Date: May 20 2012
LARRY Pickering, the beginning of an unbroken tradition of superb Canberra Times cartoonists, stood for the Liberals in Fraser when the old seat of the ACT was split in two in 1974. It was the silliest thing he ever did. After the inevitable crushing defeat, he said, ''You could put an ALP badge on a chimpanzee and the people of Canberra would vote for it.'' That's a reputation we could afford to lose.
Pickering's grimace and pain were rather like those of Andrew Leigh and Gai Brodtmann as they stand diligently doing ''noddies'' behind Julia Gillard when her PR advisers choose an ACT preschool or shopping centre as a backdrop for an announcement. No Labor leader has ever done contortions for them, or the people of the ACT, of the sort Gillard did in trashing Labor honour to save David Bradbury in Lindsay in 2010.
In 1974, Pickering's friends tried to explain to him the practical impossibility of his getting the swing of about 17 per cent he needed. Larry could not see it, or understand that world of difference between first preferences and two-party preferred votes. Kep Enderby had got only 52.1 per cent of the first preference ACT vote in 1972, he pointed out. If only three in every 100 changed their minds, a snack given his (Pickering's) winning personality, the seat would be his. Only 18 months later, however, in 1975, Enderby was to be turfed out, his 1974 TPP count of 58 per cent reduced to 49 per cent. From Canberra, it was both personal and business, from an electorate which thought Whitlam Labor had lost touch here as much as anywhere else.
John Haslem, the Liberal who slew Enderby, held Canberra through two elections, before Ros Kelly won the seat and returned it to a safe Labor seat. When she departed in a flounce in 1995, and Labor's reaction seen as proof of how it took the ACT for granted, there was a 16 per cent swing against it, and the Liberal Brendan Smyth saw out Kelly's term.
Any message about Labor not taking Canberra for granted, seems to have been forgotten by Gillard and Penny Wong. It is to ask what is the point of having Labor members whose advocacy can't stop the city being economically crucified. Likewise the point of having party loyalists loyally telling us what Labor policy is, rather than telling caucus what Canberra people think it should be. They are certainly not known as public champions of local Labor fetishes on refugee, Aboriginal, gay or human rights, the sort of thing that might inspire some passion to save them. If they have ever persuaded a minister to do other than what he or she pleased, no one in Canberra knows.
We would get far better treatment, from both sides, if our seats were knife-edged. At this stage of Labor's death throes, we might be better anticipating events by sending some champions into the Abbott camp. They could hardly be less effective in that government than our Labor ones have been.
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