Memo To Labor: Why Not Just Select The Best Candidate In Batman?

IT’S ON again; thanks to the retirement of veteran  MP Martin Ferguson, the ALP in Victoria has a vacant seat — ultra-safe on paper — to find a candidate for. But amid “debate” over whether to install a Prime Ministerial mate or a token female, finding the best candidate seems the least of Labor’s concerns.

It might sound unduly cynical of me to say so, but Labor preselections are about as impressive and as transparent as watching grass germinate from a Boeing 747 at 37,000 feet; you can’t see much and what you can see isn’t clear, but even if it was you wouldn’t waste your time because you already know the outcome, and it’s of little interest anyway.

The “outcome,” of course, isn’t necessarily the person who wins: rather, I am talking of course about the process of factional warfare, tokens and baubles for women, “stars” and backroom operatives, and often sheer bloody-minded vindictiveness.

There’s a recent precedent for the sort of thing I am alluding to; the seat of Gellibrand — also in Victoria, also on an obese electoral buffer, and also vacated by its long-term occupant — would seem to offer a textbook example of what not to do when selecting candidates for a safe seat already held by the party making the selection.

But just like Groundhog Day, when it comes to the Labor Party nothing ever changes.

I’m talking about Martin Ferguson’s seat of Batman, which thanks to his justifiably surly resignation from Parliament — a bloody decent individual lost, I might add — will now have a new representative for the first time in nearly 20 years after the September election.

I put it in those terms because there’s no guarantee that such a representative will be from the ALP, and Labor hardheads must surely realise this; Batman — just like Melbourne three years ago — might well be won by a Communist Party Greens candidate.

But with the risks of the consequences of any bad behaviour safely dismissed from consideration, Labor is ploughing ahead with a ridiculous and needlessly divisive preselection that so far resembles the one in Gellibrand seven weeks ago in all but name.

The first hat into the ring was that of Senator David Feeney, one of the so-called “faceless men” who helped orchestrate the midnight assassination of Kevin Rudd and the installation of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister.

Facing re-election in September from the unwinnable third spot on the ALP’s Victorian Senate ticket, it has long been accepted that a factional deal would see Feeney preselected to a lower house seat that fell vacant prior to the election.

The next cab off the rank — and just as quick to return to it — was ACTU President Ged Kearney, who immediately attracted support from the likes of Left faction figure Jenny Macklin simply on the basis she was female.

Kearney’s withdrawal likely saves Labor a lot of angst; as we have discussed before, she has already been linked to attempts to cause industrial trouble for a Liberal government, and union militancy is the last thing Labor will need as it works to rebuild its shattered party after the election belting now confronting it.

Now two more candidates — both women — have leapt into the fray; one is Hatice (“Hutch”) Hussein, whose LinkedIn profile presents her as “Senior Manager-Refugees Immigration & Multiculturalism” (sic), listing a string of roles in the migrant and social work sectors, as well as long involvement at the head of the deeply socialist feminist organisation Emily’s List.

The other — Mary-Anne Thomas — has a profile on LinkedIn too; hers lists out a stack of ministerial advisor roles during the Bracks/Brumby government and earlier at the LHMU, but aside from a short stint at NAB there’s nothing to suggest any meaningful relevance to the ordinary man and woman on the street.

In fact, you could say the same thing about all three of them: bovverish Labor insiders and fellow travellers who really don’t represent a cross-section of ordinary people at all.

I’d be asking the simple question, if I were a rank and file member of the ALP in Melbourne’s north: where’s the real candidate? And if there isn’t one, why isn’t the party replacing Ferguson with someone of at least similar public standing and esteem?

But no, the reality is more prosaic; it’s far more important in the Labor Party to engage in a round of public bloody-mindedness and faction fighting over the merits of political midgets than it is to put up decent candidates.

News Ltd quotes Hussein — from her Facebook page — as saying that “At 37, I not only embody Labor values as a passionate supporter of social justice, but also represent the face of that change.”

How nauseatingly pompous from someone aspiring to a seat in Parliament.

Thomas — who indications suggest is being backed as the Left’s preferred candidate — at least had the decency to make a more moderate pitch, saying that “my strength is I’m from this community; I’ve lived here for 15 years, I’ve brought up my family here.”

But the problem with both of them — which in turn is one of the big problems with the wider ALP — is that their candidacies are being showcased through the prism of Labor’s tokenistic and demeaning quota system for women.

Apparently, if a woman doesn’t win Batman only 27% of Labor’s MPs in Victoria will be female, and that’s just not good enough.

The fact a man emerged victorious from the preselection shitfight over Nicola Roxon’s vacant Gellibrand seat makes this imperative all the more urgent.

And Feeney, for his part — a man looking to collect on an agreement to keep him in Parliament — isn’t someone who springs to mind as Prime Ministerial material either, or even someone you’d want to discuss a constituent matter with as your local MP.

So there it is: a backroom boy and two little-known Leftie women are Labor’s candidates to represent 150,000 people in Parliament in one if its safest seats. What a sham.

I’m sure all three are perfectly charming and decent people, but what do they have to offer the ordinary men and women they expect to support them? I’d wager not much.

And it brings me back to the overriding point: why not simply find the best candidate, and endorse them? If there is no comparable replacement for Ferguson, why not encourage the brightest rank-and-file members to stand, and take a punt on one? They might surprise.

Who cares if the best candidate is male or female, so long as whoever it is does the job?

To hell with Emily’s list, Labor’s quotas, and the Left’s prescriptions for social engineering, insiderish political bovverism, and the largely useless government all of this culminated in with Julia Gillard’s ascension to the Prime Ministership.

And if there is one spectacular piece of proof of the sheer uselessness of Labor’s quotas for women, it is the Prime Minister herself: a walking, talking, political disaster that strikes every time she opens her mouth, who is largely responsible for the enormous and perhaps terminal damage the ALP is set to suffer at the election a little over three months away.

At least the combatants in Batman haven’t resorted to accusing each other of “misogyny” (as even the women did among themselves in Gellibrand); at least, not yet.

But the chances of this turning into yet another ugly brawl are better than even, and we watch with great interest.

Even so, it may prove to be a useless enterprise in the end — whoever stands in Batman.

The seat might notionally sit on a 25% two-party margin over the Liberal Party — on such a basis, indeed, the safest Labor seat in Australia — but the 2010 election wasn’t a contest between Ferguson and the Liberal Party; it was between Ferguson and the Greens.

On that basis, his two-party margin is just 7.9%, and whilst one would expect the Liberal Party to preference Labor ahead of the Greens as it did at the state election in 2010, largely robbing the Greens of a weapon in the contest, it might yet be a moot point.

With Ferguson gone, the Labor vote in Batman will be susceptible to the collapse the party faces in almost every part of the country, and if the Greens can pick up a decent portion of the 52% ALP primary vote to add to the 24% they scored in 2010 it might just be enough, with minor party preferences and the inevitable leakage of Liberal votes, to push them over the line.

It’s not probable but it is certainly possible in the current climate.

And were it to occur, it would show up the bickering over past agreements, female quotas and all the other irrelevant crap Labor engages in for the charade it is.

They should go back to the branches, and look for the rough diamond who could be polished into a glittering gem of the Labor Party’s future.

But they won’t.