Peris v Crossin is a story about indigenous representation, gender politics and preselection rules.
Ultimately, it is about winning government.
This is Labor’s realpolitik moment. In an electorate like the Northern Territory, when a party is down to the wire, a female candidate trumps a bloke, but a black woman trumps a white woman.
By invoking her “captain’s pick”, Julia Gillard has again shown she is prepared to kick arse all the way to the next election.
PM Julia Gillard announces Nova Peris’ candidacy for the Northern Territory senate. Phot via news.com.au.
No one doubts it is high time Australia had a female indigenous representative in the Parliament. But was this the brutal political execution Senator Trish Crossin deserved?
Less than 24 hours before an announcement, a long time female senator was told, sorry love, don’t bother coming to the next election campaign. You don’t have a place on the red leather benches.
A brief recap on the game.
Nova Peris is a 41 year-old mother of three and grandmother of one and not yet a member of the Labor Party. She has won Olympic gold medals in hockey before switching to running, where she became a double gold medalist at the Commonwealth games.
Although she expressed interest in politics more than a decade ago, a combination of young children and sage advice “to do something first” from the grand dame of Aboriginal advocacy Lowitja O’Donoghue convinced her to cool her heels.
Senator Trish Crossin, 56 (pictured right), has not been idle either. She was a teacher and union representative before Parliament.
She is the national co-convenor of Emily’s List, ironically the Labor organisation designed to get more women into Parliament. And she is about to chair the first Melbourne session of the Senate hearing into the government’s new anti-discrimination laws.
In making her choice, the Prime Minister has directed the Labor Party’s national executive to override the normal local preselection process and parachute Peris in.
This has left much of the NT Labor Party rank and file highly pissed off, though Peris has garnered support from senior national indigenous leaders, such as Marcia Langton and Warren Mundine.
Further complicating matters, though Peris is replacing the white candidate, there was an indigenous woman waiting to challenge anyway.
Marion Scrymgour, a former NT deputy chief minister, had previously resigned from the Labor Party to sit as an independent and then retired from territory politics. She decided to throw her hat in but Gillard rang her to tell her she did not get the nod.
Throughout her political career Scrymgour has called a spade a bloody shovel. She said it was about picking someone who was not going to rock the boat but ALP sources said Scrymgour did not have the numbers anyway.
Senator Doug Cameron, the wise old uncle of the Labor Party and increasingly its conscience, said the party’s foundations needed fixing to ensure indigenous representation was right rather than a short term fix of parachuting people in.
In their joint press conference on Tuesday, Gillard was defiant and Peris was emotional, nervous and humble.
”I’ve entered into my 40s a lot wiser,” she told The Age. ”Quite often in Aboriginal affairs, you speak from the heart and not the head, but I’ve learnt that, this time around, you’ve got to speak from the head first and then the heart.”
And that is exactly what the PM did. This was a decision of the head and not the heart.
Of course, there is no guarantee a celebrity candidate will adjust. Witness Peter Garrett’s difficult transition. Public life, not to mention the machinations of the Labor tribe, require emotional stamina far sturdier than the most rigorous Olympic training regime.
But a political leader’s job is to ensure her team has the best chance of winning. If Peris gives Labor a better chance of winning in the Territory, Gillard had no choice.
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*Gabrielle Chan is The Hoopla’s political correspondent. She is a journalist and author with more than 25 years experience, having worked most recently as a regular columnist with The Australian. She has previously worked for The Daily Telegraph, the ABC and the South China Morning Post. Gabrielle has written and edited Flickers of History, War On Our Doorstep and FEAST and is a member of the NSW Anzac Advisory Council. She blogs at www.gabriellechan.com and you can follow her on Twitter: @gabriellechan.