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Northern Territory

Jan 23, 2013

Peris a short-term fix while long-term problems remain

The installation of former Olympian Nova Peris on the Labor Party NT Senate ticket is a short-term fix -- but a necessary one to secure a Labor victory in the Top End and elsewhere.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

It’s not often that Doug Cameron, anonymous Coalition sources and Julia Gillard are all right.

Cameron called the Prime Ministerial intervention — sorry, “captain’s pick” — to install Nova Peris on the NT Labor Senate ticket a “short term fix that belies a deeper problem”. Coalition sources quoted in The Australian said it revealed Labor’s fears about their position in the NT.

But some days everyone can be right: none of that means the knifing of Trish Crossin and the installation of Peris is a bad move.

Crossin might have been a diligent grassroots senator or a dud lifelong backbencher, depending on whom you talk to, but Labor was plainly concerned that business as usual with Crossin going to the next election was risking a repeat of the NT election last year, where Labor was dumped amid a big swing away from it in indigenous communities.

That Peris entering the Senate would finally address Labor’s shameful long-term lack of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation at a federal level — which has seen the Liberal Party and the Democrats chalk up firsts with Aboriginal MPs and senators — was a bonus but, one suspects, not the main game.

Marion Scrymgour, a Labor veteran in the Territory and former deputy leader in the Henderson government, had put her hand up just two weeks ago to take on Crossin. But Scrymgour comes with, shall we say, a little baggage, and not just the community bitterness occasioned by her bilingual education reforms. She made life difficult for Kevin Rudd before the 2007 election by indicating her unhappiness with Labor’s support for the intervention, which she condemned utterly. And in 2009 she left the party for the crossbenches, complaining Labor had lied to Aboriginal people, only to later return.

From Canberra, the political novice Peris probably looks an altogether more acceptable bet than a woman as independent-minded as Scrymgour.

“… the most sensible way to address Labor’s lack of indigenous representation is to attract Aboriginal people to the party and make it relevant to them.”

There’s been a few potshots at Gillard from the Coalition, trying to portray her as a serial assassin — because as we know, no previous politicians in Australian history have knifed colleagues. That’s just standard-issue hypocrisy: Dennis Jensen, who sole contributions to public life have been vociferous climate denialism and boycotting the apology to the stolen generations, is only in Parliament because John Howard led the way in overturning the decision of his electorate preselectors to dump him in 2007.

As Cameron noted, however, the most sensible way to address Labor’s lack of indigenous representation is to attract Aboriginal people to the party and make it relevant to them. Take out the word “Aboriginal” and that’s the broader problem vexing Labor as it debates — in a decidedly half-hearted and haphazard fashion — the balance between trying to make party membership more appealing and relevant, and what party head offices and factions want. The intervention of Gillard and George Wright is exactly the sort of thing that makes party membership meaningless and unattractive.

One of the problems of trying to find that balance is that grassroots members often produce outcomes that party hierarchies don’t like. That’s why Wyatt Roy is in Parliament. Roy was in a three-way contest with two, shall we say, more traditional Queensland conservative candidates, but outperformed them (and strongly so) at preselection, and thus got the nod. The LNP has the most democratic preselection processes of the major parties — one of the reasons Peter Dutton’s effort to change seats came a cropper. Roy’s preselection attracted plenty of critical comment from Coalition figures and the media, but it stood, and there he is.

In short, more party democracy is messy and will often produce results that mean more headlines and tut-tutting from the pundits, who view politics solely through the prism of messaging and branding, but it needn’t necessarily be politically disadvantageous.

The decision to install Peris might turn out to be successful; the problem is that it really only makes complete sense if, while accepting the need for a short-term intervention in internal party processes, the party leadership was committed to making the sort of longer-term reforms that would create greater links between communities, grassroots party members, and the party hierarchy, consistent with the sort of proposals made by John Faulkner, Bob Carr and Steve Bracks in their 2010 election report.

And on that front, the Gillard government has been very busy doing nothing.

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18 thoughts on “Peris a short-term fix while long-term problems remain

  1. SBH

    ‘Shameful’. That’s the word

    I wonder why Dean Rioli didn’t get the call though?

  2. klewso

    Some clever journo on TV last night referred back to some “Indian(?)” asking Gillard what (after Hawke’s and Whitlam’s, I think it was) her “legacy” was, to which she couldn’t reply? As if this was her “eventual reply”?
    The fact that this was still early in the job, and that any legacy (that would probably take some time to manifest itself) could still be in the pipeline didn’t seem “relevant”?

