It’s
curious that Tony Blair’s comment from Monday that
federal Labor is suffering because all the talent’s in state parliaments wasn’t
greeted with a resounding raspberry. Yes, we know he meant it to be kind, but really…
Wouldn’t it be fairer to say that Labor loses elections because they make
people like Joe Tripodi ministers, not because they make
them state ministers?

About the
only response came from Tripodi’s boss, NSW Premier Morris Iemma
– and he was joshing. As well he might, given the calibre of his cabinet.

But it’s
a serious question. We asked on Monday: “If Josh Frydenberg is such a great
candidate, why doesn’t he run in a marginal seat?” We could have asked why Evan
Thornley settled for a place in Victorian Legislative Council or who was the
most deserving out of Martin Pakula, Bill Shorten and Mark Dreyfuss.

How do political
parties align the ambitions of their recruits with their broad strategic
interests? This is more than blood sport for the pundits. It’s an issue that
bedevils political parties and creates an almost infinite number of “what ifs”
for academics.

There
isn’t much systematic data on the way political aspirants time and locate their
run into Australian electoral politics, but Simon Jackman, who watches Australian politics
from Stanford, put together a table after the
2004 election looking at the so-called open seats where incumbents did not run.

The
results were interesting. You had the Peter Garretts in Kingsford Smith
and the Andrew Robbs in Goldstein making successful runs. Morris Iemma
no doubt would have been pleased
at how a NSW Labor lad, Tony Burke, made the switch from Macquarie
Street to Canberra in Watson.

But the
high flyers seemed absent from the more marginal seats. One of the few
exemptions from this was former independent Victorian MP Susan Davies, who unsuccessfully contested La Trobe
for the ALP.

Politics
is all about fighting battles, but it seems that some prefer to do that as
generals – or staff officers at the very least – not grunts.

Peter Fray

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