Opposition Leader Bill Shorten

In politics, as in life, it is the small things that matter.

In Australian politics it doesn’t get much more insignificant than the nomination for the sinecure that is the No. 1 Senate spot in the Northern Territory, vacated by the hapless Nova Peris last week. Peris’ resignation has done Labor — and particularly Labor’s Left faction — a huge favour by drawing a line under Julia Gillard’s flawed experiment that shoehorned Peris into the Senate spot that had belonged to Left’s Trish Crossin for as good as life.

Gillard’s decision infuriated just about everyone in NT Labor, none more so than the powerful Left-aligned unions — the CFMEU and the CPSU for starters — and yesterday’s nomination of Malarndirri McCarthy will be seen as being, in part at least, a restoration of the factional balance in the NT that has been skewed to the Right for too long.

Whether McCarthy will be able to exercise much independence of thought and action on the tight leash that the Left will keep her on remains to be seen, as will how popular or effective a senator she will be. Certainly — as one Labor wag told Amos Aikman in The Australian yesterday, there was no shortage of “WTF” moments in the minutes after the white smoke went up at the announcement of McCarthy’s nomination by Labor’s national executive.

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And here’s the thing: the Left faction in the NT would have gone berserk if McCarthy wasn’t picked and Peris staffer Ursula Raymond — supported by the Right and, for mine, the “least-worst” of the five candidates — had prevailed. The Right, supported by the locally influential Shoppies union — already have Luke Gosling as candidate for the seat of Solomon, where he stands a very good chance against the CLP’s Natasha Griggs. To have two Right-faction candidates — three, at a stretch, if you include Lingiari MP Warren Snowdon (notionally Left but considered somewhere closer to the centre) — would have been well beyond the Pale.

Enter Senator Kim Carr, Left-faction number-cruncher and powerbroker. Carr spotted that the Right wasn’t unified behind Ursula Raymond and got McCarthy over the line. According to sources, it came down to two votes on Labor’s national executive, with Carr wielding his considerable influence for a result that will have consequences far beyond the Northern Territory Senate seat that Labor could’ve won with the proverbial drover’s dog.

Not so much a captain’s pick — Shorten’s Right faction should have prevailed — as a (Left) faction’s pick.

Carr and his Left-faction colleagues will be well pleased to see the restoration of a semblance of balance in the NT. But there are much bigger fish to fry, and that fish is Bill Shorten and the Right faction’s grasp on Labor’s leadership.

Bill Shorten — unless Malcolm Turnbull falls under one of his beloved trains — will lose this election. Soon after losing, Shorten, locked into office by Kevin Rudd’s rule that made it all but impossible to unseat an incumbent Labor leader, will either fall on his sword or be pushed by the Left, who have long regarded Rudd’s succession rule as farcical.

Carr will be leading the pack for the Left when the leadership push comes to shove. Whether Anthony Albanese — who got 31 caucus votes to Shorten’s 55 but carried the Labor members 60% to Shorten’s 40% — will take another stab at leadership is unknown, though from this report in today’s Herald Sun it seems that tensions between Shorten and Albanese — read the Right and Left factions — are happily bubbling away under the surface.

An unintended consequence of Peris’ resignation is that the NT Senate seat now appears to be locked in — for now, at least — as a reserved seat on gender and race-specific criteria. All five candidates before the national executive were Aboriginal women.

Whether this will be maintained in future preselections or is a good thing for democracy in the NT are open questions. Many would argue that such a rule is long overdue and will point to the fact that five candidates — admittedly of variable quality — emerged for consideration within a two-day nomination window as testament to the value of the approach. However, it is easy to see how the factions could easily fall away in their support for that approach in a tight preselection — particularly where an exemplary candidate who did not match those criteria or where the NT’s notoriously small political gene pool threw up candidates that would otherwise be undeserving.

*This article was originally published at The Northern Myth

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