Wills Preselection A Test Of Labor’s Future Relevance

FAR BE IT for this column to argue the ALP into common sense and sanity, but a vacancy in its second-safest seat in Australia presents an opportunity for it to show it is forward thinking, to throw off the outdated shackles of union and factional entitlement, and to tell various “deserving” candidates to peddle their shit somewhere else. An option to secure Labor’s future is in hand and on offer. Whether or not the party takes it will be telling.

It’s not often that I advocate in the political interests of someone at the ALP, and even more rarely in the interests of the ALP itself.

But having kept abreast of what seems to be happening in the seat of Wills — soon to be vacated by time-serving MP Kelvin Thomson, whose most memorable career achievement was to provide a character reference for underworld drug supremo Tony Mokbel — the right thing to do is so glaringly obvious as to threaten to punch the Labor Party, collectively, in the face.

I should be quite clear in reiterating that I find the political beliefs of all of the potential candidates to replace Thomson odious, and that — as readers well know — I wish the ALP no goodwill or success whatsoever.

But given this is a safe Labor seat (notwithstanding any electoral threat the Communist Party Greens might some day pose) I thought it appropriate to provide an endorsement, for so insidious are the rest of the purported talents clamouring for an undeserved bauble — and so tired the Labor labyrinth of who owes who what, and which faction is entitled to this, or which faction is excluded from that — that it beggars belief a smart, talented, personable and beautiful young woman isn’t an absolute lay-down misere for ALP endorsement.

But first things first.

Ever since it was created at the 1948 redistribution — carved mostly out of the ultra-safe Labor seat of Melbourne — Wills has been held almost continuously by the ALP; the only gap was a short stint in the hands of left-wing Independent Phil Cleary between 1992 and 1996.

Whilst the magnitude of Labor’s wins has fluctuated, Wills has usually ranked among its safest seats nationally, and since the 2013 election sits only behind neighbouring Batman in terms of its invulnerability to a conservative candidate; unlike Batman, the Greens remain — for now — at bay, with Thomson’s final win still registering a margin of more than 15% over the Greens candidate after preferences.

Yet with the exception of the 12-year period during which Bob Hawke was parachuted into the seat to enable his eventual leadership of the party and consequent Prime Ministership, Wills has not been a seat used by the ALP to inject top-grade talent into its parliamentary ranks; in this sense Thomson merely represents the latest instalment in the grand old Labor tradition of using safe seats to stockpile mediocrity, and it comes as no surprise that it appears the tradition is set to continue.

But with the ALP currently holding just 55 of the 150 seats in the House of Representatives, the luxury of sending whichever spiv is owed the most favours to Canberra simply cannot be an option, and with the paucity of real talent in the ALP’s parliamentary ranks — and I mean real talent, not people whose claim to fame is how many years they’ve already kept their seat warm, or some thuggy “merit” derived from factional and/or union intrigues — Wills offers Labor the chance to instead send a bright candidate who offers longevity, tangible promise, and who could serve at the minimum as a senior minister in a future Labor government once the requisite degree of experience has been acquired.

A quick look at the names being bandied around as possible successors to Thomson is nauseating, to say the least.

Tinpot local identity Mehmet Tillem — briefly a Senator to fill a casual vacancy until shown the door by voters in 2013 — is reportedly the odds-on favourite; he is a “powerbroker” and member of the Conroy sub-faction of the Victorian Right, but beyond that it is impossible to ascertain any real benefit he would deliver to Labor if returned to Canberra now.

Enver Erdogan is a member of the Feeney sub-faction, after faction-hopping following the loss of preselection for the state seat of Brunswick some years ago. He’s also a Labor lawyer at ambulance-chasing firm Maurice Blackburn. Has anyone heard of him beyond the confines of the incestuous ALP cesspool? No. Does anyone really care? No. I’m sure he does, though.

