The Network

The Network
This blog is no longer updated. Please click the picture to hop across to The Network

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The khaki parachute for La Trobe - but the locals aren't marching

Miss Eagle is an elector in the Federal seat of La Trobe. Miss Eagle is not a member of any political party but is one of the sometimes mentioned group described as Rusted On Labor Voting Green [ROLVG]. In other words, I generally identify with Labor. I generally don't identify with The Greens but they have been getting my No. 1 vote.

Australia has a system of preferential voting in the House of Representatives and proportional representation in the Senate. Through the preferential voting system, I always ensure that the ALP ends up with my vote and that the Liberal-National Party coalition do not receive my vote. I had decided that, in this election, I would change my voting behaviour. The issues are so serious. The need to get rid of John Howard is so urgent that, for the first time in years, the ALP would receive my No. 1 vote. I am now revisiting that decision.

Miss Eagle, you see, is disgruntled. In fact, her gruntle has been thoroughly dissed.

The cause of diss effect on my gruntle is this.

Here you can see the nice, hard working Greg Pargeter. Greg, from a dyed in the wool Labor family, has approached endorsement by the Labor Party for the seat of La Trobe in the traditional manner. He got himself an education; into education; then government at a policy level. Then he was off to become a senior industrial officer for the United Firefighters Union of Australia - Victoria Branch. He grew up in this electorate. His father has strong local government connections in the southern part of the electorate. Greg and his family live in The Hills at Selby. He has immersed himself in this community: educationally, socially, and politically.

Connections, connections, connections. But not good enough, Greg. Far from good enough.

On another continent, in another country, in another city, Greg - and his Firefighters background - would be seen in the heroic tradition. Staunch, working class, public spirited and providing heroic public service. But clearly not in Australia. Not in the ALP. And certainly not in Greg's political faction, the right-wing Labor Unity - Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's very own faction.

Much is talked about candidates being parachuted into electorates. La Trobe is now the victim of the Khaki Parachute as yet another army officer is about to get rubber-stamped for pre-selection, this time in the seat of La Trobe.

Join the ALP on Friday and within the week you are selected to contest a marginal seat - in which the ALP has decided to invest an extra $100,000 and is the focus of an intense battle based on Howard's workplace relations legislation with an ACTU Your Rights at Work organiser in the electorate and the Catholic social justice based PolMin (Australian Political Ministry) making the electorate its Victorian focus.

There have been political fixes done time and time again to ensure the selection of particular candidates to run for Parliament. The La Trobe fix might well take the cake for the following reasons:

  1. The seat of La Trobe already has a well established pre-selected candidate with an active campaign committee.
  2. The re-opening of pre-selection so close to an election.
  3. Preferencing a stranger: not a member of the ALP, not known whether he lives in the electorate, not known what connections he has with the electorate.

Why would such a thing happen? Miss E really does need the dots to be joined for this one but it appears that the soon to be rubber stamped Rodney Cocks is both military and heroic which equals military hero.

It would appear that the ALP has certainly American-ised (for this read militarised and religionised) its campaign. Three former Army officers are running for parliament: one each in Western Australia, New South Wales and, now, Victoria. Rudd has joined Howard in actively courting the numbers of the Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches who are, predominantly, supporters of conservative right-wing policies. But then, as Mick Kir of Vermont pointed out in Letters in The Age yesterday, the two parties are Australia's conservative bloc. He might have added: with the ALP dominated by Labor Unity, a conservative faction.

But Miss Eagle would remind Rodney Cocks and Kevin Rudd - the latter from Queensland and formerly Wayne Goss's right hand man - of an interesting piece of political history.

In 1989, prior to Wayne Goss becoming Premier and ending the National Party's 32 year dominance of Queensland politics, Ken Davies was endorsed for the seat of Mundingburra. Ken was not a member of the ALP. Ken was a pleasant middle class accountant in his own practice. Mundingburra was a nominally conservative seat. Ken was seen to be a good, personable match for the voters of Mundingburra. To join the ALP, it was arranged that Ken would join the Aitkenvale-Cranbrook Branch. David Barbagallo, then North Queensland organiser for the ALP whose work in North Queensland was a major factor in Goss's landslide victory, rang the Secretary of the A-C Branch to confirm what would happen.

Now, the Secretary of the Branch was a bit of an ALP traditionalist and, while realizing the political facts of life, put forward the reasons why the Ken Davies situation was a mistake and could well prove disastrous. One of the major reasons put forward was the strong culture of the ALP and that pushed forward candidates have no experience of such a culture and that when things go wrong, they can go badly wrong. Quite prescient of the Secretary, don't you think? Because bad times did emerge between Wayne Goss and Ken Davies. There is nothing new about these sort of things. But, within the culture of the ALP, it is most often better to take adversity on the chin, live to fight another day, and wait for the pendulum to swing back. After all, this is how Peter Beattie came to be Premier.

But Ken, the newcomer to Labor culture, did not take adversity on the chin. He felt dumped and cut off. He spoke out in a very public and damaging way. The seat of Mundingburra was lost in 1996 to the Liberal Party and thus began, officially, the downhill slide of the Goss Government.

My advice to Rodney Cocks is that this could happen to you.

Rodney, you have no political chips to deal with.

The ALP - and Labor Unity - can make you. They can also break you. Once you get to parliament - provided you can take the seat in circumstances such as these - you will become a party cypher. If you don't believe me, take a look at the experience of Peter Garrett. Peter Garrett has some political chips to deal with. He has money, fame, and political clout in the wider community. He was familiar with policy development and advocacy, particularly through his work with the Australian Conservation Foundation before he even joined the ALP. Can you match that, Rodney? Then go on to take a close look at Garrett's experience within the ALP. Certainly not a dream run as he mixes it in the cauldron of ambition, hard heads, and canny political experience. How will you go with all that, Rodney?

And, Rodney, will you recognize the nuances of the culture into which you are about to become immersed? Will you notice it, understand it, and not be able to put a foot wrong within it? Or will you be a newby, a green-horn, waiting until you are snowed once too often and you wake up and learn what is really going on.

I'm sure Kevin Rudd will give you every assurance, Rodney. But another reminder? Goss and Co. did not see their electoral defeat coming. Goss was still polling as the most popular premier in the country. Keith de Lacy, the Treasurer in the Goss government, said on the Sunday morning after the night before that there was a message in the loss somewhere but he didn't know what it was. Rudd was in all that. The wider electorate knew the Goss government was a-goner. The Goss government didn't.

The question is: what did Kevin Rudd learn from all that - and what has he learned since?

And one more thing. Rodney, where do you stand in relation to trade unions, union rights, and Howard's workplace legislation? You see, Miss Eagle was a union organiser in a place known as a garrison city for its large military (both Army and RAAF) presence. The majority of military personnel Miss Eagle met were anti-union. In fact, the large Army base in the garrison city has only rarely voted in the majority for the ALP. Now, Rodney if the seat of La Trobe was a garrison city your pre-selection might make some political sense - but The Hills are not alive with the sound of marching.