Major parties talk about recruiting high-profile candidates to run for Parliament, people with community-building and media-relationship skills already developed and no toxic history of intra-party warfare, so that the parties don't have to carry their candidate base and can devote more time to fundraising or campaigning.
For all their talk, major parties really don't want high-profile candidates. They want candidates who would be nothing without them, who fear losing whatever the party may deign to grant them. This used to be a Labor preference, avoiding high-profile and personally secure candidates who might become tempted to buck the party line and 'rat', but now the Liberals and Nationals have adopted the same approach. In the process they haven't really thought about what they want from high-profile candidates. They continue to court them, but they just can't use them effectively, which makes both the suitor and the wooed look more than a little silly.
A recent case in point is Mr Gary 'Angry' Anderson.
Anderson grew up in Melbourne's tougher low-income industrial suburbs. He became famous as lead singer of Rose Tattoo, fine purveyors of four-on-the-floor Aussie rock in the 1970s and '80s like this. More substantially, Anderson works with young people from difficult family and personal circumstances; Rose Tattoo's gritty, grinding rock gave him credibility in dealing with kids from similar backgrounds to his own. This is hard work requiring full engagement of brains and hearts and guts, often confronting, an underappreciated branch of the emergency services that operates in slow motion. Anderson deserves a lot of respect for his years of work in this area.
In the course of this work Anderson decided to become a conservative politician. He didn't announce this on national TV or start pontificating about it, he subtly met with party officials and asked how he might become involved. Anderson's interest coincided with the similarly unusual career shift of Peter Garrett, where he only made his announcement once a seat had been lined up for him. When Anderson showed his hand, he got only platitudes and vague talk of a seat somewhere:
The director of the NSW Nationals, Ben Franklin, says Anderson is "an icon of the Australian music industry and has an outstanding record as a community activist".So, not a good Nationals candidate then, which may explain why Franklin was happy to sell Anderson out. He got a good deal overall for the Nationals because he was dealing with Liberals who wouldn't fight their corner, apparently, even though anything that upsets Alby Schultz has that to commend it alone. The Liberals got the Nationals to agree to not run Anderson in Gilmore, and they won't. They didn't rush to find him another seat either.
"He's a strong voice for all of the traditional Labor supporters out there ..."
The geniuses who caved to the Nationals took Anderson in but look just as bad with this. All the mouth-breathers who think that the polls somehow reflect what will happen ten months hence would regard Greenway as pretty much a lock for the Coalition, and must wonder why Rowlands would even bother fighting the inevitable. It is, however, the very sort of seat where a hard-working and entrenched incumbent, backed by a Prime Minister who is more popular than Liberals can bear to allow, will finish ahead of an interloper who lacks hands-on political experience.
A close reading of that article will show that Anderson hasn't even been formally endorsed. Christianists like David Clarke kyboshed a candidate in 2010 who would have made Rowlands' task (and by extension, Gillard's) even harder than it was. Anderson has spent his life laughing at those sorts of people, but it is the Christianists who will blanch and gasp and carry on when the lyrics of Bad Boy For Love or Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw are thrust under their noses.
“When I spoke to the Liberals Greenway was suggested. The powerful men suggested it would be a good fit,” he said.Anderson didn't want to rustle any feathers, he did what party insiders would hope aspiring candidates would do. They have rewarded him with a kite-flying exercise: Anderson is a bit rough around the edges, and so are many people in Blacktown, so why not run him there? Clarke was happy with Diaz, who came so close, and is a local ... don't you worry about Tony, whoever the Christianists run will be fine by Tony.
“I am very confident I could do a great job for the people of Greenway,” he said.
“I represent people who have struggled all their lives.”
Sources close to Tony Abbott, who is a neighbour and friend of Mr Anderson, said the Opposition Leader was seriously considering backing Mr Anderson as a way of breaking a deadlock in the seat.
Mr Abbott is understood to be unhappy with the frontrunner in the pre-selection ballot, Blacktown lawyer Jayme Diaz, 36, who contested the seat in 2010 ...
