Any doubts I had about Greg Combet wanting to be a member of parliament disappeared last November in the Adelaide Town Hall when I heard him deliver the 9th annual Hawke Lecture for the University of South Australia’s Hawke Centre.
The words were those of a man determined to show he was more than a trade union official with a one track mind dedicated to defeating John Howard’s new industrial relations laws. This ACTU boss portrayed himself as the man to return Australia to the “shared aspiration for economic prosperity, security from external threat, and the attainment of a fair and just society” that John Howard had undermined.
“Our enduring historic consensus”, Mr Combet told his audience, “has been overwhelmed by policies that must invite our deepest attention and questioning. Are we truly convinced that economic prosperity can only be achieved at the expense of social fairness and equality, that democratic rights must be traded for security and that ballooning fiscal surpluses have the principal purpose of providing short-term political advantage?”
The former Prime Minister who thanked Mr Combet for his thoughtful address was positively beaming at the prospect of another ACTU heavyweight staking out a claim for political leadership. As I wrote in Crikey at the time, Bob mentioned to me that the Combet style went down well with women too which would prove an electoral asset some time in the future! When that future time would be was not something that Bob Hawke would speculate about. The immediate task of rallying the people against the workplace relations laws must not be interfered with.
A transition to the House of Representatives, I concluded, would have to be announced a short time before polling day so that Mr Combet could not be accused of undermining the ACTU campaign but rather seen to be taking the fight against unjust laws to the next level.
With the election still six months off I was surprised to see Jason Koutsoukis in The Sunday Age so definite that the deal to find the Combet seat was done and dusted and that Charlton in the Hunter Valley of NSW was it. A bit too soon for such a revelation which makes me think not that the story is untrue but that a little bit of malice might be involved on the part of someone not keen on Mr Combet becoming a politician. There is no better way of stopping something happening in politics than a premature disclosure.
The sitting member for Charlton, backbencher Kelly Hoare, now certainly has time to prepare her defences. Ms Hoare is determined to stay put and promises to fight any move to replace her with what she describes as “a celebrity candidate”.