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Bill Shorten digs in for sitting Labor MPs

Angus Livingston and Matt Coughlan
Bill Shorten wants the national executive to take control of the preselection process in Victoria

Bill Shorten has vowed to protect all sitting MPs in upcoming preselections amid speculation the party's national executive will take control of the process in Victoria.

Two key powerbrokers Stephen Conroy and Kim Carr want to take Victorian preselections away from grassroots branches and put them in the hands of the ALP's powerful national decision-making body.

It's understood Mr Shorten is not against the idea, but he wants all of Victoria's factions and unions on board before agreeing.

He did ensure the safety of sitting Labor MPs wanting to contest the next election.

"If I've got sitting members who want to keep contributing I want them on the front line. What I will offer is a period of stability for my MPs," Mr Shorten told reporters in Devonport on Monday.

"I won't let my MPs be ignored and I'll make sure I'll protect my sitting MPs."

Mr Conroy and Senator Carr still control some numbers in Labor's federal caucus and sit on the national executive, but their influence at branch level is diminished.

Instead, state Labor MP Adem Somyurek has built significant power across Victorian branches and he is pushing for preselections to be open.

Mr Somyurek is also likely to push Mr Conroy and Senator Carr off the national executive when Labor's conference is held in December.

Both sides have leverage on Mr Shorten, creating a difficult balancing act as they fight over a newly-created safe seat in Melbourne's west.

Mr Shorten is considering a switch to the new electorate of Fraser, which would leave his recently redrawn seat of Maribyrnong open.

The retirements of Jenny Macklin and Michael Danby have also opened preselection battles in the Labor-held Melbourne seats of Jagajaga and Macnamara.

No other states look set to have their preselections decided by the national executive, but Labor frontbencher Jim Chalmers said it has happened occasionally.

He said it was "overwhelmingly" the experience of Labor members to have a say in preselections and other ballots, like the recent election of ALP President Wayne Swan.

"From time to time that isn't possible if we're up against it time-wise," Mr Chalmers told Sky News on Tuesday, noting a federal election could be called as early as August.