Gillard's election year crash course


'Crash Course' by Chris JohnstonThis 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 concept to justify her action.

Rather than more of the same this could be a signal that Gillard will try to get on the front foot this year. Her alternative was to rely on a continuation of the gradual improvement of Labor's fortunes as some federal issues are put to bed and while the State Coalition governments slowly gather more critics and make voters forget some of Labor's more obvious faults.

She still needs this to happen, and for the state Labor Opposition leaders to start scoring points. But since her famous misogyny speech last October, she may have decided not to die wondering but to crash through or crash.

All of this poses an interesting dilemma for Abbott and his team. While still confident of victory later in the year they must now be wondering whether more of the same will be enough. Or should they tweak their strategy?

One of Abbott's strategies has been to stress the Opposition's continuities with the past and he has done little to actively refresh his team (though Arthur Sinodinos has been one bonus). In fact he has emphasised a return to the Howard era by pointing to the 16 members of the Howard team who are apparently ready to take up ministerial posts again. The trouble-prone Mal Brough would make 17 if he makes a successful comeback.

Abbott has taken some unilateral decisions, including deciding without consultation on a most generous alternative maternity leave scheme. But on the matter of his shadow ministers he has held his team together rather than impose his will upon its composition.

Now is the time for an Opposition reshuffle if it is going to happen before the next election. Perhaps the Opposition Leader should pick up the phone to his MPs and make some Captain's Picks of his own.

John Warhurst headshotJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and a Canberra Times columnist.

Topic tags: John Warhurst, Nova Peris, election year, election 2013



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Existing comments

I think Gillard has lost some Labor support as a result of forcing Nova Peris through. The faithful Also former members can see it for what it is.
Skye | 29 January 2013

If the election is not held until late 2013 I think the most likely outcome of this early electioneering is voter fatigue and disengagement! I also think Julia's strategy will be to crash through or crash - I mean what else would one expect from 'Lady Macbeth'? The Captain's Pick of Nova Peris is a bold move but not unprecedented - John Howard (and Kevin Rudd) know only too well just how much damage a 'celebrity' candidate can wreak. And no matter how much weight Joe Hockey loses, he still has Tony as leader.
Pam | 29 January 2013

Obviously this column was written before the remarks by the PM's partner at the reception for the West Indian cricket team were reported regarding manual test for signs of a prostate problem. They were both sexist and racist. They are not the sort of remarks that John Howard or Tony Abbott would have to worry about their partners ever making.Do they undermine the PM's campaign against sexism and racism? I don't know. The media coverage of politics in Australia is so caught up in personalities that I don't know how political parties can get the public to pay attention to policies. I regret to say I think that for most Australians politics is a sort of default sport. They only pay attention to it when the footie, the cricket, racing etc are in recess and a boots 'n all scrap is going on. Or someone makes a big boo-boo. Mr Matheson could not have chosen a worse occasion on which to make his tasteless joke. The lads in the Windies team may have laughed but the PM was not amused.
Uncle Pat | 29 January 2013

It was Rudd, as I recall, who Captain Picked the dud Peter Garrett whose contribution to politics has been an overall negative, for the ALP, for the nation and for his own credibility. Most of us know nothing at all about Peris, and since she is from the NT hardly rates a two second thought anywhere else in the country (does anyone really ever hear from or know anything about any other NT federal pollie?). So it is Gillard's actions, driven by the rightwing of the ALP, her only supporters, who are mainly the SDA, who in turn are the living embodiment of the DLP, that most people seem upset about. The Socialist Left has clearly lost control of its own faction, with Gillard long gone over to the SDA side and Macklin insisting she thinks the dole is a very good deal and more than enough for her to live on and Kim Carr totally invisible on any so-called 'left' position, for years, leaving only Doug Cameron, the yappy terrier, to carry the flag (or is it drinks?). Who knows what Indigenous NTers think of this? But some of the 'Uncle Tom' type characterisations (Aunt Tom?) coming from the NT might indicate that yet again they resent the paternalism contained in Gillard's actions.
janice wallace | 29 January 2013

The ALP is not alone among political parties in having to cope with the activities of factions within its membership, particularly in the selection of candidates for winnable parliamentary seats. Julia Gillard has been courageous in her support of a potentially good candidate despite the danger of factional criticism, magnified by the mass media.
Bob Corcoran | 29 January 2013

I agree with some of the writers here. I must say that, after reading The Age on Peris, I can't agree with the criticism aimed at Julia!Aboriginal leaders have tried for many years to stand for the Senate and have been treated abominably, with a lot of insults and effect on their families. A lot seems to have come from Crossin and her supporters. I believe that Pat Anderson tried twice to be selected and missed out by 4 votes!! And got pretty hurt in the process. These candidates were capable and knowledgeable. After this, I praise out PM for throwing Crossin 'overboard'! And don't tell me she didn't know! She has served 15 years. Good. Now give the place to an Indigenous Australian, congratulate her and support her. And, I disagree that the Labor party has "democratic" rules. It does NOT! The process should be dumped and new structures built so that we, the members, can have a say. That is democratic. So there!
Nathalie | 29 January 2013

