Star candidate Nova could explode in Gillard’s face
And so we begin 2013 back where we were at the end of 2011, with Julia Gillard giving us another demonstration of that famous political judgement of hers and pissing off a large swathe of the Labor Party.
Back then it was her petty, vindictive and undeserved shafting of Kim Carr from the industry portfolio that had many Labor folk shaking their heads. This week, of course, it was the petty, vindictive shafting of Northern Territory Senator, Trish Crossin.
If I were a Labor member the choice between Crossin and the Prime Minister’s “Captain’s pick” of Nova Peris, would be a difficult one. Crossin has been in the Senate since 1998, with the peak of her career being a spell as Deputy Opposition Whip between 2001 and 2004. The best that her colleagues seemed to be able to say of her is that she has been a tireless campaigner for the Northern Territory.
“Tireless campaigner for their electorate” is a politician’s way of saying “seat-warming hack”.
Peris, on the other hand, is there because she was once a champion athlete, which, the Prime Minster seems to think, is enough to qualify you as a legislator in this sports-mad nation of ours.
Peris’s post-running career as listed in Who’s Who, includes “Contestant ‘Celebrity Overhaul’ 2006” alongside her less exciting but more exacting positions as patron of National Sorry Day, International Indigenous Rights Ambassador at the Manchester Museum and board member of Beyond Blue.
Strangely, although the PM on Tuesday singled out Peris’s passion for education as reason why she should replace Crossin, Who’s Who is silent on the subject of her own education.
As I said, the choice between an undistinguished hack who’s had a good run and a retired celebrity sports star is a hard one. Too hard to be left in the hands of ALP members apparently.
For as we know Labor members will not be given a say in who gets to run for the Senate in the Northern Territory because Julia Gillard has decided it should be decided by the party’s National Executive - a body on which the Top End is not represented.
It would be a mistake to think that the anger and despair being vented over Gillard’s high-handedness is confined to disenfranchised NT Labor members, or people concerned about the fate of Crossin.
Or even the fear her actions strike into the hearts of MPs wondering if they might be next. It’s much deeper than that and goes to the heart of what has gone wrong with the Labor Party in the past few years.
Labor’s National Executive has always has had the power to intervene in the affairs of state branches but like all extraordinary powers it was only used extremely rarely. When Gough Whitlam removed the moribund leadership of the Victorian branch in 1970 federal intervention was only achieved after a close vote following years of argument.
Likewise federal intervention in Queensland in 1980 was years in the making. The idea that the National Executive would just take over a local pre-selection out of the blue was inconceivable.
But as with so many things in the Labor Party, the rot set in under Kevin Rudd. In 2010 he used the National Executive to overturn the Senate pre-selection of a trade unionist called Kevin Harkins in Tasmania. (It later turned out Rudd may have mistaken him for a trade unionist from Western Australia called Kevin Reynolds. Seriously.)
It was a capricious use of power that set an ugly precedent. But as ugly as it was that’s nothing to Gillard’s performance this week ringing up a senator without warning and telling her she was announcing her successor at a press conference the next day.
Doubtless there were ways that Crossin could have been used eased out her slot if the consensus was that she had served the Territory for long enough that didn’t involve such an ugly use of power.
But it’s not her high-handedness that is so objectionable about her actions this week. The real reason to object to it is that it will make a power that only ought to be used in emergencies into a commonplace.
Because as we have seen from the New South Wales Liberal Party, where the use of emergency powers has become so routine as to be a farce, once you start down this path it becomes very difficult to stop.
And political parties wonder why they have trouble getting people to join.
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