ACTU President Ged Kearney — an individual this column detests, and with good reason, resolutely and singularly dedicated to anything and everything that might sabotage the Liberal Party out of sheer bloody-mindedness as she is, often to the total exclusion of anything based in good common sense — has apparently ruled herself out of contention, although predictably enough, hers was one of the first names allowed to circulate publicly in relation to Wills by the good kite flyers at Labor HQ; dear old Ged might be a hell of a rabble rouser, and adept at whipping the ever-dwindling band of sycophants and lemmings at Trades Hall into a fury whenever a rent-a-crowd is called for in the interests of grubby expediency, but a suitable candidate for a seat in Parliament? She’s anything but, and offers in my view exactly zero when judged on merit, ability, or the value of any potential contribution to the effective governance of this country.

Beyond these three there is a handful of also-rans, no-names, and other hangers-on with delusions of adequacy, some of whom are apparently aligned to Labor “leader” Bill Shorten in the factional sense (which is all the more reason for them to be vetoed as endorsed candidates).

My point is that with such a spectacularly lacklustre field in the offing — although not the first time Labor has offered one of those masquerading as an “open and democratic” contest, to be sure — if I were a Labor-inclined voter in Wills and faced with any of these names on a ballot paper, the best use for my vote would be to send “a little message” to the ALP and mark it informal.

Fortunately for the local ALP machine, it has a candidate apparently on offer who ticks every box required, and who seemingly offers it one of the best long-term prospects to have gone Labor’s way in years.

An article late on Christmas Eve in The Guardian announced that the Editor-in-Chief of mammamia.com.au, Jamila Rizvi, is looking to enter Parliament, possibly via the vacant seat of Wills; whilst it records that her ALP membership has lapsed, this is a detail that can and should be immediately set to right by ALP backroom forces to enable her selection as their candidate.

Mamamia website editor Jamila Rizvi, who is rumoured to be running for the safe Labor seat of Wills in north Melbourne. She has confirmed that she is interested in becoming a politician.

INTELLIGENT, PERSONABLE, BEAUTIFUL…Rizvi is the type of candidate Labor should be tying its long-term future to, rather than engaging in subterranean factionalism and the rest of its usual bullshit. (Picture: The Guardian)

I don’t know how old Rizvi is but at a guess, I’d put her at about 30: old enough to have accrued some meaningful experience but not so old as to be just another hack looking for a sinecure based on “entitlement.” Importantly, her age makes her someone who could help form the foundations of Labor’s parliamentary team for the 2020s and 30s, and — were she to perform on the national stage, as I think she would — make her a potential leadership figure some time beyond 2030.

She presents with degrees in Commerce and Law, and has studied marketing at the London School of Economics: it’s a more substantial (and diverse) education than the vast majority of Labor figures boast, even in this era of ALP identities waving pieces of paper around to make pointless claims to competence. University education is very important, but it doesn’t automatically confer ability on people. Labor’s track record, especially at a state level but also federally, for most of the past 30 years is proof of that.

Rizvi is blessed with the kind of attributes that some would jealously complain are unfair advantages: she is beautiful — almost ethereally, heartbreakingly so — and telegenic, attributes that are not unhelpful in a vocation that has grown so visual in a time of unrivalled media access; she is, by repute, highly personable, which isn’t unhelpful either when weighed against the need to deal with thousands of constituents and other stakeholders every year; anyone who has seen her on the ABC’s QandA programme knows she is extremely articulate, and well able to argue a brief; her familial background makes her a perfect fit with the richly diverse electorate in Melbourne’s inner north; and with a baby son and new-ish husband, Rizvi also fits the profile of a relatively young, increasingly gentrified community that has seen a huge influx of urban professionals and young families in recent years.

As a digital native who has already spent a portion of her working life in the new media environment that will only become more important as the digital revolution progresses, Rizvi’s potential arrival on the political scene coincides with great change that will continue for the foreseeable future; this is not a consideration to be dismissed lightly, and as the bunfight over the National Broadband Network and fraught issues such as the storage of metadata have shown in recent years, expertise in the modern digital environment is not a commodity in rich supply in the corridors of power in Canberra.

