News

Analysis: This week has shown us politics is a blood sport

To retain respect for our lawmakers, it's perhaps best, like Otto von Bismarck's famous sausages, that you don't look too closely at how they get their job.

It's ghastly and stomach-churning: dirty deals done, favours traded with frenemies, numbers nurtured and stacked.

Rarely is it blood-free. And when it appears to be, it's because the fix is in, thanks to other people having done the knife work.

That's the nature of politics. It's a blood sport.

No MP gets where he or she is without someone getting hurt. Look carefully beneath a leader and you'll see the floor's strewn with victims.

Take Malcolm Turnbull. He's the member for the blue ribbon Sydney seat of Wentworth because he tore down the incumbent Peter King in a bitter and vicious scrap, in the same way Mr King took down the man before him, Andrew Thomson.

"F*** off and get out of my way," Mr Turnbull reportedly told Mr King in 2003, reflecting the ruthlessness he later employed usurping Brendan Nelson as Liberal leader five years later and then in snatching the prime ministership from Tony Abbott in 2015.

Those in the Liberal Party who expect Mr Turnbull to help save the political careers of people like Ann Sudmalis should remember this.

He'll do what he can by way of influence on a fragmented party structure, but there's only so much he can do — even as Prime Minister — given how jealously every state division guards its preselection processes.

Instinctively, the PM might prefer some of his colleagues were simply more like him: the predator.

But it's not just the Liberals

It's the same in the Labor Party. Bill Shorten, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard only got to the top by seeing someone off in a box, even though one of them managed to escape his crypt to stage an unlikely resurrection.

The Killing Season, when leaders become unstuck, only echoes the competition seen at lower levels.

That's what preselection fights are all about. They're mini-rehearsals for the big show.

Oftentimes it's about sheer ambition. Sometimes it's about personalities — and not always the candidates'.

In the Liberal division of Hughes, for example, the sitting member Craig Kelly is staring at a possible three-way challenge.

It turns out that one of the aggravations in Hughes is the man Mr Kelly employs as adviser, Frank Zumbo.

Mr Zumbo, a former academic, has put a few offside within the party.

One Liberal said that criticism of Mr Zumbo's alleged influence over Mr Kelly culminated in the MP's photo on Wikipedia being replaced by one of his adviser.

A screenshot of a mobile screen shows Google search results for "Craig Kelly".

It's within this environment there's talk of a challenge. The Liberal Party's NSW vice president Kent Johns, former Liverpool mayor Ned Mannoun and Michael Medway are being mentioned in despatches.

The preselection process is messy. And in the Liberal Party, which prides itself on its openness, the messiness is more public than in the Labor Party, where factional systems leave much of the sausage-making behind closed doors.

Those same systems have been used inside the ALP to forge ever-higher representation for women among its candidates.

For the Liberals, female candidates have to operate within the brutish law of the political jungle that has served men so well for decades.

As female Liberal parliamentarians will privately tell you, mediocrity is no impediment to their male colleagues if they can master that brutish law, especially when there isn't a central mechanism to encourage a bigger number of women, unlike the ALP.

Yet one male old-timer Liberal operative says the "PC brigade" is at it again. The fact is, he says, "politics isn't for sooks; it's a competitive arena and so it should be".

"A seat isn't for life, and whether you're Jane Prentice or Ann Sudmalis, you have to put a lot of time into making sure with your selectors that you're safe," he says.

The reality is that for the Liberal Party to remain electorally healthy, a mechanism will have to be found to get more women into Parliament.

Acknowledging this need at the grassroots level, where preselections are decided, would be the first step.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *