Sports journos beat scientists as candidates it seems, going by the outcome of last night’s Tangney preselection. First-term MP and former physicist and defence analyst Dennis Jensen has been dumped in favour of journalist turned staffer turned spinner Matt Brown.

The dynamics of the competition are interesting for a party seeking a fifth term in office.

Brown stressed grassroots concerns in his campaign. The third candidate, Robert Reid, specifically criticised Jensen’s high profile stances on nuclear power and the joint strike fighter. He told The West Australian that preselection delegates wanted the sitting member to address a range of issues.

This being The West, of course, there were problems over just who was entitled to vote. Two branches friendly to Jensen were ruled ineligible. But are there lessons from the outcome?

Long-serving governments need ideas. Ministers become tired. They get captured by their bureaucrats. MPs fall lazy. Many have no experience of the demands of opposition and the struggle for relevance. They get used to being spoon-fed. Policy only comes from public servants. Parliamentarians get scared of taking leads.

Long-serving governments need articulate backbenchers able to tackle big issues – yet Jensen seems to have been punished for doing just that. What’s happened?

The Tangney preselection outcome might all be about the professionalisation of politics. Jensen is an outsider. He only joined the party in 1997. His challengers were long-serving staffers who were well established in ministerial offices back then.

Brown and Reid knew what buttons to push. In contrast, Jensen seems to have been naïve – talk about not living in the electorate ran strong during the campaign. The nuclear issue was used against him.

Political professionals are risk averse. That makes them reluctant to take stands. That’s got to damage policy making. Government need more than hacks. They need people from a wide range of backgrounds.

Political professionals might be good at keeping governments in power. Unfortunately, they’ll probably be mediocre governments.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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