In a characteristically cavalier gesture posing more problems than it solves, Julia Gillard today anointed former Olympic champion Nova Peris as an ALP senate candidate in the Northern Territory, riding roughshod over women, aboriginal Australia, her party and the national interest in one fell swoop.
In short, Gillard’s announcement that Peris is to replace long-term incumbent Trish Crossin — apparently without a ballot of local members — is emblematic of the autocratic, self-obsessed and completely undemocratic method in which this PM operates.
I want to make it absolutely clear that I have no issue with Peris personally; on the contrary, I have always liked her enormously, and (despite her iffy political preferences) am pleasantly surprised she has chosen to put her name forward to serve.
Even so, she has a total lack of political experience, and this point is one of several that are central to the reason Gillard’s actions today are deplorable.
Gillard does herself no favours with this kind of thing; this time it might come back to bite.
Firstly, she has effectively directed local NT Labor members — via the insultingly impersonal vehicle of national television — to dump the sitting Senator and replace her with a hand-picked Gillard candidate, and with a rubber stamp rather than a vote.
Secondly, she has effectively kneecapped the campaign of Marion Scrymgour — a highly respected aboriginal woman with many years’ distinguished political service in the Northern Territory (including a stint as acting Chief Minister) — who has been said in media reports to have been canvassing local support for a move against Crossin for her preselection.
Third, she has made an absolute mockery of any pretence within the ALP that it is a democratically structured party; that half-portion of it not falling within the purvey of union thugs is able, apparently, to be dictated to at whim.
Fourth — and not least with an eye on the fact Scrymgour was already eyeing a preselection bid — Gillard’s “initiative” stinks of tokenism towards aborigines, wrapped up as it is in sensationalist and histrionic pap about “redressing a wrong” in that the ALP has never been represented, federally, by an indigene.
This is perhaps the most offensive aspect of the whole thing; if that’s what Gillard really wanted, Scrymgour should have been her girl. But no, this isn’t about aboriginal representation and advocacy at all; it’s about the Labor way of recent times that a “star” is far preferable to a proven and loyal Labor foot soldier.
Even when the “star” and the foot soldier are both aboriginal women.
And in turn, the real message from what Gillard did today, to aborigines, is this: we don’t really care two jots about you…until it suits us. Then, Labor is your friend.
Does anybody else find this brand of politics particularly nauseating?
It’s made worse by the fact that in claiming Labor has never been represented by an aborigine federally (which is true) it has, over the years, been served very well by aboriginal representatives in state and territory Parliaments — a disingenuous semantic argument indeed, replete with its implicit disregard for the service rendered by its indigenous representatives in other jurisdictions.
And Gillard isn’t doing much through this process to enhance her much-vaunted but largely meaningless claim to be a women’s advocate by making a cat’s paw of one, crucifying a second by proxy, and engineering a right and royal shafting at arms’ length of a third — Scrymgour — who is actually the obvious candidate for the spot this catfight is predicated upon.
And the proof of it is that Nova Peris is not being moved into the House of Representatives seat of Lingiari, held for Labor by Warren Snowden, or the seat of Solomon held by the CLP (a Liberal Party equivalent for those unfamiliar); the latter is unwinnable, and Snowden is likely to be blown away if he stands again.
No, to pull this stunt, Gillard is commandeering a virtually unloseable Senate spot, which speaks volumes about the real faith she has in this latest plan were it ever tested somewhere it actually needed to achieve majority support.
So let’s not entertain any of the nonsense Gillard is spouting about a “Captain’s Pick;” it is all, sadly, hypocritical nonsense. Such a pick, very simply, is not a feature of the ALP’s rule book.
Federally, of course — and I note this with no jab intended at the ALP — the Liberal Party has been represented by aborigines, starting with the late Neville Bonner in Queensland; a Senator from 1971, four years after the referendum that allowed his people the right to vote.
But to note in the one breath that a great disservice has been rendered by the ALP in not endorsing aborigines federally, ever, and then to crap on in the next about “proud Labor history (in Aboriginal Affairs)” stinks of hypocrisy, tokenism, and — dare I say it — paternalism.
The other issue here is that of the “star” candidate, parachuted into Parliament; it’s something both sides have done, and with mixed degrees of success.
The LNP did it in Queensland last year, and sealed an election triumph in doing so.
The ALP did it in 2004 in the federal seat of Kingsford-Smith, and imported what has proven to be a dud in Peter Garrett who has endangered Labor’s decades-long hold on his electorate.
The SA Liberals did it in 1992, parachuting former senior state MPs Jennifer Cashmore, Dean Brown and John Olsen (Olsen had moved on to serve as a Senator) back into the state Parliament to elect a leader — Brown — who went on to annihilate the ALP at the following year’s election.
The ALP did it all the way back in 1980, shoehorning ACTU president Bob Hawke into the vacant Melbourne Labor seat of Wills, and the rest was history; two and a half years later, Hawke commenced his tenure as Labor’s longest-serving Prime Minister following his triumph on 5 March 1983 over Malcolm Fraser.
There have been other instances of the phenomenon, and more, doubtless, to come; I’m hoping Alexander Downer is the next Premier of South Australia, and if he is, it’ll be on entry to that Parliament for the first time on election day next March.
My point is that in all of these cases, the recruit has been someone with either vast political experience or, in the cases of Hawke and Garrett, from backgrounds very commensurate with political life and offering a reasonable expectation of solid performance.
Nova Peris (and I’m sorry to have to say it) is a political nobody, no background, nothing to justify expectations of solid performance, just a star because Gillard wants one.
To make her look good.
To associate with the “beautiful people” (of which Gillard, clearly, is not a member).
To curry favour with white voters impressed by Labor/Greens pandering to minorities (again, the tokenism I was talking about earlier).
And to try to win votes off Peris’ back in suburban Sydney and Melbourne (where it won’t make a shred of difference).
I sincerely hope that if Nova really wants a political career — yes, in spite of Labor leanings — that she can have some success, whether here and now, or in the future.
But she really is a piece of work, our Prime Minister.
In the end, Gillard today has offended just about every law of political decency; nobody really wins from the half-arsed stunts she cooks up in the backroom with her coterie, and this sort of thing does a massive disservice to the very constituencies Gillard has the bare-faced audacity to purport to be the champion of.
Ultimately, however, the greatest disservice rendered by Gillard today may yet prove to be wrought upon Nova Peris herself.
It might have been better to have allowed Peris — with encouragement, if desired, from behind the scenes — to have worked the NT Labor branches to win over the local burghers, generating her own momentum and the press attention that would accompany it, than to have placed her on a national stage and at the epicentre of what looks likely to be an uproar inside the ALP over her tactics.
And of course, to make an undeserved fool of Peris if, somehow, the whole scheme amounts to nowt.
The Red And The Blue wishes to reiterate that this column has absolutely no issue with Nova Peris; that lovely, laudable and shining light has unsurprisingly given no offence and has conducted herself today with grace and style. It is very sad to see such a good person used in such a cynical fashion by such an objectionable specimen as Julia Gillard.