Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese’s bid to push embattled union boss John Setka out of the Labor Party has hit another snag, with the Supreme Court unable to decide by Monday’s planned deadline if the party’s national executive can legally expel Mr Setka.
In a Supreme Court hearing in Melbourne on Thursday, Justice Peter Riordan urged the ALP to delay its decision on Mr Setka’s membership beyond July 15.
The ALP national executive has given an undertaking to the court not to proceed with the expulsion of John Setka until his legal challenge is determined.
Justice Riordan said the “complexity” of Mr Setka’s application for an interlocutory injunction meant he did not expect to make his decision before the July 15 deadline – and questioned whether the ALP national executive meeting planned for that day should go ahead.
“You might want to get instructions as to whether your client will be able to hold off a decision,” he told Labor’s lawyer, Michael Borsky, QC.
“It seems to me … it would be inappropriate for it to proceed while it’s … subject to consideration of this court.”
An interlocutory injunction is an order that compels or prevents a party acting before the final determination of a case. Such orders are usually issued to maintain the status quo until judgment can be made.
If granted, the injunction sought by Mr Setka would legally prohibit Labor’s national executive from following through on Mr Albanese’s demand to expel the controversial CFMMEU boss.
Mr Setka did not appear in court on Thursday but his lawyer argued the expulsion should be blocked for several reasons, including that it would stop him being an effective advocate for the union and its members.
Geoffrey Kennett SC, said Labor wanted Mr Setka out not because he’d breached any rules but because of adverse media coverage he had attracted.
Labor should not be able to make its decision before the Supreme Court ruled on its lawfulness, Mr Kennett said.
But Mr Borsky said the possible effect of ALP expulsion on Mr Setka’s livelihood and reputation was pure speculation.
“Mr Setka has been convicted of an offence,” he told the court.
“His reputation has been tarnished already.”
In June, Mr Setka was convicted for harassing his wife, Emma Walters. He is also accused of making inappropriate comments about anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, which he denies.
Mr Borksy said that because Mr Setka had retained his position as head of the CFMMEU, despite his harassment conviction, it was a stretch to assume that being kicked out of the ALP would cost him his union job.
In June, Mr Albanese had promised that Mr Setka would be gone from Labor by Monday (July 15).
However, Justice Riordan said there was “no pressing urgency for a resolution”, adding the decision could potentially wait until August.
Both parties acknowledged the matter might end up in the High Court.
Thursday’s delay is another blow to Mr Albanese, who had already given Mr Setka an extra 10-day extension.
It also means Mr Setka will remain suspended from the party, pending a final decision on his membership.
The hearing continues.