Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s intervention to disenfranchise the Northern Territory Labor Party by preselecting former athlete Nova Peris ahead of sitting Senator Trish Crossin will probably not hurt the ALP’s election chances, but may have expended political capital for no immediately apparent reason.
It may be that most voters will not remember that Gillard intervened in local branch affairs, effectively acting as a dictator in what should be a locally determined preselection. It’s like a CEO walking into a meeting of one of his divisions, and vetoing his line management. Not a sign of respect or confidence. In politics, not a sign of democratic practice either.
Crossin is described as a ‘veteran’ Senator, possibly implying she is dead weight, achieving too little for the party, even if no one criticises her record as an advocate for Aborigines. Her major sin, however, appears to have been backing former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his ill-fated February 2012 leadership challenge.
Nova Peris is an entirely unknown quantity, but with significant symbolic capital. Some might argue she is a poster child for tokenism: a black woman from the Territory, with an admirable athletic career behind her. Sportswoman, Aboriginal icon. Almost a cliché. What her credentials as a politician are remains to be seen, but that is the case with all politicians at some stage.
Nor is it unheard of to smooth the ways for the quick elevation of outsiders or newcomers. For example, former NSW Premier Bob Carr was shuffled into a senate seat quite swiftly in 2012, probably against some behind-the-scenes opposition. He was, however, a proven quantity. It was a smart move.
In the grand scheme of national electoral politics, the NT doesn’t really matter to either party, though they would hardly turn down any opportunity to work things to their advantage.
The most significant aspect of the intervention is Gillard’s visibility as having done so. Messing with the NT branch of the party is hardly as significant as trying this on in NSW or Victoria, but could it be just the first of several such interventions ahead of the coming election?
If that were the case, this would be a long absent sign of Gillard asserting her authority in the party. That, in itself, could work to Gillard’s distinct advantage at a time in which her opponent, Tony Abbott, also seems more tolerated by his colleagues than in charge.