Progressive wanted for gayest seat in the political village
Federal politics is losing quite a remarkable figure in Malcolm Turnbull. But Liberals in Sydney’s east must now turn their minds to choosing his replacement.
The waters are somewhat muddied by the preselection campaign for the state seat of Vaucluse – itself entirely within the borders of Wentworth. Former NSW Opposition Leader Peter Debnam has seen the writing on the wall and is backdooring it at the next election.
Several of the candidates for Vaucluse, like Gabrielle Upton and Peter Doyle, are now considering a shift of strategy and a tilt for the bigger prize of a federal seat.There is a strong case for preselecting a Jewish candidate.
Wentworth is the second most Jewish electorate in the country after Michael Danby’s seat of Melbourne Ports. And Labor appears set to pick Jewish lawyer Stephen Lewis as their candidate. However there are no guarantees his pedigree will get him that far – Labor’s candidate at the 2007 poll was Waverley Mayor George Newhouse, himself Jewish. Turnbull beat Newhouse convincingly, although Newhouse’s soap opera of a campaign hardly helped.
With Lewis, Labor must be hoping the Eastern Suburbs will continue their love affair with high profile lawyers turned politicians. Malcolm, after all, cut his teeth as defence counsel to Peter Wright in the 1986 Spy Catcher trial against the British Government. Equally career defining, I suppose, was Lewis’ defence of the Whyte family against the Coogee Bay Hotel in the ‘poogate matter’.
More important though than the question of Jew or Gentile is a candidates’ appeal to the pink and green areas of the electorate picked up after the 2007 redistribution. New suburbs like Darlinghurst, Potts Point and Woolloomooloo, as well as existing ones like Bondi and Paddington, make it the greenest, gayest and most socially progressive seat in Australia.
Therefore the Liberals’ standout choice, by my mind, is Sydney Councillor Shayne Mallard.
Openly gay and an active gay rights campaigner, Mallard has long been an effective advocate on urban issues and has been quietly successful at highlighting the various maladministrations of Clover Moore’s Town Hall. He’s also well regarded by the big and small business communities.
There’s no doubt that a progressive candidate is the Liberal Party’s only hope of holding Wentworth in its latest guise and Mallard fits that bill. Another prospective candidate is Arthur Sinodinos. Arthur is a brilliant political thinker and would add much needed firepower to an Opposition heavy on tacticians but light on strategists. He has the cachet as a senior banker and former Chief of Staff to John Howard, but how will he go down on Oxford Street or in Kings Cross? His decade as Howard’s closest adviser will hardly win him the affections of the gay community or the environmental and human rights lobbies that are so strong on the western front of the electorate. Party hardheads pleaded with Arthur to run for Bradfield and Berowra. A safe seat should be found for him – no doubt. But is he going to be the right fit in a marginal seat?
Equally, some might argue that a cuddly gay candidate might have the dowagers of Vaucluse choking on their Bollinger. But enough to vote for the ALP? Doubtful.
If Mallard can prevail in the preselection then there is no doubt in my mind he’ll hold the seat, save for say an 11th hour Kerryn Phelps ALP candidacy. And he would be the Liberals’ first (openly) gay MP ever elected to Federal Parliament and the Parliament’s only (openly) gay MP besides Penny Wong and Bob Brown.
The selection of a progressive Liberal candidate in Wentworth in the heady days of this hairy-chested Abbott Opposition has national implications. One could argue having someone like Mallard onboard would help with soft Liberal voters in key seats like Howard’s old Sydney seat of Bennelong and Sturt in South Australia, where demonising boat people and campaigning against an ETS is not the medicine it is in Queensland and Western Sydney.
These early years of Opposition are critical for renewal. One only need look at Labor’s class of 1998, and the arrival of Rudd, Gillard, Swan, Roxon and Plibersek, to see this is true. Since the last election the Libs have lost Costello, Downer, Nelson and now Turnbull and Minchin. But they’ve picked up strong talent in Scott Morrison, Jamie Briggs, Paul Fletcher, Kelly O’Dwyer. All of these new faces would be excellent cabinet ministers. I certainly hope, before long, that all of them are.
- Joe Aston lives in Wentworth and is a member of the Liberal Party.
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