Personally I don't really care who Labor pre-selects as their representative for the Northern Territory (NT).
The incumbent, Trish Crossin, is useless, has done little for the NT and will not be missed. I suppose under the Roxon legislation this comment would be actionable so I thought I had better say it before the censors arrive.
The saga unfolding over the NT Senate preselection is just the usual circus that is standard operating procedure within Labor. Labor's real problem is that union membership is continuing to fall and rank-and-file members are disenchanted because they don't get a say in the running of their party. It is a long-term problem that is of little interest to PM Gillard who can't see that trampling over the rights of party members clashes with the long-term necessity of democratising the party.
As matters stand Gillard may know reform is necessary but she will calculate that, at the worst, she will be just one of a number of Labor leaders not prepared to do anything for the party that got them into politics. Gillard obviously does not see that the likes of Mike Williamson, Craig Thomson and Eddie Obeid are beneficiaries of the factional system in NSW and that Labor will never purge itself of factional politics and its consequences unless the issue is tackled.
No wonder Labor insiders like John Faulkner and Steve Bracks sound more and more frustrated that party reform remains in the too-hard basket. It is a case of short-termism beats long-termism every time in the Gillard office. If Labor loses the forthcoming election due to a strong swing in western NSW then the Peris manoeuvre will be just another minor decision that backfired through Gillard's personal ambition and lack of judgement. Fortunately, in a rare display of public service, by their mere public presence, Mike Williamson, Craig Thomson, and Eddie Obeid will spend 2013 reminding the NSW electorate that factional power plays in NSW Labor are reason enough to scrap Labor and vote Liberal especially in Western Sydney.
PM Gillard's "captains pick" is just tokenism of the worst sort. Nova Peris might be a good MP but likewise she might be hopeless. Peris only joined the Labor Party because she wants to be an MP - but until now she never thought it was worth the trouble to commit to the party that she now wants to represent in the Parliament. It is also a bad sign that she has been so willing or so naive to be Gillard's instrument. She will never be seen as anything else other than Gillard's representative to the NT rather than being a representative for the NT in Canberra.
Let's face it; Julia Gillard only picked Nova Peris because Gillard thinks it makes Gillard look good.
It is no wonder that resentment in the NT is rising. The Australian reported yesterday (paywall) that:
Three Indigenous former Labor ministers or candidates have added their names alongside sitting Senator Trish Crossin after nearly a week of anger over the Prime Minister's decision to ignore process and the wishes of the Labor rank and file. Party sources predicted as many as a dozen could join the protest against Ms Gillard's decision to oust Senator Crossin in favour of Ms Peris…
The Gillard intervention demonstrates Gillard's contempt for the people of the NT and highlights that her judgement is very poor when she thinks she can get away with abandoning any commitment to the principle that the party organisation should decide who will represent their party. Gillard thinks a 'captain's pick' is ok but politics is not cricket. If she wants to pick a team then she should join a cricket club.
It is just the sort of ill-judged political behaviour that has characterised Julia Gillard in the last 12 months. We can expect more similar stunts up to the 2013 election.
Meanwhile the really important issues are swept aside.
The one to watch is economic policy. Gillard will do anything and say anything to remain in office.
Labor has abandoned its own promise to balance the books and Gillard will be sorely tempted to pursue some big spending initiatives to buy some votes. Many parts of the economy are weak and unemployment is rising. The usual suspects are concerned the economy is going backwards so they are paving the way for more pump priming with money we don't have (AFR January 25-28, 2013). Heather Ridout wants "a bit of active management", Bernie Fraser says "I believe that governments should spend as long as they spend sensibly and appropriately" (a big call for the masters of pink batts and the education revolution) and Bob Gregory justifies the spending when he says of the economy (paywall): "There's going to be a hole".
PS: I had been thinking that PM Gillard would pull the plug on Minister Roxon's nasty anti freedom of speech bill but I might be wrong. There is a parallel between the Roxon Bill and the ID (identity) card debate in the mid-1980s. Like the current controversy, opposition to the ID card crossed the usual political divides. I remember being on the same platform with Marxists, socialists and every other colour of the political rainbow but public opinion did not deter Labor's Bob Hawke. Labor stubbornly fought the case through a federal election but was finally stopped, not by an outraged public, but by the late Ewart Smith, a first-class lawyer formerly of the Commonwealth Attorney General's Department.
If Labor remains doggedly committed to the Roxon Bill then it will be interesting to see if some high profile Labor supporters, who have publicly warned about our loss of freedom of speech, will stick to Labor at the expense of our basic freedoms or back their concerns by voting for the Coalition.