Back in March, Anthony Albanese was the business. He loudly and proudly supported women as they marched for justice. He called out the Prime Minister for his tin ear - "not so much a tin ear as a wall of concrete" - and for ignoring the clear calls made by the rallies.
"[Women] are crying out that this is a moment that requires leadership," Albanese said. "It requires leadership from this Prime Minister, and we are not getting it."
Look who's talking.
This week it became clear that Albanese is presiding over parachute politics. The preselection situation in the seat of Hunter, held by the retiring MP Joel Fitzgibbon, requires leadership - yet the Opposition Leader is not showing any. It was bad enough that in Fowler he replaced a terrific local candidate, lawyer Tu Le, with an effective national campaigner (although in this case he had good reasons to protect Kristina Keneally).
But the decision in Hunter, where head office has chosen to install an outsider, makes no sense - unless the only choice was to make Fitzgibbon happy.
Where once we had neolithic Fitzgibbon, whose views and values are more industrial revolution than industrial evolution, now we have a non-Labor Labor candidate, Daniel Repacholi, being parachuted into the safe seat. When I say non-Labor, I mean he joined the party about six minutes ago. Main claim to fame? He's an Olympic shooter (though not a particularly successful one - although he did have success at the Commonwealth Games, where there isn't as much competition).
Never mind his sporting accomplishments, though - it's his social media profile that has made women and decent men want to puke. [He's deleted most of it now, but some very angry Hunter locals did a great job of collecting screenshots before the bozos of Labor's national executive remembered to delete-wash his account, which seemed to show him to be a fan of pictures of women posing with assault weapons, for example. And if you don't think that kind of thing is important, maybe the fact he is a coal evangelist might get you rethinking your position.]
What is Anthony Albanese thinking? Why would you go for someone like that? Why wouldn't you pick the real deals of the local branch, of which there were quite a few?
Absolutely no bloody wonder the real deals are fighting back. Emily Suvaal, a perfect local candidate, is planning to nominate anyway. A local mother of two (fight me), union organiser (for the glorious midwives and nurses), and married to the deputy mayor who grew up locally, she told the branch of her intentions months ago.
Let the national executive do its worst, as it overlooks a woman with impeccable credentials in exchange for a blow-in whose sole claim to fame is his support of the mining industry. Locals say Hunter has as many nurses and teachers as it does miners, and Labor needs to do more to court those voters instead of pandering to Big Mining. Health care and social assistance workers make up the largest industry in the economy and 76 per cent are women, says Alison Pennington, senior economist at the Centre for Future Work.
As well as nurse-unionist-woman Suvaal, we have the very local Daniel Wallace, former secretary of Hunter Workers, who says he will stand in the election as an independent unless a rank-and-file ballot is held. As he should. Another local, former Cessnock councillor Morgan Campbell, told The Guardian's Sarah Martin that he is also nominating: "If that means burning $750, it's a small price to pay to support democracy in our party, and to put myself forward as a local, and a long-time Labor member, who can represent the whole electorate and fight for the things we desperately need."
As I understand it, if you stand as an independent, you get tossed out of the Labor Party. Imagine taking that risk, even though you've dedicated your life to the party. These three local candidates have spent so much time being dedicated, doing the hard grunt of local politics. Captain's picks are the worst.
As Emily Suvaal says, it's been a long time since she's been on the singles scene but it reminds her of being strung along: "You just feel so stupid. Why did I put myself out there in the first place?"
She says the process for preselection is largely stitched up, and no one senior in the party will step out of line with Albanese's decision. Jay Suvaal, Emily's husband, used to work for Joel Fitzgibbon. Hear that? He used to work for Joel. They were mates. How could you possibly do this to a mate?
"People in my branch are obviously very annoyed," Emily says.
"They have been overlooked. One's been a member for 56 years and wanted to have a say. As he said: 'What is the point in being a party member if I don't get a say in who my local member is?'"
The decision to bungee in the shooter is causing rifts in the party. One woman, part of a large group of ex-Labor staffers, says women in particular are furious.
"How could you spend so much political capital on someone like this, with no political experience? We know men like that, and we know what they do once they get into Parliament House and other workplaces. Labor is only for women when it's politically expedient."
As she points out, Hunter is no longer a bunch of homogenous miners. Where once coal was king, there can be no question mining is now in decline. What is the point of a toddler having a tantrum at those who oppose coal mining, who wants them to "sit in the dark and freeze" next winter, instead of someone who understands the changing needs of Australia? Nurses make up a far bigger proportion of the population.
There is one other thing. The installation of captain's picks has a direct impact on political party branches. I spoke to an old-time Labor member whose branch was affected this way: "We lost a lot of members, there was a lot of anxiety and the seat was lost after one term. There is a lot of healing to do when you take that step in branches: regaining trust and confidence, making people feel like they are part of a broader movement."
The Labor Party needs all hands on deck if it plans to win the next election. It needs to embrace its movementness, but it's doing the opposite. I'm no pollster, no insider, but I have no confidence Labor is on the right path.
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.