The professionalisation of federal politics continues apace with more than half of the new MPs and senators elected on August 21 being former staffers, party operators or former or serving politicians.

Labor has continued its strong tendency to send apparatchiks into parliament, with seven of its 10 new faces coming from within the party machine, from the senior ranks of the union movement or from state and local government.

Of the Coalition’s 21 new representatives, 11 are former or current politicians or party operators. The Coalition has three former staffers joining them: Alan Tudge, Josh Frydenberg and Scott Buchholz. But the Liberals, Nationals and LNP still draw more strongly on real-world candidates, primarily from business backgrounds.

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The Liberals have also enjoyed the return of some casualties of the Queensland Ruddslide in 2007, with Ross Vasta and Teresa Gambaro returning and retiree Warren Entsch taking back his old seat.

The Senate — with one statewide preselection per state — has traditionally been the home of the real machine operators and this will be stronger than ever from July 1 next year. Labor’s former NSW state secretary Matt Thistlewaite will arrive, joining South Australian unionist and Labor official Alex Gallacher and South Australian Liberal president Sean Edwards.

They’ll join the likes of Mark Arbib, Stephen Conroy, Don Farrell, David Feeney, Eric Abetz and Mathias Cormann. South Australian Liberals are still waiting to see whether former Liberal MP David Fawcett will secure the final spot on the South Australian Senate ballot ahead of Family First’s Bob Day — although Day was a long-time South Australian Liberal Party figure himself.

Even the Greens have started acquiring the habit, with NSW MLC Lee Rhiannon moving to the Senate, although their clutch of new senators come from an array of backgrounds.

Labor’s continuing reliance for its parliamentary membership on senior state party figures and former advisers bodes poorly for its efforts to escape the focus group mentality that has seized the party leadership in recent years. While former union officials often bring strong executive experience — Greg Combet was one of the emerging stars of the Rudd government — or exposure to the real-world impact of economic reform issues, party functionaries and advisers tend to lack real-world experience of the kind that the Liberals benefit from via the influx of businessmen and women.

Genuine grassroots-selected candidates like Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann (both from the ACT, where the traditional left-right-unaligned balance was undone by the departures of Bob McMullan and Annette Ellis and the weakness of the Right) or Deb O’Neill in Robertson are very much the exceptions in a party looking more like professional politicians than ever.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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