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Gillard's election year crash course

  • 29 January 2013

This summer has been the lull before the storm where federal politics is concerned. Summer in an election year is usually a period of not much political action but lots of serious thinking and recharging of batteries before the long, hard run to the line.

Campaigning has now begun. The likely outcome of the election is still a Coalition win. The polls are tighter but still pro-Coalition and the front-runner is always hard to run down, though it is sometimes possible. Paul Keating caught John Hewson in 1993.

The biggest question for election campaign observers is whether this year will be a case of more of the same on both sides or whether either Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott will try something different.

This is where Gillard's Captain's Pick of Nova Peris to be the Labor candidate for the Senate in the Northern Territory comes in. In doing so Gillard has unceremoniously dumped the 15-year veteran Trish Crossin for an Indigenous candidate, who was not even a party member, and bypassed the usual, democratic party procedures.

The decision has provoked both outrage and support. It has set many hares running, including Gillard's ham-fisted style, party democracy, the value of celebrity candidates, outsiders versus insiders among MPs and internal Indigenous politics. It has re-ignited Gillard-Rudd tensions and elevated criticisms of Labor's inability to handle even the best ideas smoothly.

Labor will win a Senate seat in the NT whoever the candidate is, despite losing government in the NT last August. Therefore, in the bigger electoral picture only two things matter. Will this help Labor in the NT by shoring up the House of Representatives seat of Lingiari held by Warren Snowden by 3.7 per cent? Will it hurt or help Labor's image in the wider Australian community?

The answers to both questions are unclear. Locally lots of dust needs to settle. Australia-wide it may help marginally, but Australian voters generally care little about either local internal Labor processes or NT politics.

The Peris selection, for better or for worse, has put the focus on the Gillard Government rather than the Opposition. She has courted attention but also trouble. Her usage of Captain's Pick is interesting because it is an attempt to use a NSW Rugby League sporting