Nova Peris-Nowhere: Tasteless End To An Abuse Of Parliament

THE RESIGNATION of Aboriginal identity Nova Peris — three years after being controversially shanghaied into an unloseable Senate seat by Julia Gillard — brings to a tasteless end what was always an abuse of Parliament. The ALP has form for treating elected sinecures as baubles for trade, and the Peris fiasco is just one of a long list of cases of Labor wiping its backside on Parliament and on voters. This time, it has been left to carry the can.

It does rather seem that in the runup to the election to be held on 2 July, the usual spate of comings and goings promises to be rather “special” — and I use the term sarcastically — this time around; yesterday we wrote the deserved political obituary of Clive Palmer, with a few equally justified barbs lobbed at his onetime protegé Jacqui Lambie for good measure, and it also emerged yesterday that perennial candidate and division pedlar Pauline Hanson seems primed to make yet another comeback attempt 18 years after she last represented anyone except herself.

But news that former Olympic champion and prominent Aboriginal figure Nova Peris — shoehorned into an unloseable Labor Senate seat three years ago by then-PM Julia Gillard, who unilaterally dumped the sitting Senator in the process — has quit her seat should outrage anyone with a care for such quaint notions as the commitment of elected representatives to their constituents, or cling to the faint but forlorn hope that politics might yet be a vocation for individuals and parties genuinely committed to public service and to the public good but who are repeatedly proven delusional by the cynical antics of the so-called political class and its flat disregard for any of the aforesaid concepts.

First things first: when Gillard’s “Captain’s Pick” was unveiled in January 2013, this column was affronted by the undemocratic and dictatorial manner in which the Prime Minister made it her business to dump a sitting Senator (the plodding Trish Crossin) and the insultingly patronising token it made of the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal community. Indeed, one indigenous elder at the time remarked that Gillard has seen to it that Peris would be the “pet Aborigine around Parliament House,” and given the invisible nature of her service ever since, the barb was probably not too far wide of the mark.

Readers can reacquaint themselves with discussion of the issue in this column at the time here and here.

One of the things I found most offensive at that time was that for all the hype and bullshit from Gillard that she was giving an opportunity to an Aboriginal woman to serve in Parliament, there was already an Aboriginal woman, in Labor’s ranks, with a depth of experience in public life and intending to stand against Crossin for her endorsement: Marion Scrymgour, who had acted as Chief Minister in the Northern Territory Assembly, and who was a veritable heavyweight as a candidate for high office compared to Peris.

It is to be hoped that Scrymgour might be persuaded to stand for the unexpected vacancy now, and not least because media reports suggest the mediocre (but understandably aggrieved) Crossin may by weighing the prospects of a comeback.

Peris announced yesterday that she was quitting her Senate seat after just three years — failing, apparently, to tell her staff before the announcement was made publicly — and whilst there was some suggestion it was to take up a role at the AFL as Head of Diversity, conflicting reports last night indicated she was by no means a certainty for the post.

Even so, and with the exception of the lack of grace shown by not giving her staff the courtesy of prior warning, the most difficult person to blame in this episode is Peris herself; at the time of the so-called “Captain’s Pick,” there was plenty of anecdotal evidence and scuttlebutt to indicate she was far from an eager recruit, and that some degree of cajoling and “persuasion” had been necessary to convince her to accept Crossin’s Senate spot in the first place.

I said at the time that it was an insult to Aborigines, that it stank of tokenism and paternalism, and that the histrionic rhetoric the appointment was couched in — that Gillard was “righting a wrong” — was nothing more than melodramatic twaddle and with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t think I was wrong.

But what it also was, on a more sinister level, was just another example of the ALP exhibiting such disrespect for the voting public and the institutions of elective office as to be little more than a contemptuous exercise in the party wiping its backside on Parliament, and on the voters of the Northern Territory.

Labor has form for this kind of thing. The Peris appointment wasn’t the first time the ALP has done something like this and it won’t be the last.

