When NSW Attorney-General and Environment Minister Bob Debus quit state politics in 2006 he was involved in a deal with NSW Premier Morris Iemma and state ALP secretary Mark Arbib to hand his Blue Mountains seat to the Rural Fire Services Commissioner Phil Koperberg.
It was an unhappy decision: Koperberg was elected in March 2007 and joined Iemma’s Cabinet, but was forced to make an awkward exit when allegations of his past domestic activities were leaked to the media.
Debus’s retirement from Macquarie Street was a piece of studied political choreography because he popped up soon after as the candidate for the federal seat of Macquarie, one of Labor’s “must win” seats at the November 2007 election.
On the election of the Rudd Government, Debus was rewarded with the Homeland Security portfolio. He simply rolled his NSW parliamentary pension into a Commonwealth one.
Now Debus has announced he is leaving federal politics and another deal is in the wind.
This time it is between Debus, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and (now Senator) Arbib under which Debus has been given the almost feudal privilege of choosing his own successor.
The Blue Mountains deal was partly aimed at stymieing the political career of Adam Searle while the current Macquarie deal is designed to thwart Searle’s aspirations to go to Canberra.
By any reckoning, Searle has a distinguished track record in the NSW ALP. A successful barrister at the industrial bar, he was chief of staff to the former NSW Attorney-General and Industrial Relations Minister Jeff Shaw, he’s been a councillor on Blue Mountains Council for 10 years and is the current mayor and he’s a well-connected family man.
As pre-selection criteria goes, his candidacy ticks all the boxes — but not according to Comrade Debus.
Although they both belong to the NSW left, they are in rival sub-ghettos in which hating one another is a condition of membership.
Disinformation about Searle is already flowing freely. He was described in yesterday’s Financial Review as a member of the right which he is definitely not.
Rudd loftily claims that he operates above the ALP factions but if the Debus succession fix is in, then his administration is as factionally driven as those of Bob Hawke or Paul Keating.
Since coming to power in November 2007, Rudd has surrounded himself with ALP powerbrokers — Treasurer Wayne Swan, former Queensland state secretary, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, former WA state secretary, Employment Participation Minister Mark Arbib, former NSW state secretary, Minister for Defence Personnel Greg Combet, former ACTU secretary, parliamentary secretary for Western and Northern Australia Gary Gray, former ALP federal secretary.
Debus was promised a ministry in the Rudd Government for just one term. His weekend resignation is the clearest signal that the government’s first term is drawing to an end, a successor is to be foisted on the unsuspecting burghers of Macquarie and that a double dissolution election is on the way.