Anderson should have run in one of the communities in western Sydney where he helped so many young people (and had he not done so, the communities where their anti-social tendencies would have been felt most directly). He should have run for state politics, where the issues he cares about are actually delivered. He could have helped Mike Baird and Pru Goward understand the false economies of cutting social services - or even the big-picture opportunities open to a longterm government, where increased social spending could have reduced out-of-control expenditure on prisons over time. Oh well, too late for that. He would have been a lot better than the local government worthies occupying those seats now.
Back in January, Anderson declared that he wouldn't be hobbled. Now it's October and he has been hobbled, not through direct confrontation but by being stuffed about. The Nationals hobbled him by suggesting he run anywhere from the north coast to the south coast so long as there was bugger-all chance of him winning. The Liberals hobbled him by kite-flying, he might be a useful candidate somewhere or other in the western suburbs, but no promises or commitments.
Anderson did participate in the protests against the carbon price which led to all sorts of nasty misogyny, conspiracy theories, racism and goodness-knows-what oozing out. All Liberals and Nationals have to spout absolute crap on carbon pricing for the sake of party unity, and Anderson thought he was helping. He even lent support to some of that in the past. There was a time when major parties would have taken a firm line against such views as having no place in Australian society, but that has gone now. The reason why Ben Franklin did not tell Anderson unequivocally that he could not hold to extreme views on race and other issues is because there is no line in the sand - Barnaby Joyce regularly flirts with CEC types in his jaunts around rural Queensland, and the protected species Dennis Jensen regularly airs a range of appalling opinions on how the world works.
Sir John Carrick would not have messed about with Anderson. Sir John McEwen weeded out candidates who wanted to perpetuate the war against Japan long after it was over, and who thought that anti-Communism meant not selling wheat to the Soviet Union. The Liberals and Nationals should have forced Anderson to recant or bid him good riddance - they've done neither, so I hope they don't want credit for taking a strong stand on principle.
The proof that the Coalition can't tolerate candidates who are secure in themselves was demonstrated clearly under the Howard government:
- Russell Broadbent had made a comfortable life selling furniture in Melbourne's fast-growing southeastern suburbs.
- Judi Moylan sold real estate in WA.
- Dr Mal Washer was an esteemed medical practitioner in Perth.
- Petro Georgiou had been a senior advisor to Malcolm Fraser when Howard was a backbencher.
Anderson would be an independently-minded MP too. He'd toe the line for a while, just like Garrett did, especially on issues like asylum-seekers (where Anderson is less convinced than Broadbent et al). The difference is that Garrett wasn't working with the ninnies that Coalition MPs not only sit along side but are led by. Peta Credlin would not tolerate him for a second - these are people who don't have a lot of Rosey Tatts albums or gig-ticket stubs, but who can find stuff like this in a Google search.
Anderson put his political fate in the hands of those who wouldn't stand and fight him, but who'd happily stuff him around until he gave up or his credibility was shot, which is what has happened. This doesn't make him a patsy - far from it, he went to the parties' great-and-good in good faith, he had much to offer them and they let him down. Say what you will about Angry Anderson, but he's got guts and brains and stature in the community. These are qualities that are not assets but inconveniences and impertinences to those who run the Coalition, however much they pretend (or, sadly, even believe) otherwise.
And that, my friends, is what 'context' means when we report on political stories. We piece together known facts and draw upon our experience of politics in order to tell a story. We do not dare bluff to our readers that someone who set up some narrowly-defined, low-stakes and sordid feint in parliamentary theatre is somehow a true winner, while his opponent who overwhelmed him at the time and since has won nothing. Nor do we insist that those contending otherwise have no right to construct a Narrative which we have not fed them.
Journalists titter and sneer at those who complain at being taken "out of context", yet they seem put out when they try it on and get the same response. This blog has outlasted several press gallery journos and will be going long after others who fancy themselves as big names have had the last of their credibility shredded, too.