  3. Mike Flanagan

    One has to wonder whether you wrote the above with Michelle Grattan’s approval, the lugubrious and repetitive scion of the Faifax broadsheets whose mantra for the last thirty odd years has been ‘anthying but Labour”.
    Michael Gordon’s article was far better nuanced and gave credit where it was due.
    After listening to Peris’s speech in its entirety, rather thn the selective and edited piece put to air, one can only come to the conclusion that she is a candidate with considerable merit and Ms Gillards choice is one for the nation rather than the party hacks and press scribblers.
    That is until the whiteman ‘journalists’ of the MSM set about tearing her to pieces to satisfy their blood lust.

  4. klewso

    “Go Cows!”?
    It was a funny looking “conference”.
    There was “Shelly Marsh” with “Token Black”, trying to impress a gaggle of “South Park journos”. They’ve already got “Butters” Rudd (if voiced by Cartman), and the rest of the cast, hanging around there “somewhere”.

  5. Fully (sic)

    At a national level it maybe be open for debate about whether this decision will benefit the Labor party. At the NT level, the early signs are plainly clear that it is doing a significant level of damage to Labor. If you look at the media and social media coming from the NT it does not look like Labor will be better off at all. Territorians despise being overridden by Canberra and on top of that Crossin and Scrymgour are both rather popular. Sure, not all or even most Territorians like both of them, but pretty much everyone thinks at least one of the two is a good politician. To see both get shafted is not making Territorians happy.

    I also disagree with your claim that Labor was dumped in remote communities. What actually happened was that each community made up their own mind and voted for who they liked the best. Labor, CLP, Greens and First Nations party all won booths in the bush. Remote voters chose the candidate they liked, moreso than the party they wanted. As Marion intimated on ABC Darwin this morning, it is patronising to assume that bush voters can’t think for themselves and will just vote for a black face with ALP next to their name. They are smarter than that and will elect people they know and trust. To assume that remote voters will be happy to vote for Nova is naive.

    Wamut. (not necessarily Fully (sic)’s view)

  6. Bob the builder

    I don’t totally agree with Wamut (@2.09pm) that Labor wasn’t dumped in the bush – the overall trend was against Labor, but the results are far more nuanced than the meedja has been willing (or capable?) of discussing.
    Bob Gosford has written extensively on a whispering campaign against the Labor Aboriginal sitting members in remote seats – I’m not sure how effective or widespread it was from personal experience, but I do think it’s very significant that of the remote seats with a strong Aboriginal majority (the ‘remote’ seats) the only one that wasn’t lost was held by a non-Aboriginal member (McCarthy in Barkly), who wouldn’t obviously be prey to accusations what he wasn’t a ‘proper’ blackfella. One other non-urban seat was lost (the less remote and less Aboriginal-majority Daly) by a non-Aboriginal member – Rob Knight, who lost it to another non-Aboriginal candidate.
    So, the idea the merely having an Aboriginal candidate will do anything for Labor just doesn’t stack up.

    And, if they want to attract Aboriginal members and candidates, the best thing they could do would be stop screwing over Aboriginal people. All the branding and other bullsh*t won’t help a jot.

  7. John Bennetts

    I’m p_ssed off.

    This whole episode will produce nothing of lasting value. Why does the ALP so predictably shoot itself in the foot in public? Why would an apparently sensible ex-hockey player do this to herself?

    Why, indeed, did the current government continue the Intervention in NT, when there was a perfectly good set of ideas as to how to improve relations with the indigenous portion of NT, in the form of the 111 or so recommendations set out in the Little People are Sacred Royal Commission Report? Why, primarily, are Canberran politicians determined to be disrespectful to country and remote Australians, especially those from NT? Have the two Australian Territories declared war against each other?

    I am not now and never have been a member of the ALP. Among other reasons, there’s simply no point in membership. Millions agree with me – look at the numbers.

    Yep, I’m p_ssed off by this free kick to the Abbott side. Effin’ incredible!

  8. tonyfunnywalker

    Come on you lot, This is no different to Newman in Queensland and Downer is SA.

    If Gillard looses she will be blamed irrespective of what she does to put the party in at least a winnable position.
    So like a good captain she is looking at the team sheet and what she needs to win.

    Gillard is the captain /coach of the Labor team.

    She is thinking like Sir Alex Ferguson in the Christmas transfer window of what positions she needs to shore up to ensure that she wins the Grand Final.

    She has got rid of the “taggers” is kicking majors from everywhere but a high profile candidate, or two is worth their value in gold and what a better candidate in a dual gold medallist who knows how to win.

    This is not about retribution its about winning.

  9. Mike Flanagan

    About winning it surely is Tony FM, and some very good goals she has been kicking.
    The COL figures confirm yet again her’s and many of her team’s, goal kicking skills.
    There are four quarters and time to be completed before we have a winner.

  10. justsaying

    Ahhhh, everyone loves a good token.