14 October 2012

How to hobble a high-profile candidate

* Update: this post has two new paragraphs: "Anderson did ... on principle".

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".

"He's a strong voice for all of the traditional Labor supporters out there ..."
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.

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.

“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 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.

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.
None of those people had entered Parliament at an impressionable age. They all knew how politics worked, but they refused to regard Howard's word as immutable and refused to regard themselves as less important than one of Mark Textor's focus groups or some 2GB transcripts. Younger members of the Howard government (e.g. Abbott, Julie Bishop, and given the overreach of staffers these days, Credlin too) seethed at these backbenchers calling the Prime Minister to account. Howard must have seethed too, but having come up through the old school he knew he actually had to persuade independently-minded Liberals rather than merely jerking their chains, like Abbott and Credlin do now.

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.


  1. Do Anderson's on-the-record rantings about the carbon tax being a fund-raiser for the United Nations and the New World Order (i.e. the JOOS!) to form a one world government play any part in the Coalition's calculations?

    1. There are sitting members who do all that and worse. There was a time when the Coalition was above that stuff but it has passed (or if it hasn't, they should have made it clear to Anderson the door was closed to him).

  2. "None of those people had entered Parliament at an impressionable age. "

    Could only make me think of Wyatt Roy.

  3. Andrew, First Dog, Mr D & a scant handful of others' posts each week provide more insight & analysis into OzPol than the entire print claque, the above being a prime example. Bravo

  4. Hear! Hear!

    Long may you prosper

  5. Seeing Angry's street cred is hugely bound up with his work for the under-priveleged and discarded, what in hell makes him think that the Coalition is the place to be? The term class traitor comes to mind, considering that the Libs/Nats do not give a rats ring for the people he deals with.......

  6. Sorry but I think your basic premise is spot on about parties and politics but we have been spared another working class Tory ( the worst type) even if for all the wrong reasons.
    Anderson is the type of 'rock'n'roller' who loved to make all sorts of references to the copious amounts of drugs he and the audience may have taken , while on stage but in private is a right wing enthusiast.

    The road between Anderson and Alan Jones is a short hop and you are spot on that he would have probably made a very good MP for the dark side.
    Good riddance I say.

  7. Another fine review Andrew.

    Yes, Angry does have guts and brains and stature in the community. What he does lack, however, is the decency to admit to when he has been wrong. Take his performance on Q&A as a prime example. He could have clearly denounced his former positions on asylum seekers, but instead he chose to toe the company line.

    BillPosters, Angry wasn't always a right wing enthusiast. One gets the sense that he chose the Nats because Labor wouldn't have touched him with a ten foot pole, and rightly so. If you listened to his confused and rather awkward interview with Jon Safran, you will hear him admit to having been a former Labor voter/supporter but now believes in the Nats because he has a distant and vague connection to farming communities.

    What a load of . He chose the Nats because it is politically expedient. He isn't "born to rule"-enough for the Libs, and the Nats will accept his borderline rhetoric more willingly than the other mainstream parties.

    Angry may have contributed a lot to helping the underprivileged. I haven't personally seen any evidence of that, but I am happy to trust those who know more than me on this subject. If, however, I were one of those underprivileged, I would feel completely disenfranchised with Angry's hypocritical choice of political persuasion.

    I'm not sure what pleases me the most. The thought that Angry's political career might never take flight. Or, the thought that given the state of the music industry in 2012, a hack like Angry would never garner a recording industry contract had he commenced his musical career in the digital age.

  8. So he is

    Bound for Glory....?

    An ex labour adviser mocked him endlessly for his AFL song and parade

    Sneering elitism at its best with that working class tag

    The ALP find him too bogan

    Says it all really

  9. Georgiou epitomised real class in parliament

    So many were sad to have seen him leave and be replaced with the brattish Frydenberg

    He had a Hellenic intellectual heart

  10. One of the best articles on Australian politics I have read.

  11. Chris Grealy15/10/12 6:56 am

    Can't agree with you that Angry would be a quality candidate. He really believes all that Tea Party nonsense; global warming as a global hoax, UN conspiracy, etc etc. I personally think his brains were scrambled by the sex, drugs, and rock n roll lifestyle. He'd be well out of his depth as an MP.

    1. I don't want him as my local MP either, my point was that major parties say they want high profile candidates, but they don't really. I agree he'd be out of his depth, bit the majors should have told him so unequivocally.

  12. Anderson has found it difficult to get a seat with the Liberals because he is working class, simple as that.
    Plus he has tattoos and isn't a woman under thirty.

  13. No, no, no, Andrew! When the Canberra press gallery talk about 'context', it means whatever they choose it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.

  14. So they really are our very own Tea Party?

  15. Martin Spalding15/10/12 9:36 am

    Yes, the key word in this piece is 'context'. Politicians need to have it and apply it to make good decisions (eg with candidates), and journos need to do likewise when reporting on political events (eg stuff in Parliament). This takes a bit of life experience, or at least the willingness to read widely & take the time before acting/writing. The beauty of social media is that if you don't apply context it will do so with a bang, within minutes.

    Speaking of parachuting candidates in, there is idle talk in SA (well News Ltd anyway, in a one-paper town) of Opposition Leader Isobel Redmond agreeing to step down if Alexander Downer steps up. All insider gossip of course, but if it does happen it will surely be a victory for those who have no sense of context or memory at all. Surely yesterday's man with far too much baggage! Andrew as an ex Lib I'd be keen to hear your take.

  16. Hey Andrew

    Would love to see you on The Drum??

    Brains and not bad looking either,any producers listening??

    A hot libretarian!!!

  17. Carl Katter joins the labour party in Fitzroy

    Selfish careerist number 201???



  18. Alex Greenwich has entered as an independent in Clovers old Sydney seat

    Massive support to him as a result of the backlash against O'Farrell

    Corporate activism as a gay lobbyist is how the next gen will enter politics

    Thoughts Andrew???


  19. A man with no platform or policies other than one he has no ability to enact. Proof that inner-Sydneyites have no more political sophistication than the outer suburbs they pour scorn on and that Clover Moore's (a better local MP than mayor, actually) legacy won't be her policies, but the creation of a cult of personality.

    Greenwich is pretty handsome but he'll do bugger all.