How to Boot Out a Low Profile Member

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The two gentlemen above are my former and current local members. The one to the left gets on tv a fair bit these days, he’s a junior minister and sometimes referred to as “part of the next generation of Labor politicians.” The man to the right is called Michael Hatton, if you put his name into  Google images you will find more photos of his successor than you will of him. He is an unglamorous man and was never given much consideration for a place on the frontbench. He was purportedly a savvy political operator though and a helpful adviser to Paul Keating who was more than happy to help the young man win pre-selection to replace the retiring Keating as the member for Blaxland in 1996. He was a reasonably popular local member, in 1998 he recorded an extraordinary nine percent swing and he never failed to comfortably win re-election on primary votes alone.

In 2007 those of us in Blaxland received two pretty weird  letters in the course of a month. The first was from Hatton informing us that he had been replaced as the Labor candidate for Blaxland, that he had always enjoyed being the member for Blaxland, he was disappointed that he couldn’t continue to do so but such is life. It was not the sort of official Labor party correspondence you’d expect in an election year. The second letter was from Laurie Ferguson. Ferguson wasn’t our MP and hadn’t been for some time now but he was still a better known figure in the area and a bigger player in the Labor party. Ferguson’s letter included about two lines about himself then about a page long profile for Jason Clare, who was our new candidate for Blaxland and what a wonderful candidate he was too.

A little poking round explained what had happened here. Jason Clare was “frontbench material” and so the Labor party was hunting around for a safe seat into which they could parachute him. Michael Hatton was not ministerial material but he also wasn’t prepared to budge, but in a few short hours Kevin Rudd, Bob Carr, Mark Arbib and Eric Roozendale had all thrown their support behind Clare and forced Hatton out in the process. A dejected and grumpy Hatton sent out a somewhat indulgent letter to his constituents which wasn’t particularly helpful to Clare’s chances of re-election. Unable to get Hatton’s cooperation Labor dispatched the next best thing to help Clare’s campaign, Laurie Ferguson. In the end Clare was elected but his swing was smaller than the overall swing in NSW which I think we can chalk up to a few local Hatton fans but it soon faded from memory and now Clare is a junior minister.

Such narrative tales are of course boring and tedious but for the fact there are some not insignificant parallels with Nova Peris and Trish Crossin. It’s common practice to replace a  sitting member in a safe seat(or senate ticket) with a high flying candidate, the hope being that the members popularity will trickle over into other seats and help the national vote. So why did Clare go through without a blip while Peris has reignited discussion about the Rudd-Gillard rivalry and affirmative action? Well frankly because the Gillard government stupidly drew attention to it when tensions are still running high. You didn’t see Kevin Rudd calling a press conference to introduce Jason Clare as his favourite candidate for Blaxland, he just got on with it. At least publicly he stayed out of the fray until the dust had settled and then started appearing publicly with Clare.

By parading Peris around like she did on Tuesday Gillard has drawn attention to the victim in the affair, Trish Crossin, and has provoked people into asking “why was Trish Crossin victimized?” From here flowed the nonsense about Gillard purging Rudd supporters from the party, or giving unmerited jobs to Aborigines. It’s contaminated what should be a great moment in Labor politics with a nasty taste. But then again, Julia Gillard has form in doing just that.

Australia getting its first female Prime Minister should have been a unifying moment for the nation. When Margaret Thatcher came to office in 1979 she was yet to become the divisive lion of the right and instead an optimistic nation joined together to celebrate the election of Britain’s first female leader. When Barrack Obama was inaugurated in 2009 there was a similar sense of a nation coming together to celebrate the fact that they had turned a page in their history. Even here in Australia, on a much smaller scale, politicians and commentators of all political persuasions spoke glowingly of what Ken Wyatt’s election to the House of Representatives meant for Indigenous Australians.

When Julia Gillard became Prime Minister though the nation was divided, there were no shortage of people who were euphoric over the news but many others stood aghast, shaken and unnerved at what had just happened.  They struggled to process how it was that overnight the most popular Prime Minister in newspoll’s history had been deposed by his party. The sight of Kevin Rudd, humiliated and broken, failing to choke back the tears as he announced his resignation to the country left a bitter taste in our mouths when we tuned in to see Julia Gillard chuckling to Kerry O’brien that “It’s a good day for redheads Kerry.” Simply put it just felt inappropriate to be celebrating or chuckling merrily, something very grave had just happened and a certain solemnity was in order.

The same can be said about Nova Peris and Trish Crossin. A woman who has devoted her life to the Labor party is now witnessing it all vanish before her eyes in a heartbeat. Crossin has completely lost control of her fortunes and probably suffering all manner of internal trauma meanwhile her boss and her successor are smarmily high fiving each other in front of the national press, it’s just a bad look.

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