Janice, ever hear of the Hon. Warren Snowdon MP? He is from Alice Springs and holds the following portfolios: Minister for Veterans' Affairs Minister for Defence Science and Personnel Minister for Indigenous Health Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Centenary of Anzac. What about Senator Nigel Scullion, the Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs. The Senator appeared in an episode of Annabel Crabb's delightful Kitchen Cabinet. He cooked chilli mud crab. Perhaps you need to get out a bit and break down that south-centric view of Australia which is causing you this misperspective!
Sarah | 29 January 2013

Sarah, yes I have 'heard' of Snowden, a white fella by all accounts, so could he not have been dumped for one of Gillard's picks instead, or as well would be even better? Anyone holding the four portfolios you list must not have much to do in each one, and maybe not even enough in all four to cobble together a real job as a minister. The last ministry is surely a joke? Perhaps sufficient work for a dedicated volunteer in the community to do but a real ministry? Really - that's pure tokenism to appeal to the 'if you don't love it leave' brigade the LNP, Katter and One Nation thrive on. Scullion? An unremarkable Senator who has made 32 speeches in the last 12 months, less than most Senators. I checked through his 1094 contribtions to 'debate' and they are mostly one liners of little or no consequence to anyone, least of all his electors in the NT. Interesting he appeared in a cooking show, what with his name suggesting that might be a good place to be but I am happy to say the prospect of watching A Crabb exchanging mindless words with overlarded politicians is not something I have ever thought of doing.
janice wallace | 29 January 2013

On the contrary, Gillard's 'captain's pick' will win her a few more fans from the throngs, who think that leaders ought to be uncompromisingly tough. They may well not like her, some may dislike her intensely. But they like what they perceive to be a 'macho' act. Something that they'd likened to their hero, Abbott. The latter's appeal to the throngs is in his 'manliness', all brawn and perhaps no brains. But it doesn't matter to them; conservatives tend to go to war rather than conciliate (e.g. Howard's invasion of Iraq).

On the subject of Mr. Matheson's dumb remark, I've often wished that the PM has a better insight into her choice of partners. With the throngs' penchant for trivia her present partner's undisciplined mouth would cause her greater grief than her decision to 'captain pick' Nova Peris for a Senate seat.
Alex Njoo | 29 January 2013

Good luck to Nova Peris for many reasons. It must be interesting to be rewarded with a seat in federal parliament without even being a member of a political party. How do loyal members of the ALP feel having worked their way through the system with an eye on the prize. No doubt someone at the ALP has done the numbers and worked out that the disaffected members will probably still vote for the ALP and this is two in the bag and worth the backlash. A winner who is Indigenous. I hope she enjoys the experience that she had never really expected. As for the sexist misogynistic racist language of the partner of the PM 'a little joke, a trifle overdone', one might wonder what else is hiding there in his mind, not yet revealed. One has usually thought about it before it slips out. Mealtimes in private at the Lodge must be interesting!
Tony London | 30 January 2013

Poor Tim Matheson! I am never sure whether I feel more embarrassed as an Australian about our PM having a hairdesser "partner" in prominent tow (one of a series of serial monogamous "partners" in her career), or sorry for him for being so publically exposed. On this occasion again both reactions are there, but I feel more sorry than sad; why on earth would Julia put him out there to give a public talk at all, to embarrass himself and us; and stupidly without intense preparation and vetting of what he was going to say? It says something (not very nice) about Julia`s culture and perhaps modern Australia`s, that her lover/partner should be elevated to a quasi offical national position, taking on charity patronages for goodness sake, rather than been kept discretly in the background. It is almost bound to end in tears...ask Anne Boleyn!
Eugene | 30 January 2013

We all keep in mind that these comments are personal opinions. And commendations on the facility. As the writer of this article said, Julia has now little option but to " crash through or crash". She is not alone in believing that it is objectionable that there is, nor has been, a representative indigenous person in the Northern Territory Government Senate. For far too long both major parties have fumbled about with their favours to party political hacks (some claiming indigenous connection, but not experience) who have clearly made little improvement to the situation faced by the aboriginal people. Nova Peris who has long shown her committment and intelligent drive to fight for indigenous rights would seem to offer the best chance to be effective. I agree that the "Captains Pick" proceedure used by the Prime Minister could be alarming, however, it is a recognised move by previous leaders and avoided the protracted machinations normally played by our political parties. I commend Prime Minister Gillard for this brave decision.
Michelle | 01 February 2013

First aboriginal woman in the Senate, I wholeheartedly support that!
Helen of Perth | 01 February 2013


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