For all the humiliation and ridicule Kevin Rudd faced over his brief stint as Prime Minister, for all the personal criticisms Julia Gillard has had to endure, for all the background sledging suffered by Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull before the elevation of Tony Abbott, who himself has faced plenty of flak, there is another politician who can rightly claim the unpleasant mantle of the most vilified MP of this parliamentary term.
She wasn’t even a minister, not even close, and wielded no influence over the lives of Australian voters beyond her little patch of paradise on the NSW Central Coast.
But despite her lack of clout, Neal ended up being clouted more gleefully and more frequently by the public, the media, and her many detractors across politics over her headline-making habits as the member for Robertson.
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One day last week Climate Change Minister Penny Wong found herself in a rather awkward position during a visit to the highly marginal seat of Robertson on the NSW Central Coast.
The minister made a whirlwind stop at a Million Women lunch at the Gosford RSL where she found herself on the top table, two seats from deposed ALP MP Belinda Neal.
The new ALP candidate, Deb O’Neill, was relegated to another table, out of the reflected glow of the visiting Cabinet inhabitant. Thus is the excellent weirdness of Robertson, one of the most hotly contested seats in the country come August 21.
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The first thing the ALP needs to do now Belinda Neal has lost her pre-selection for the seat of Robertson is tell Kevin Rudd that the new candidate likes to be known as Deb O’Neill, not Debbie as he called her yesterday.
The second thing is they need to stick a big picture of Neal on the wall of the state secretary’s office as a reminder that the members of the party are much better at choosing candidates than they are.
It sounds pretty simple, but it’s a lesson that’s been long in the making, and one the Labor heavies in NSW are yet to fully grasp. And it’s not just important for voters and party members, as contrary to what you’d expect, being imposed on one’s constituency is no tea party for a candidate either.
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The truism goes a politician should wear out a couple of pairs of shoes in the lead up to an election, but for the Labor Member for Robertson Belinda Neal, her best strategy for a last-ditch bid at career salvation would be to stay indoors and put her feet up.
You see Neal has a way of alienating people that’s unique for a back bencher in the Federal Parliament, especially one who took her seat by just 184 votes at the last election.
And now the ALP has a big decision to make. Turf out a sitting member married to one of the most powerful men in the NSW division, or stay with a candidate so deeply unpopular senior party figures think she’ll be annihilated come Federal Election time. It’s more complicated than it sounds.
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