The race for the No. 1 spot on the Democrats’ South Australian Senate
ticket is well and truly on with ballot papers and candidates’
statements recently mailed to Democrats Members in that State. It’s an
open race as the incumbent was the exiled Meg Lees.

It might seem a futile preselection battle with the Democrats barely
registering in current opinion polls but South Australia has always
been a most Democrat-friendly State. It would have to remain the
Party’s best prospect at the up-coming Federal Election.

Six candidates have nominated. Long-time SA Democrats member, Danielle Democrat, presents a brief form guide:

TAMMY FRANKS

All the dubious claims that Tammy Franks has made in her campaign
material is attracting a lot of negative sentiment among long-standing
SA Democrats Members. Her most extraordinary claim is that she was SA’s
“Yes” Campaign Director in 1999 for the Republic Referendum. That would
be news to Cathie King (outgoing Chief of Staff for SA Labor Minister,
Pat Conlon) who actually was the SA Campaign Director in ‘99. Franks
has also claimed to be the Democrats’ SA State Campaign Director in
1998-99 though the period of her “directorship” did not include any
Elections (and no one remembers seeing her at any campaign meetings
anyway).

Franks is a recognisable type; more of an ALP dreg than the passionate
Democrats Member she thinks she is. She is claiming to have been a
Democrats Member since 1993 but she lapsed twice and had to rejoin
twice – and while she was working for Natasha in the late ‘90s. (So
much for the statement in one of her supporter’s quotes that Tammy has
stuck with the Party “through thick and thin”.) Indeed, her sudden
preselection-triggered reappearance is both amusing and infuriating
Party Members who remember asking “Where’s Tammy?” when hard slog was
needed. (I’ll tell you where she was – hanging with the ALP Right
Faction buddies that she used to bum around at Uni with.)

The material distributed by Franks is causing quite a stir in the
office of Democrats’ Leader Andrew Bartlett. She has used a supporting
quote by him which he did not authorise for electioneering purposes.
Not surprisingly, another of her supporting quotes comes from Erica
Lewis – a student Uni and ALP hack from New South Wales.

If the Democrats preselect this dud, they can forget about trying to regain credibility.

JOHN McLAREN

The funniest thing about the flyer John McLaren distributed to
Democrats Members is that it shows a photo of him meeting voters in
“Mitcham”. And it’s 100% true – except that it’s Mitcham, Victoria not
the Democrats-friendly hills face suburb of Mitcham in Adelaide (where
the Democrats once held a Lower House seat in the South Australian
parliament).

McLaren, a teacher, has been involved in a lot of campaigns though he
doesn’t exactly have a stellar record. He was the Democrats candidate
for Mayo in 2001 (held by Alexander Downer) but it was a disastrous
effort as he had a 7% primary vote swing against him. You might say
that would have been expected as John Schumann contested the seat three
years earlier but the SA media knows that the Democrats are strong in
the area and that caused a lot of initial interest in McLaren (who,
unlike Schumann, actually lived in the seat). But McLaren failed to
capitalise. Next door, in the seat of Boothby, the Democrats won nearly
5% more of the primary vote (than in Mayo) with a candidate that did
not have a bigger profile than McLaren.

He’s not the worst candidate in the field but he has a bit of dodgy
salesman about him. It’s hard to see him having an impact as a Senator.

MICHAEL PILLING

Michael Pilling has been a loyal and dependable Democrats Member for
many years. He was on the Democrats’ Senate ticket with Natasha in 2001
so maybe it’s his turn for top spot.

Pilling has been involved in a lot of successful campaigning both
inside and outside the Party. He’s a scientist who produced his own
community radio program and he’s also a good website designer. He (I
think) is the only candidate in the race with his own website and it’s
full of information on lots of different topics (unlike some others in
this race, Pilling can’t be accused of lacking depth – and he’s a doer,
not just a talker). He has plenty of ideas and although not all of them
are necessarily good, he at least generates discussion and debate.

If Michael Pilling has a weakness, it’s that he lacks killer instinct.
(Like it or not, all pollies need to have some.) That probably won’t
dissuade Members from preselecting him but he’ll need to develop a
harder edge if he makes it to the Senate.

EDITH PRINGLE

The fact that this nutter has made the Democrats her latest port of
call is probably a worrying sign for the Party. Just in case you
haven’t heard of Edith, she was the mistress of former SA Labor MP
Ralph Clarke (whose career was effectively ended by the fact that he
was never cleared of domestic violence charges against her).

Pringle then left the Labor Party and ran for the SA Upper House (very
unsuccessfully) under the heading, “You Can’t Beat A Woman”.

If all that has you feeling a touch sympathetic, stop right now.
Pringle almost single-handedly fractured the Women’s Electoral Lobby
and probably flirted with the Greens and other minor parties before
joining the Democrats … ooh … let me check my watch … about five
minutes ago.

Pringle is passionate about three issues – violence against women,
violence against women and violence against women. Sure, we all deplore
violence against women but, come on, just a bit more breadth please,
Edith! It’s a big call, but I reckon preselecting Pringle would be even
worse than preselecting Franks.

RUTH RUSSELL

At first glance, Ruth Russell looks like another single-issue zealot.
Heard the name somewhere? Yes – she is Ruth Russell, aka human shield
in Iraq.

But there’s actually a bit more to Ruth. She’s passionate about a lot
of issues and though she’s only been a Member of the Party for a few
years, she’s very committed.

Still, it’s a little hard to imagine her being a good campaigner. Ruth
is good at making motherhood statements but seems to lack the ability
to really get her teeth into issues – unless she’s talking about Iraq.
In some ways, her human shield reputation will count against her
because, if she did win top spot on the ticket, she might struggle to
get coverage/recognition for anything else.

TREVOR TUCKER

Trevor is a nice guy (indeed, his campaign features the claim that he
has the common touch). He seems to have a bit of “jack-of-all-trades”
about him and his Democrats values can’t be faulted.

Unfortunately for him, he’s a bit of an unknown in this race. He hasn’t
been around the Party too long so a lot of the Members voting in this
preselection won’t know who he is. His chance might come after he’s
served a bit more time.

Peter Fray

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