Phil Coorey put the cat among the pigeons when he broke the interesting story this morning about Amanda Lampe, the former Gillard Chief of Staff, emerging as the next ALP National Secretary. A prestigious job that is regarded as being particularly tricky at the best of times, without looming Lefty demands for â€œreformsâ€ championed by John Faulkner who wants to seize an historic opportunity to shaft his old foes in the NSW Right when they are at their weakest and the next federal election described politely as â€œchallengingâ€ even assuming the formidable conservative Liberal leader Tony Abbott is necked by the majority moderate forces and replaced by Joe Hockey, Julie Bishop or even a revived Malcolm Turnbull.
STRANGE DAYS INDEED
The Lampe story followed a day of high drama in National ALP circles as Queensland State Secretary Anthony Chisholm suddenly withdrew his name from consideration for reasons that seemed to primarily relate to the job being based in Canberra. What is it about boring company towns with nothing-to-do that alienate potential newcomers and their spouses?
Anyway, few could blame Chisholm at a personal level even though politically heâ€™s managed to annoy some non-Queenslanders in the National Right caucus and the PMO who were willing to back him in and had publicly done so. Some were puzzled by an article that appeared in The Australian yesterday where he seemed to be planning on running the National Secretariat from Brisbane, while simultaneously running the Anna Blighâ€™s state campaign.Â Weâ€™ve lived in Queensland before and entirely understand those who donâ€™t wish to depart. Godâ€™s own country. Others thought it all a bit indulgent.
Meanwhile, in response to this vacuum created by Chisholm, the Prime Ministerâ€™s Office were putting up names left, right and centre before apparently settling on Amanda Lampe, who had given up the COS job to the well-regarded Ben Hubbard who along with the arrival of battle-tested Greens-busters from Victoria is already putting a bit of stick about including barbs aimed at the dominant Zimmer-frame faction of the Greens party, in the form of old man Bob Brown and his nasty old sister-comrade Senator Lee Rhiannon. Like good atheists, they have nothing to which they can look forward.
Lampe isnâ€™t especially well-known in ALP moderate circles despite her previous high office at the PMO and history with NSW Right ministers for whom she was a long-time staffer. We suspect her absence of much active involvement in the party will count against her. Itâ€™s a valid criticism. Running the party is not for enthusiastic amateurs and know-all staffers in sharp suits. Lampe isnâ€™t either but nor is she active within the ALP, that we are aware. Some say she doesnâ€™t even want the job, with two new kids to supervise.
PATH TO HELL PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS
Far from being a hostile or ill-intentioned or factionally motivated scheme, those in the PMâ€™s office talking her up have been trying to rescue the National Executive from the situation of not having a candidate. But not everyone has been pleased with the intervention, pointing to Victoria and WA as an example of what can go wrong when the party leader meddles too much in the composition of party administration at Head Office. Even with the best of intentions and personnel, this is seen not to work out very well, as a general rule.
The dominant view among many senior ALP figures is there needs to be some creative tension between the Leaderâ€™s office (who exist to promote the leaderâ€™s interest) and the Party which has its own interests too, which would only very rarely be different. One example cited is the 1996 election where Paul Keating was large and in charge as PM but due to meet the outer burbanites waiting for him with baseball bats who clashed wildly with then party boss Gary Gray over campaign spending.
Gray thought prudence was the order of the day. Keating thought every last dollar should begged, borrowed and stolen to be thrown at a multi-million dollar extravaganza of TVCs heâ€™d personally crafted with images of his clocks, set to the tune of his favoured pianist. Or so the legend goes. With someone as great an eminence as PJK sometimes the stories do get embellished, sometimes for him, sometimes aginâ€™ him. Weâ€™ll remain a fan forever, he inspired our interest in politics and of most Labor and Liberal folk we know, of a certain age. But love Keating or not, the point is the Leaderâ€™s interest can â€“ ever so occasionally â€“ diverge from the Partyâ€™s interest and as a result the party needs to appoint its own management, not delegate it to the Leaderâ€™s office, for the good of everyone, including the Leader.
The head of the SDA, Joe de Bruyn has since come out and said that he thought Amanda Lampe was from the Left and wasnâ€™t a â€œsuitable candidate.â€ A pretty tough criticism but many seemed relieved today that he made it. And it seems that sheâ€™s not really from the Left, sheâ€™s not really been active in any faction or at any level within the Party. Perhaps that counts as a qualification these days.
Not everyone agrees with de Bruyn in the national Right on a variety of issues but weâ€™ve yet to encounter anyone who doesnâ€™t respect his judgment or take him very seriously. He picks his moments pretty carefully and his intervention is widely presumed to be going â€“ at the very least -Â to have the effect of delaying a decision on the national secretary so that a wider group of candidates from moderate ranks can be considered. Contrary to common conception, there are plenty of good names from the party organisation in a number of states and many National Executive members are keen to have a good look at them, we hear, before making a crucial decision that will impact on the next election campaign and the internal dynamics of the party going forward.
The current Assistant Secretary Nick Martin is a slick and sneaky character, who hails from the Left. Sadly for him, his history of factional atrocity has caught up with him and the one thing the occasionally fractious Right appear to agree on is that the smooth operator wonâ€™t be being promoted because heâ€™d get up to all manner of no good in the organisationally pivotal role.
Because heâ€™s been around as the Assistant for a time, and spent much more time in Canberra than Karl Bitar, he has been carrying on as if heâ€™s already in charge and he has some serious backing from the NSW Left whoâ€™d like him to wield the scalpel on their foes in the NSW Right by changing the Rules in an attempt to obliterate them. With the government fighting for its life, there is no time for that kind of indulgence and factional square-up, most think. Hands-on campaign experience on the ground and at a strategic level, a long history of active participation at senior level in the party organisation and a broad sympathy with Laborâ€™s moderate majority are surely the criteria the National Executive will consider.
Heaven help them all, if they donâ€™t.