Peter Garrett, Maxine McKew now Nova Peris. Do celebs make good politicians?

Nova Peris playing hockey for Australia and yesterday, in Canberra.

So it seems that the next election will most likely see Australia’s first Indigenous woman enter the nation’s parliament.

The Prime Minister has announced that former Hockey-Roo, sprinter and Olympic gold medalist, Nova Peris will be the Labor Party’s number one candidate for the Senate in the Northern Territory.

The Prime Minister has said that “Nova’s selection is a matter of national significance”, pointing to the celebrity candidate’s work in health and education, as well as her achievements on the sporting field.

Peris said at a press conference yesterday, ” I stand here before you all today not only as an Australian but as a proud Aboriginal woman; proud of my heritage and culture. I certainly understand the significance of this opportunity and I am very honoured and humbled.”

But what would normally be cause for celebration, has been met by some predictable controversy in the media and amongst ALP members today.

They’re pissed because Nova Peris was not chosen by ordinary members of the Labor Party to contest the Senate spot. In fact, she’s not even a member of the Labor Party. Instead Peris was chosen by the Prime Minister and Labor’s Head Office (read: faceless men) and has been what is commonly referred to as ‘parachuted in’.

Or – as Tony Abbott might call it: queue jumping.

Who cares, right? Why shouldn’t the Prime Minister be able to pick who she wants in her own team? Celebrity or otherwise, so long as Peris is a strong candidate who will do a good job, why does it matter?

While most of us view the move as perfectly reasonable, some members of the Labor Party are already arking up and ‘unnamed’ Labor MPs are reportedly livid about the Prime Minister’s endorsement of Peris.

This is why:

Normally, candidates are chosen to stand for election by a vote of ALP members in a particular area. So ordinary residents of the Northern Territory who have joined the ALP get together before an election year and they vote for who in the local area would be the best person to stand for election

Senator Trish Crossin.

In this case, a woman called Trish Crossin has been selected via this process prior to every election since 1998. She’s well liked by local branch members and popular in the community.

The Prime Minister’s announcement means that Crossin will lose her job and that members won’t be given the opportunity to vote like they normally do.

Ordinary members of the ALP take their right to vote in this process (called ‘pre-selection’) very seriously. These people are staunch supporters of their party and having a say in who gets to run for the Labor Party in elections is something that they hold dear.


This announcement has come as a surprise to them and many members will be frustrated that they aren’t getting to have their say. Trish Crossin herself was apparently only told that Prime Minister Gillard would be supporting Peris, ‘days’ earlier.

This has led members of the party and the media to draw comparisons with the late night knifing of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

And while the two situations are very different – the picture being painted of Prime Minister Gillard as someone who does deals behind closed doors that see members of parliament lose their jobs – is one her office will be desperately trying to avoid.

Nova Peris, Julia Gillard, Peter Garrett, Maxine McKew.

Add to this, the fact that Crossin is a well-renowned Rudd supporter, there is also some speculation that the Prime Minister’s decision to back a different candidate is ‘revenge’. While the Prime Minister’s office will herald the pre-selection of Peris as a win for equality and an important recognition of the rights of indigenous Australians to be represented in parliament, others will point out that she has passed over other Indigenous candidates in the past, including Warren Mundine who was an early favourite for Senator Bob Carr’s Senate spot.

Overriding the normal pre-selection processes of the ALP and parachuting in a celebrity candidate is not new. Peter Garrett, Maxine McKew, Bob Carr and Mike Kelly are all members of the federal parliament who had significant public profiles before coming to office and didn’t have to go through the ordinary selection processes.

Celebrity candidates have had mixed success in the past. While Peter Garrett remains a high profile Minister in the Gillard Cabinet, he has attracted significant criticism over his handling of the pink bats insulation program that saw four people lose their lives. Maxine McKew was hailed as a ‘giant slayer’ following her win over Prime Minister John Howard in the Sydney seat of Bennalong but was firmly ousted in the 2010 election after being largely invisible for three years.

The endorsement of Peris comes at a time where support for Gillard’s Prime Ministership continues to be mixed within the ALP caucus and with only a couple of weeks to go before parliament returns, this could be an internal fight the Prime Minister can’t afford to have.

What do you think? Is Nova Peris – a 41 year old indigenous mother of three and grandmother of one – a good choice to run for the Senate?