Former Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett was parachuted into the (then) safe Sydney seat of Kingsford Smith in 2004; as an eventual minister he was an abject failure.

Disendorsed Senator David Feeney was parachuted into the safe — for now — Melbourne seat of Batman; Feeney is a machine thug and a union hack who adds nothing to either the national debate or to constructive outcomes of governance.

Former NSW Premier Bob Carr was parachuted into a casual Senate vacancy on Gillard’s watch specifically to replace Kevin Rudd as Foreign minister; the calibre of his performance in that role was debatable. Yet having stood for and secured a fresh six-year term at the 2013 election, Carr quit Canberra in land speed record-breaking time once the trappings of government had been displaced by the drudge of opposition.

All over the country, Labor’s factions (and in recent years, militant unions like the CFMEU) have divided the spoils of the electoral map between themselves as if they are baubles and trinkets for trade; it is an appalling one-fingered salute to the notion of representative democracy for which the ALP makes no apology.

Indeed. the party’s current federal “leader” — having lost a leadership vote of the Labor rank and file by more than a 60-40 margin to Anthony Albanese — occupies his position today only on account of union dictates to individual MPs to support Shorten in the ALP caucus: or else.

But Labor in its “modern” incarnation has never much cared for democracy: the wild frenzy to destroy the Abbott-Turnbull government within a single term, and the unprincipled gutter tactics with which that effort has been prosecuted over the past three years, far exceeds what might ordinarily be described as a “vigorous” opposition to the government of the day, and represents merely the culmination of an increasingly anti-democratic trend that has taken root at the ALP over the past ten years.

For once, however, Peris’ sudden resignation has left the ALP carrying the can.

Less than six weeks from polling day, it must now find a replacement Senate candidate, and quickly; Scrymgour would be the obvious (and most credible) choice, although Crossin’s musings ought to alarm Labor hardheads hoping some good might come of yesterday’s bombshell by replacing Peris with a much more substantial figure.

And there is, of course, no chance whatsoever that that candidate — whoever it is — will fail to be elected: with just two Senate berths to fill and the quota required identical at a double dissolution to that for a half-Senate election (for the uninitiated, the territories elect Senators for three-year terms that are synchronised with the House of Representatives) the only parties with a realistic chance of winning them are Labor and the NT’s Country Liberal Party, and neither is ever dominant enough to win both.

But just for once, one of these “smart” appointments by Labor has blown up in its face, which is no less than the party deserves.

It delivers a politically posthumous slapdown to any lasting belief (if there ever was any) that Gillard was possessed of an iota of sound judgement: the appointment of Peris should never have been made and we said so at the time.

Labor will continue to carve up the spoils of power for as long as it remains an unreconstructed morass of factional appetites and union prejudices, but this time at least the ALP has been made to look very silly indeed, and voters across the country are entitled to question just how poorly it might perform in office if they are inclined to elevate Bill Shorten to the Prime Ministership in a backlash against what has been a disappointing Coalition outfit to date.

And speaking of Shorten, a recent similar adventure in exercising a “Captain’s Pick” to install an Aborigine into a Senate vacancy over the heads of the local rank and file — this time in WA, with the endorsement of Pat Dodson — offers a chilling parallel for ALP strategists to ponder over the next few years: if, that is, Dodson is even elected, for he wasn’t even given a high enough position on the WA Senate ticket to make victory certain.

Shorten would want to be damned certain in his judgement of Dodson, and sure that he had backed the correct candidate where Gillard blundered badly: but if Dodson fails to enter the Senate at all, the embarrassment will be considerable, and point only to an insidious culture of preferment that should be stamped out at all costs, and which flies in the face of any sanctimonious blather about merit.

 

Making A Big Mistake Bigger: Nova Peris Endorsed By ALP

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.”

Really?

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.

Nova Peris-Nobody: Gillard Stunt An Insult To Aborigines

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.