One halal of an ex-senator
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One halal of an ex-senator

Sam Dastyari's anodyne memoir and TV show suggest he hasn't given up on a comeback.

I am often tempted to donate my copy of ex-senator Sam Dastyari's far too discreet 2017 memoir (titled One Halal of a Story) to my local book fair. A bland account written by someone who had to leave the Senate under pressure at the start of this year because of links to donors allegedly tied to the Chinese government must surely have passed its use-by date.

And yet I have kept my copy. Every so often, something happens to show that Dastyari is still connected to powerful right-wing Labor Party figures. His memoir is still a good reference source for tracing such connections.

A good instance of what I mean is when Kaila Murnain, secretary of the NSW state branch of the ALP, some time ago told Sky News that Dastyari should "continue to play a role" in the branch's affairs. "Sam," Murnain said, "if you're watching, we do want you back."

In his memoir, Dastyari is just as gushing about Murnain. The memoir features pen portraits of a few of his notable Labor heroes, including Murnain. She is, Dastyari says, "the one to watch". If the NSW ALP, Dastyari, adds, "were the mafia, which it far too often feels like it is, tomorrow Kaila would be elected to the position of boss of the family".

This thought came to him on the night before a NSW state party conference, when the two of them met at the Sydney Town Hall for a last-minute squiz at the conference venue. On the following day, delegates ratified her appointment as branch secretary.

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Murnain and Dastyari are ready to big-note each other, as befits two people who have adorned the same factional totem pole. Their personal connections are valuable assets.

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Indeed, the standout message from Dastyari's 2017 memoir has to do with the importance of family ties and other close bonds. He came to Australia from Iran in 1988 under a family migration visa. In time, his father's two brothers and two sisters all fetched up in NSW.

A work ethic and solidarity paid off in the new land. The extended Dastyari family ended up running a network of small businesses. For younger family members, this was excellent preparation for taking part in the wider labour market. Family support also helped Dastyari become a home owner.

Family ties are important for Dastyari in a directly political way. His father-in-law, to whom he was speaking twice a day in 2017, turns out to be the legendary Labor insider Peter Barron. Dastyari reveres Barron as the one-time "fixer" for Bob Hawke and Neville Wran. His father-in-law is, in addition, an old friend of Graham Richardson.

The memoir also documents Barron’s contacts with another of Dastyari's heroes, Bill Shorten (aka "the one who will be king"). Barron travelled with Shorten during most of the last federal election campaign.

By then, Dastyari had got into federal parliament without ever needing to first face actual voters. On August 21, 2013, while the voting public's attention was fixed on an impending federal election, a boutique sitting of the NSW state parliament rubber-stamped his appointment to a conveniently vacated seat in the Senate.

AFter Labor's 2013 election defeat, Dastyari ran Shorten’s successful campaign to become party leader. Such an achievement will stand him in good stead should Shorten win the next federal election, whenever it is held.

Having more free time on his hands after his political career first went into a spin at the end of 2016 meant that Dastyari was able to cobble together One Halal of a Story. During the past winter months, he sought to nail down a new gig as a commercial media presenter. Sadly, the ratings for the pilot of a talk show called Disgrace proved disappointing. As with his memoir, the show was simply too anodyne.

There are reports, though, that the ratings rebuff failed to daunt Dastyari. He immediately kicked off a social-media blitz, which involved getting in touch with numerous Labor contacts from Shorten down, to create the impression that there is momentum behind his show.

Whatever happens to Disgrace, Dastyari still has a future, if not as an parliamentarian then clearly as a lobbyist. His political ties remain in place, ready to be reactivated for any number of purposes.

Connectedness is still there. While this is so, Dastyari's memoir remains on my bookshelves, ready to be plumbed for context whenever there is a new twist in his association with Shorten and power plays in the ALP.

Stephen Holt is a Canberra writer. sjholt@fastmail.fm

One Halal of a Story, by Sam Dastyari, is published by Melbourne University Press (July 2017).