Labor has started cannibalising itself over an impending preselection battle that may leave Throsby MP Stephen Jones unceremoniously dumped.
Mr Jones was parachuted into the seat prior to the 2010 election, angering rank and file Labor members because it had denied them the chance to pick their preferred candidate.
Illawarra branches now have been handed back their preselection powers, setting the scene for an ugly showdown between members who want to save Mr Jones and those who want him gone.
Even Mr Jones’ supporters concede he could lose because the dominant right faction, led by Wollongong MP Noreen Hay, is working hard to unseat him and install its own candidate.
Yesterday, two people previously touted as likely challengers - Wollongong councillor Ann Martin and Macedonian community leader Lou Stefanovski - both strongly backed Mr Jones.
But Ms Hay refused to say whether she believed he deserved a second parliamentary term.
‘‘I’m not going to pre-empt what rank and file preselectors might determine. It’s their right to choose,’’ she said.
Mr Jones, a leading figure from the party’s left faction, would not say why right-wing forces were working against him but described the campaign as distracting ‘‘internal bullshitting’’.
‘‘I haven’t heard who their candidate is, or even if they will have one...I’m focusing on my own game,’’ he said.
Three separate sources told the Mercury on current estimates, Mr Jones would be lucky to win a third of the estimated 200 preselection votes.
Mr Jones’ backers say his support has been underestimated but concede the first-term MP faces an uphill battle to save his career.
‘‘I intend to stand, I’ll be standing on my record and I’m confident I’ll be the [Labor] candidate at the next election,’’ Mr Jones told the Mercury yesterday.
‘‘By any measure it has been a tough time for the party, the region and me as a first-term MP.
‘‘But I think I’ve succeeded in being a credible voice for the party in this region and those are the sorts of things I’ll be talking to members about.’’
Cr Martin said Mr Jones could lose if ‘‘certain local Labor dinosaurs’’ continue ‘‘white-anting’’ him.
‘‘I would be really disappointed if Stephen wasn’t preselected because he’s been a good member and he’s got a future,’’ she said.
Last night, during a meeting with Mr Jones, Mr Stefanovski pledged his allegiance.
‘‘There has been a rumour I would be standing but I want to make it clear that is completely false and it’s a lie,’’ he said.
‘‘I will support [Stephen] and will be working hard for him and so will the Macedonian community’’.
Another touted challenger, former Kiama MP Matt Brown, declined to comment yesterday but pointed to previous statements ruling out running.
Ms Hay denied the dispute would damage the already tarnished Labor brand.
‘‘I think rank-and-file preselections are healthy,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t think there’s anybody at each other’s throats. If they are, I’m not aware of it.’’
When asked to describe his relationship with Ms Hay and whether he believed she was undermining him, Mr Jones said: ‘‘I have a professional working relationship with all the state MPs in the area.
‘‘You won’t see me engaging in warfare, open or otherwise.’’
Federal MPs parachuted into the seats of Reid, Fowler, Chifley, Greenway and Werriwa before the last election will also have to face preselection later this year.