Labor Senator John Faulkner’s announcement that he won’t be standing for preselection at the end of his current Senate term — which isn’t up until mid-2017 — demonstrates how panicked NSW Labor is at the prospect of genuine reform, and how little this rotten branch has learnt both from the party’s defeats in 2011 and 2013 and the prolonged saga of its corrupt dregs being hauled before the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The obvious question is why Faulkner is announcing more than three years from the end of his term that he won’t be going around again in the 2016 election (when he will be 63): it’s because the NSW branch has brought forward the preselection process for 2016 to this week. In 2010, when Faulkner stood for his current term on top of the NSW Labor ticket, preselections weren’t finalised until March that year, after state secretary Matt Thistlethwaite was moved out of Sussex Street and into second spot on the ticket, forcing sitting senator Steve Hutchins into third spot, which he lost to the Greens’ Lee Rhiannon. That means only Sam Dastyari, who replaced Thistlethwaite when the latter replaced Peter Garrett in Kingsford-Smith, will be the sitting Labor Senator up for election in 2016.
According to comments attributed to Dastyari’s replacement as NSW secretary, Jamie Clements, the bringing forward of preselections by two years is entirely because the branch wants to “get people out in the field”. So NSW readers are advised to keep an eye out for the successful preselectees, who will be popping up all over the place between now and the next election selling their wares. Of course, if you believe that, NSW Labor has this multimillion-dollar coal tenement it would like to sell you as well.
In early April, Faulkner announced that he would be moving at the branch’s June conference to, inter alia, overhaul NSW Labor’s upper house preselection processes so that preselection for the NSW Legislative Council and Senate, including casual vacancies, would be conducted by a members’ ballot. Later in the month, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said he had asked both the ALP national executive and the WA branch to prepare options for “giving local party members a meaningful say” in Senate preselection.
That was after the WA Senate election re-run and the collapse in Labor’s WA vote thanks to the installation of union official Joe Bullock at the top of the ticket via a factional deal. As the WA experience demonstrates, serving up another union official in NSW in 2016 increases the chances of Rhiannon retaining her Senate spot.
Until Shorten’s speech, Faulkner’s call for major reform in NSW had a quixotic feel to it, and looked likely to meet the same fate as the internal reforms he, Steve Bracks and Bob Carr backed in their review of the 2010 election. That was despite Faulkner coupling his proposal with greater integrity measures, reflecting the widespread disgust felt about the corrupt conduct of former Labor MLCs like Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald. But Shorten’s call for options on a greater role for members significantly increases the likelihood that some form of members’ ballot will eventually be introduced for selecting upper house candidates, even if not along the lines to be proposed by Faulkner in June.
The scrambling of the NSW branch to get its preselections done and dusted before party members can have any say reflects how little the branch has learnt from the procession of former Labor MLCs, installed and protected through factional deals, through ICAC or the Bullock debacle in WA when Labor was reduced to electing one senator. The focus on allegations of corruption and rorting of electoral laws by NSW Liberal figures will provide cover for Labor powerbrokers. But as Obeid and Macdonald demonstrated, eventually the consequences of these deals will emerge and inflict serious damage on the party.