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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Michael Parris

'Disloyalty and unworthy conduct': Newcastle Labor infighting rages on

The Newcastle lord mayor's chief of staff, Matt Murray. File picture

The Newcastle lord mayor's chief of staff, Matt Murray, has formally charged a local Labor branch secretary with "disloyalty and unworthy conduct" as long-running feuds bubble to the surface in the lead-up to this year's council elections.

Mr Murray wrote to Labor's state general secretary, Dominic Offner, in October accusing Georgetown-Waratah branch secretary Justin Davis of "illegally" calling a fresh election of delegates to the party's Newcastle local government committee.

The move followed charges and counter-charges involving Mr Davis, deputy lord mayor Declan Clausen and Mr Clausen's partner, Steven Moore, revolving around a Wallsend Labor state electorate council election in August last year.

Mr Davis also wrote to Mr Offner in August under the party's branch-stacking "tripwire" rules alleging Mr Murray was involved in an attempt to stack the Georgetown-Waratah branch on August 21 with four new members aligned to lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes.

The party's state administrative committee later dismissed Mr Davis' branch-stacking complaint and declared valid the membership of the four members plus another five people who joined the branch at the same meeting.

The internal tension reflects what one Labor source described as a "heightened" atmosphere in party ranks in the lead-up to the Newcastle council election in September and amid doubts over the political future of Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp, who is being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption over his alleged failure to disclose all of his extended family's property interests.

Much of the infighting relates to grudges and rivalries which have been fermenting inside Newcastle Labor circles for years and sometimes decades.

The Georgetown-Waratah branch has been agitating against lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes and the majority bloc of Labor councillors in recent months over their "privatisation" of the council's inland pools and their handling of a recent investigation into chief executive Jeremy Bath.

The branch passed two motions last year condemning the council over these issues.

The Newcastle Herald has seen a leaked copy of Mr Murray's letter to Mr Offner accusing Mr Davis, a former Labor local government committee president, of "blatant maladministration" of the Georgetown-Waratah branch.

He alleges Mr Davis "added himself" as an alternate branch delegate to the Newcastle local government committee "knowing full well this was against our party's affirmative action rules" and without a "proper election process".

Mr Murray, a Georgetown-Waratah branch member, said on Thursday that he could not comment about the matter.

"It's against NSW Labor Party rules to comment on internal party matters and, unlike some, I'll be following those rules," he said.

Mr Davis said the charge against him was "rubbish".

He said he had been elected as an alternate delegate by branch members then called a new election after becoming aware of how the party interpreted the affirmative action policy.

The Herald understands Mr Murray was elected as an alternate delegate and his mother, Linda Watson, as a delegate in the initial vote but neither stood for election in the second vote.

The Labor appeals tribunal has not yet ruled on Mr Murray's allegations.

The tribunal ruled the Wallsend state electorate council delegate vote result invalid because it breached the affirmative action rules.

The tribunal dismissed allegations made by Cr Clausen and Mr Moore against Mr Davis over the Wallsend SEC vote and dismissed an allegation by Mr Davis that Mr Moore's position as Wallsend SEC election returning officer was a conflict of interest because Cr Clausen was running for SEC secretary.

The internal squabbles last year came at the same time Cr Nelmes and other Labor councillors were involved in an ugly public stoush with Wallsend Labor MP Sonia Hornery over the pools, Mr Bath and what Ms Hornery said were the council's "vanity projects".

Adamstown branch secretary Paige Johnson announced last week that she would lead a rival ticket to incumbent Labor councillor Carol Duncan in ward two preselection, but Ms Johnson characterised her campaign as a personal quest to improve the city rather than part of a mutiny.

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