In a party with a penchant for tokenistically installing women into seats on account of their gender (and with a complete disregard for men who might actually make better MPs), Rizvi solves that problem by being the best candidate Labor has on offer in Wills and female.

She does, to be sure, come with a few drawbacks; she spent time working for the cretinous Kevin Rudd during his first stint as Prime Minister and later for the slogan-regurgitating, blithe, intellectually dishonest “handbag hit squad” cheerleader Kate Ellis: these are not influences that are particularly conducive to positive career development when objectively considered.

And just as QandA has showcased Rizvi’s gift for communication in the past, it has also shown her to be prone to babble about “compassion” a little too freely with a marked lack of regard for the practical and economic realities that inevitably must be considered alongside her creditable instinct to want to help people.

But the only way to find out if the girl has “got it” is to give her the opportunity and see how she performs: I think, in all objectivity, that she would make a very good member of Parliament, and if successful in gaining endorsement for Wills would be one of the small but admirable band of Labor identities I keep an eye on in the expectation they might steward their party toward some sanity and some realistic policies.

This brings me to the question most readers are probably now asking: why would a staunch conservative and implacable political opponent of the ALP sing the praises of someone who, if installed in Canberra and later proven to be effective, could cause the Liberal Party unquantifiable future grief?

It isn’t to jinx her. Nor is it because she’s so pretty. Nothing so spiteful or vapid, to be sure.

Very simply, I see Wills as a test for Labor: leaving Rizvi aside for a moment, the remainder of its “potential MPs” in this electorate are an assortment of the same tired stories rooted in either Labor’s internecine factions and/or one ghastly union or another; jointly and severally they are boring, uninspiring, devoid of merit or potential, and “options” for all the worst possible reasons. Someone owes someone something. Somebody shafted someone else. Someone’s been hanging around for x years and it’s their “turn.”

Without putting too fine a point on it, that’s all bullshit: and the ALP, in the proper discharge of its obligations to the people of Wills and, indirectly, to the people of Australia, should tell all of those candidates (and others from the same decaying mould across the country) to peddle their shit elsewhere — and to embrace a generational change to candidates with far more to offer than a factional obligation or being owned outright by the latest God-forsaken puppeteer over at Trades Hall.

Literally, from its so-called “leader” down, Labor is moribund: bereft of talent and ideas, it has nothing to offer ordinary Australians. It may win an election here and there, but recent history has proven that when it does, the governments it forms are controlled by unions: the AWU if you’re lucky (think the Gillard years) but more typically, the militant, violent, lawless CFMEU (think Victoria and Queensland) if you’re not.

But in the long run, Labor has been in decline for years; it is already dependent on Greens preferences to ever win elections, and with the faction/union axis as entrenched as it has ever been, that decline will — despite the odd blip of “success” — continue until or unless the party undertakes some radical change from within.

So in Wills — not to be histrionically grandiose about it — the ALP is confronted by a choice about its future.

Should Tillem, Erdogan, or (God forbid) Kearney get the nod to stand in Wills, voters across the country should sit up and take note: it would send the message that the ALP is so obsessed with its discredited and obsolete structures of patronage, petty fiefdoms and the hierarchical importance of inconsequential dunghills that the only function of voters is to rubber stamp the odious machinations the party insists on filling its days and nights and weekends plotting and scheming and backstabbing over.

The courageous, forward-looking decision in this case is a no-brainer: to draft Rizvi as its candidate for Wills, to champion her career, and to find other men and women of comparable age and experience to replace those in safe Labor seats who might think “years of service” entitle them to even longer with their snouts in the taxpayer trough, but whose collective value to the ALP and to Australia, in any meaningful sense, is nothing.

At the outset, you’d expect Labor to do what it always does, and that means picking Tillem. If it does, then it deserves to lose Wills to the Greens.

But an option that could help shape Labor’s long-term future is at hand. It is a test of Labor’s ongoing relevance, credibility, and even its fitness to ever form government again. Rizvi is the logical choice on every objective measure. Whether the ALP takes the opportunity she offers, however, remains to be seen.