NSW Labor’s girl goes to Canberra

28 January 2018

 

Frequently politicians walk away from their parliamentary careers with little warning beforehand.  These departures can follow scandals or dramas of other kinds.  At times, they walk away once something controversial happens, though often they walk away reluctantly because coverage of any controversy involving them simply won’t die down while they’re still around.

In Australia there’s been an instance of a Federal MP from New South Wales suddenly calling it quits, and the former MP’s seat goes to a person who’s previously served as Premier of New South Wales.

You’re probably thinking that I’m describing the recent resignation of the controversial Sam Dastyari, to make way for Kristina Keneally, a Federal by-election candidate from last year who was NSW Premier for a few years previously – but you’re wrong!

This description applies to when Mark Arbib suddenly quit the Senate in 2012, and his old seat went to Bob Carr, who’s served as NSW Premier longer than anyone else.

Formerly a powerful figure behind the scenes in the Labor Party in NSW, serving for years as NSW Labor secretary, Arbib was elected to the Senate in 2007, with his term scheduled to end in 2014.  But in early 2012, in the aftermath of Prime Minister Julia Gillard surviving a leadership challenge from Kevin Rudd, Arbib suddenly announced his resignation from the Senate.  He’d long been perceived as a “machine man”, or just someone who counted numbers among MPs or people behind the scenes for the purpose of internal power, and indeed he’d been involved in leadership rumbling within Labor over recent years – which really annoyed him.  So he walked away.

The challenge to Gillard from Rudd, who was then Foreign Minister and had previously been PM himself until a sudden leadership coup in favour of Gillard in 2010, also saw Rudd resign from his ministerial posting.  Gillard now needed a new person for Foreign Minister, and one of her existing ministers would’ve almost certainly been good enough for the role.  However, with both a vacancy in that role of Foreign Minister and a vacant seat in the Senate, the latter of which could be filled quickly with Labor simply choosing someone within its ranks to fill it, in came Carr.

This was arguably what Carr had long sought.  Back in 1988, after Labor had been voted out of office at an election in NSW, Carr had been made Labor leader there, even though he apparently hadn’t been keen.  Labor’s machine men saw him as the most credible person as leader after that election loss.  Carr had really hoped to go to Canberra and serve as Foreign Minister, but even when a Federal seat in Sydney became vacant within the following year or so, it went to one of his former colleagues, Laurie Brereton.

Despite being a reluctant leader, Carr ended up taking Labor to an election win in NSW in March 1995, and would go on to serve as Premier for ten years, before he suddenly called it quits in the middle of 2005.  When he left, there was talk that he might consider going into Federal Parliament, but he wouldn’t commit to that.  At the time, I considered that a possibility, given what politics could throw up.

Seven years after quitting NSW politics, Carr entered the Senate and landed the job of Foreign Minister – achieving what he’d long sought.  But Labor arguably imploded in NSW after he left.  And it was Keneally who ended up as Premier shortly before Labor suffered a massive election loss in 2011.  She quit NSW politics after that.

Now, several years after ex-Premier Carr replaced Arbib in the Senate, history looks like repeating, with ex-Premier Keneally almost assured of replacing Dastyari in the Senate, and it’s worth noting that Dastyari was also formerly NSW Labor secretary, like Arbib.

Of course, it’s not beyond question that Keneally will replace Dastyari, but it looks very likely.  This is especially as Dastyari announced his resignation just days before Keneally faced a by-election test.  Something of a shock choice as Labor candidate for a by-election for a fairly safe Coalition seat in Sydney’s north, she wasn’t really thought likely to win that by-election, but invariably the departure of Dastyari meant that Keneally could end up in Canberra anyway.

Keneally then lost the by-election, and wouldn’t rule out going to the Senate.  But I think that, while there was a fair swing to Labor in the by-election, it would’ve been smaller without Keneally, who’s considered quite popular with voters despite her poor record.

Now, long perceived as NSW Labor’s girl because of massive support for her within the Labor ranks, she looks Canberra-bound.  This is especially after she’d been left holding something of a poisoned chalice in leading a decrepit Labor to an election in NSW which it couldn’t ever win.

This might be premature to predict, but not that much time will pass before Keneally goes to Canberra, in a move typical of what can happen when politicians suddenly depart the scene.

 

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