Following last week’s announcement by Julia Gillard that former Olympian Nova Peris would run for the Senate for Labor in the Northern Territory, the deal has been sealed in the ALP backroom; the Prime Minister might be smiling today, but this ridiculous stunt will cost her party dearly.
As readers will recall, this time last week as the barely believable news broke that Gillard was acting as both executioner of one of her MPs and unilateral commissioner of the replacement, I described the move as autocratic, self-obsessed and completely undemocratic.
And as events in the subsequent week have shown, those observations are correct.
The outrage with which the Prime Minister’s announcement has been met — from the Opposition, sections of the media, the aboriginal community and even from within her own party — has been almost universal in its condemnation of the move, and utterly contemptuous of Gillard and the sledgehammer tactics she has employed.
It hasn’t helped that the axed Senator Crossin is a supporter of deposed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; although there is no suggestion of a further vote on the ALP leadership, Gillard has been seen to enact further retribution upon her bitter enemy by proxy.
Indeed, many ALP MPs, and especially those supportive of Rudd, are said to be worried about the prospect of Gillard exercising further so-called “Captain’s Picks” to depose and replace them with pliant and complicit alternative candidates.
(At time of writing, one of them — Sydney-based MP Robert McClelland — has announced he won’t recontest his seat; it would surprise nobody if many more were to follow).
I think their fears are reasonable; Gillard has now shown there are no depths too low for her to stoop to in her pursuit of control over her party, and of power.
As has been widely touted over the past few days, a number of additional candidates contested the “preselection ballot” staged by Labor’s national executive today; these were shafted incumbent Trish Crossin, indigenous former deputy chief minister Marion Scrymgour, indigenous former NT minister Karl Hampton, and an unsuccessful indigenous candidate at the last NT election, Des Rogers.
This “ballot” was, of course, a sham, engineered merely to rubber-stamp an anti-democratic act, although it should be noted — as an article in The Australian reports — that at least two of those on the executive did not vote for Nova Peris.
Yet to rub salt into raw wounds and to spit into the eyes of those who dared attempt to stand up to Gillard, Natalie Hutchins — a Victorian state Labor MP of no significance to the general public, but a member of the ALP’s all-powerful (and notoriously faceless) national executive — chose an insultingly patronising tone, telling the media that “I’m sure the others will play their part in Labor politics one day no doubt, but Nova was by far the most outstanding candidate that we had on the ballot today.”
The most outstanding candidate?
Measured against what objectives?
Compared to whom, and based on what?
Is this assessment based on Peris’ political experience, which is precisely zero?
Is it based on her support in the rank-and-file membership of the NT ALP, which anecdotal and circumstantial evidence suggests is close to non-existent?
Is it based on her aboriginality? If it is, surely all of the three Aborigines who stood against her — Scrymgour, Hampton and Rogers — are, on any objective analysis, better qualified.
Perhaps the assessment is based on a half-baked punt on Peris’ public profile as a successful athlete and her name recognition; if so, the entire God-awful episode of knifing a sitting Senator and refusing members a vote on a replacement virtually guarantees that recognition will work against her personally, and against the ALP on a wider basis.
The problem Gillard has created in the past week is like a Hydra; cut one head off and there are plenty of others.
The situation now exists in which respected aboriginal politicians on both the Left and Right have attacked Gillard, Peris, and the exercise in general; one has scathingly likened Peris to a “maid in waiting” who will simply make the tea in Parliament; another has referred to her as “the pet Aborigine around Parliament House.”
By her actions, Gillard has galvanised fury among the ordinary members of the Labor Party in the Northern Territory; the consequences of that one remain to be seen, but any modern political party has enough trouble attracting and retaining members without embarking on the kind of misadventure Gillard has.
The aboriginal community in the NT has already shown — by its wholesale defection to the CLP at the Territory election six months ago — that it is quite prepared to desert Labor if the circumstances suit its doing so; one wonders how much direct damage they will cause the ALP at the looming election.
It may not be enough to prevent Peris’ election to the Senate (although if Labor runs a second candidate on the ticket with her, anything could happen), but it will almost certainly cost the government Warren Snowdon’s marginal seat of Lingiari — and lower house seats are a commodity Labor can ill afford to lose.
Gillard has sent a message to her MPs that nobody is safe if they cross her, and the national executive has signalled its willingness to override local members to enforce whatever Gillard demands and decrees; it’s enough to guarantee a raft of retirements before the election (which is never a good look), and it’s yet another reason for the electorate at large to throw her government from office.
And, finally, Gillard has once again shown the rest of the Australian public exactly what her true colours are: an underhanded, dictatorial autocrat who will say, do and sacrifice anything or anyone in the naked pursuit of raw power, and in her own interests — and certainly not in theirs.
I reiterate my point from last week’s article: if Gillard wanted to bring an aboriginal woman into the parliamentary ALP via a Senate seat in the Northern Territory, Marion Scrymgour was — and is — the obvious candidate.
Not least given it has emerged in the past week that Crossin was prepared to retire voluntarily in favour of such a candidate.
Instead, we have witnessed an unedifying and pig-headed brawl, which is far from finished, and which ultimately will not resolve in Gillard’s interests — one way or the other.
This column has made it very clear that there is no issue whatsoever with Nova Peris personally; on the contrary, I feel very sorry for her.
The personal harassment, vilification and muck-throwing she has endured in the last week at the hands of her own people and members of her own party is the thin edge of the wedge.
But Peris has been made the meat in the sandwich; I agree that her preselection should be an honour and something to be savoured, but Gillard and the faceless hacks of the ALP have seen to it that the week’s events are anything but.
Yet again, Gillard has shown a ruthless and duplicitous capacity for wielding the knife in her scramble to deceive and hoodwink voters into re-electing her useless government, and Peris — whether she realises it or not — is being used as a pawn in that pursuit.
Readers should be under no misapprehension that beneath the feel-good babble and weasel words based on affirmative action, positive discrimination, and all the other empty rhetoric that pours forth from her forked tongue, the only interests of any value or consequence to Gillard are her own.