Labor member to run as independent in Hunter to protest ‘captain’s pick’ of Daniel Repacholi

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<span>Photograph: Regi Varghese/AAP</span>
Photograph: Regi Varghese/AAP

Federal Labor faces an insurrection over its captain’s pick of Daniel Repacholi for the New South Wales seat of Hunter, with a former local union leader vowing to run as an independent, and other candidates pushing ahead with nominations in protest at the move.

Daniel Wallace, a former secretary of Hunter Workers, which represents affiliated unions in the region, has told the national executive and the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, of his intention to run unless a rank and file ballot is held.

While the national executive is set to confirm Repacholi’s nomination at a meeting on Friday, party members are enraged over the decision, with three candidates still expected to nominate in defiance of Albanese’s wishes – paying a $75o nomination fee to do so.

Cessnock nurse Emily Suvaal is pushing ahead with a nomination to the national executive, saying she believes “a discussion around improving healthcare for regional communities” should be at the forefront of Labor’s election bid.

Guardian Australia understands that right-aligned unions have advised the NSW Labor general secretary, Bob Nanva, of their support for Suvaal.

Related: Labor captain’s pick for Hunter followed sexually suggestive, gun-toting Instagram profiles

Newcastle barrister and former journalist Stephen Ryan said he had been encouraged by branch members to nominate, despite acknowledging the decision to endorse Repacholi was “being dictated to the national executive”.

“If they were parachuting in Bob Hawke, I would stand aside in a minute,” Ryan said.

“I have decided to do it [nominate], not only because of the support I have had from some of the members, but also I don’t want the national executive to be under the misconception that there is no one up here who could take the fight up to the Nats or One Nation at the next election.

“I want to send a message to Anthony Albanese and the national executive that there are people up here with the talent and determination to fight for the seat.”

The former Cessnock councillor Morgan Campbell is also nominating, saying he could not let down members who had urged him to run.

“If that means burning $750, it’s a small price to pay to support democracy in our party, and to put myself forward as a local, and a longtime Labor member, who can represent the whole electorate and fight for the things we desperately need.”

Party sources say the national executive still intends to endorse Repacholi, who is being backed by the CFMEU and outgoing MP Joel Fitzgibbon, despite concerns being raised about the former Olympic shooter’s social media activity.

Repacholi has apologised for calling India a “shithole” and has deleted his Facebook and Instagram accounts, which included a post telling coal opponents to “sit in the dark and freeze” in winter, and followed sites featuring pictures of naked women with assault rifles.

Fitzgibbon has backed Repacholi as a “normal larrikin Australian” to represent the seat after spending much of the past three years agitating internally for the party to reconnect with its working-class base.

Repacholi, who owns a small business that sells projectiles and is a former coalminer, only joined the Labor party three weeks ago.

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Wallace, a former councillor and organiser with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, said he would be prepared to “take a stand” and run as an independent if the national executive “ran roughshod” over local members and defied calls for a rank and file ballot.

“I would be more Labor than the Labor candidate,” Wallace said.

“It is frustrating that it was a captain’s call before anyone had a chance to nominate for the position, which goes against everything the party stands for. If they go ahead with it, then they have lost the seat.”

Labor believes Repacholi is the best chance for the party to hold on to the seat, with it being targeted by both One Nation and the Nationals, and expects any progressive protest vote would still return to the party in preferences.

At the last election, Fitzgibbon suffered a near 10% swing against him and recorded Labor’s lowest ever first preference vote in the seat.

It is now considered marginal, held by Labor with a 2.9% buffer.

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