches at Biloela.
He said this technicality could be over-ruled, and had been in previous cases in other electorates.
But elements within the local branches who are supportive of Cr Strelow's potential nomination have indicated such a move would be met with strong protest.
"It's only a minor technicality," Mr Schwarten said.
"But if they were to pursue it, which they could do next Monday night at close of nominations, then there would be no rank and file ballot.
"I'm not going to settle for that.
"The local branch members shouldn't be denied the right to pick who they're going to have."
Mr Schwarten re-affirmed his commitment to Mr Coxen, describing him as an "excellent candidate".
In that case, and in the absence of any other nominees, Mr Schwarten said he would nominate.
Mr Schwarten represented Rockhampton from 1995-2012 and served as minister for Public Works and Housing, Racing, and Information and Communication Technology at various times throughout his career.
Mr Schwarten said he believed Cr Strelow would serve the people of Rockhampton better by continuing in her role as Mayor.
"I'm well aware of what the consequences of doing this would be," he said. "I know I could do the job, but I'd much rather we got new blood in with new ideas."
Mr Coxen told The Morning Bulletin he had been a "very active" member of the Labor Party since 2013, attending the state conference in July.
"With the job that I do taking me across Central Queensland, it involves a lot of weekend work and with managing family commitments as well, I registered with the Park Avenue branch practically as early as I could, not foreseeing the fact that Bill Byrne would be withdrawing from the next election due to ill health," he said.
"I did register a number of months ago.
"The party and the administrative committee does have the right to waive that requirement to have branch registration for six months and have done so as recently as Dr Anthony Lynham for the seat of Stafford in Brisbane."
Mr Coxen said he had spoken to many branch members and regardless of whether they offered him support, all indicated they wanted a say in the final candidate choice.
He said members indicated they would support whoever was preselected, but wanted to have their voices heard in that decision.