Labor leader Anthony Albanese has won the first round of his legal battle to expel union leader John Setka from the ALP, urging him to quit wasting members’ money on a legal stoush.
The Supreme Court of Victoria on Tuesday ruled it has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the fight between the veteran CFMMEU leader and the Labor leader, clearing the way for his expulsion.
But Mr Setka is still weighing his legal options, including a High Court challenge.
Warning to proceed would waste potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars of construction workers’ membership fees, Mr Albanese urged him to reconsider.
“I just find it extraordinary that there would be anyone in the Labor Party who thinks it’s appropriate that John Setka remains a member,” Mr Albanese said.
“If it is the case that the members of Mr Setka’s unions funds are being used to fund these challenges, in my view that is an inappropriate use of members money.”
The Labor leader wants to expel Mr Setka for bringing the ALP into disrepute, citing his alleged comments about family violence campaigner Rosie Batty – which Mr Setka denies – and a string of controversies, including his recent conviction for sending abusive text messages to his wife, Emma Walters.
“Domestic violence is an area where the excuses need to stop,” Mr Albanese said.
“It’s not about tactics, it’s not about strategy; it’s about doing the right thing.
“I fully expected there would be push back. I want to be judged on my actions and I think Mr Setka should be judged on his.”
Victorian Supreme Court Justice Peter Riordan ruled that he had “no jurisdiction” to intervene and that the issue was one for the Labor Party to resolve.
“The question of legitimacy or otherwise of the motion to expel the plaintiff from the ALP is not within the court’s jurisdiction,” he said.
Despite arguing the court has no jurisdiction, he said if it did, the rules of the Victorian branch should determine the process, not the ALP executive.
“In case I am wrong and the court does have jurisdiction, I have determined that the powers of the national executive of the ALP to expel a member … are subject to compliance with the pre-conditions set out in r.20 of the Victorian branch rules,” the judgment stated.
The Labor Party’s legal advice is that the National Executive can proceed with expulsion but it would need to follow the process set out in the Victorian rules.
However, the ALP does not believe this means the process will need to be run by the Victorian branch, which might strengthen Mr Setka’s chances of survival.
The outcome was described as a “mixed bag” for Mr Albanese and Mr Setka because it could give rise to further uncertainty.
Mr Setka’s lawyers had argued the ALP executive had no power to expel him.
The CFMMEU leader had sought an injunction prohibiting Mr Albanese from taking any further steps to expel him.
Mr Albanese, who is overseas on his first international visit as opposition leader, has been repeatedly stymied in his attempts to kick the controversial leader out of the ALP.
He originally planned to expel Mr Setka months ago but granted him an extension to put his case before the ALP executive.
Then Mr Setka launched legal action, seeking an injunction to the process.