Abbott, Mao and Senate pre-selections

Opinion 2

Fearless, ruthless, and ultimately victorious! Tony Abbott as Opposition Leader and Mao Zedong as the guerrilla commander. In Mao’s case, luck played a critical part.

At any rate, when their roles reversed with the burden of victory, their leadership floundered.

Over 30 years Mao gave “his people” famine in the Great Leap Forward, the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution and the liquidation of all dissenters.

The task of “reconstruction after the war” has often found the ‘resistance-fighter-turned-peace-time-leader’ wanting. Tony Abbott seems to fit that scenario, so far.


Senator Joe Ludwig is stepping down to give way to the ‘next generation of Labor warriors’. This is an unheard of sacrifice, as he loves being in the Senate. Though relatively young, but unlike Trish Crossin, he reckons he’s had ‘a good go’. What a splendid example.

Warriors? Hmm…

Joe wants Party members to have a say in selecting his successor. He voted for the 50/50 leadership option at the last State Conference.

This is a remarkable moment; first John Faulkner, now Joe Ludwig, each giving way for the sake of reforming and renewing a Party that many in the Caucus seriously thought was critically afflicted before Rudd’s ‘second coming’.

The Senate is a house of review for government legislation. It should be imbued with senators with superior intellect, high educational attainment, successful careers in the real economy, exposure to a diversity of life in society, and above all personal commitment to finding ways to achieve what is enduringly good for our society, without constantly flashing their guerrilla muscularity.

We insist on the highest standards for the selection of people who train to become health professionals to look after the wellbeing of our bodies. Why then, do we not demand the same standards for the selection of senate candidates to engineer the wellbeing of our society?

More than one or two Labor Senators in recent times have been embarrassing misfits or a downright disgrace. Their pre-selection had amounted to a division of spoils amongst warriors anointed by factional bosses.

Can we not do better?

Warriors are prone to single-mindedness. They may be seasoned guerrilla fighters – destroyed the enemies at every turn, and claimed electoral victories, even if voters had simply wanted the government out. But they are often not equipped, temperamentally or experientially, to become parliamentary custodians whose primary role is to craft the wellbeing of our society. To build rather than to tear down.

Tony Abbott’s first year as PM comes to mind: always looking for a “kill”, if not in Australia, then abroad.


Bill Shorten should decree a good number of endorsed candidates from outside our party/union nurseries for the upcoming elections. Precedents for such brave leadership interventions abound. Gough, Hayden, Hawke, Gillard, and Rudd, in different ways. And Annastacia is insisting on merit-based selection for ministerial staffers! What an inspiring leader at this critical time.

But let me be frank about unions. Without unions we would be facing modern slavery, poco a poco. The millions from The Philippines, Indonesia and Nepal who got brokered into work in the Middle East and in capitalist Asia are witnesses to modern slavery.

The ALP was the political arm of the unions. We formed the first labour government in the world! But that was a very long time ago. The social conditions have changed, drastically, irreversibly. Only 52% of union members voted for the ALP in the 2004 Federal elections. And only 16% of the work force now holds union membership. Yet union executives and union-incubated warriors still dominate the ALP – in the Lower House, virtually in the entire Senate, and in the administrative organ of the Party. In this respect, the ALP has become akin to the Murdoch Empire, with key positions occupied by heirs, trusted acolytes, and warriors seasoned at winning the “game” at hand.

Are we being faithful to our social democratic manifesto? Will we convince the voter, the “undecided” voter, that we are “worth electing”?

Let us exercise our minds, vigorously, when we choose our next generation of MPs. Beware the alluring strains of our “Red Guards” though. They are in it to win.

Chek Ling

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