Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Canberra

A changing of the guard in the ACT

Bob McMullan chatting to students 2006. Authors photo

Ever since I can remember, Canberra has been represented by two labor members in the House of Representatives, Annette Ellis for Canberra (south of the lake) and Bob McMullan for Fraser(City Centre & Northside). On Tuesday McMullan announced his retirement at the coming election (he was going to quit in 2013), and by the time you are reading this, Annette Ellis will have announced she too is leaving (/being pushed out).

While I’ve only once bumped into Ellis, I’ve met McMullan a number of times. He was very generous with his time as Shadow Treasurer to me for 2 different TAFE journalism assignments, and when I was running a political society at Uni he twice came and gave off the cuff speeches, glass of wine in hand. His big glasses and quiet manners make him look a shy type, but he works a room very ably. While I’d lived within Ellis’s electorate most of my life, I had been looking forward to casting a vote for McMullan in Fraser this year, but not to be.

Though one of the few members of the ALP with ministerial experience, (as former minister for Trade, Admin & Arts, and ALP National Secretary), he unfortunately was sidelined by both Latham and Rudd. Latham’s diary contains some particularly harsh claims, and Rudd, despite claiming to have picked his own cabinet, could find no room for this hard working ‘Centrist’ faction member. Not quite a faction to speak of, McMullan along with the now deceased Peter Cook and a few others somehow managed to buck the power of the unions, though neither was quite given the influence their talents deserved. Though McMullan seemed quite dissapointed not to have recieved a ministery under Rudd, he has taken to his role as Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance with aplomb and is now set to take an NGO job in the field and carry on the work. One of the rare cases where a quick cross over from Government to Industry is to be endorsed.

Unsurprisingly for two of the safest seats in the country (With a 23% buffer for Canberra and 30% for Fraser), the fight for the seats is fierce. Early names being thrown around include Nick Martin the Federal Labor assistant party secretary, Constitutional Lawyer/Public Intellectual George Williams, Peter Conway a former ALP senate Candidate, Michael Cooney (local Minister Andrew Barr’s Chief of Staff), Rudd’s wunderkid & chief of staff Alistar Jordan, and ANU’s wunderkid economics Professor Andrew Leigh. Surprisingly, local MP’s such as Jon Stanhope & Andrew Barr have not got in the running, esp as Barr seems to have a bright future ahead of him, but he seems to be may be angling for ACT Chief Minister). Martin seems to be firming, but its pretty fluid. If you’re interested, Twitter has been the best place to find out the breaking nature of the story (admittedly by local journalists on the medium).

Given I know none of the candidates closely, and all have strong backgrounds, the ALP would be best served by choosing as young and up coming a star as possible. Ellis whilst a fine enough local candidate, had little to offer the federal party, putting the seat somewhat to waste. The party needs to find someone who can make a home in the seat for two decades or more and contribute consistently both to the community and to the federal policy/media profile. While Rudd is an exception, almost every Prime Minister has spent about 20 years in parliament before ascending to the top job. The public needs time to get to know them, as do their colleagues, and as I’ve been arguing for a while, politics is a profession that takes a long time to learn, something the Malcolm Turnbull’s of the world forget to their own misfortune.

The ACT is rare in having a the cleanest Rank & File pre-selection options in the country, but with Rudd at the helm, two members going & the ACT labor party a bit of a shambles administratively, the temptation for federal intervention will be strong. Hopefully the rank and file will reject that and choose someone who they want to see around canberra for the next 20 years. The ACT offers enticingly safe seats for ALP members, but Canberran’s can be pretty parochial. We get abused by the rest of the country for “our” politicians despite being the least represented place in the country; so when we do get a choice, we demand a local background and commitment to the city. I’d really like to see Andrew Leigh get up (his blog is here), but Williams or Martin sound good choices.

Vale McMullan, & Ellis and let the games commence.