I haven’t until now entered the general blogosphere discussion about the imminent federal ALP preselection of Peter Garrett, which seems already to have degenerated into a predictable left versus right slagging contest. Garrett’s political views are quite a long way to the left of mine on numerous issues (at least judging by Midnight Oil’s song lyrics). However, as a believer in democratic pluralism I think it’s important to have a wide variety of policy positions represented in Parliament.
Garrett is a credible, persuasive advocate on a range of green and indigenous policy issues, and his presence in federal Parliament may enhance the quality of public debate (although if he ends up in Cabinet or shadow cabinet his ability to do so will be severely circumscribed).
Moreover, Mark Latham presumably calculates that Garrett’s presence on the Labor side will be a short-term electoral plus by shoring up the support of soft lefties who might otherwise desert Labor for the Greens. He’s probably correct. Very few of the sorts of people who’d be alienated by Garrett are likely to vote Labor in any event.
It was predictable that some local branch members, aspiring candidates and factional warlords would oppose the imposition of a high profile candidate by the ALP National Executive, and equally predictable that they won’t prevail. Major political parties need to be able to preselect high profile candidates for safe seats in order to ensure the necessary talent to form a competent Ministry, and they can only do that by overriding entrenched local hacks on some occasions. The Cheryl Kernot saga showed that it isn’t usually a sensible idea to preselect a quality high profile candidate for a marginal seat, and Party hacks generally position themselves years in advance for succession to a safe seat. The only effective way of successfully preselecting a high profile candidate for a safe seat is to have rules allowing a body like the National Executive to override local pre-selection procedures in some circumstances.
On the other hand, that power needs to be used sparingly to avoid terminal alienation of rank-and-file Party members. I don’t see Garrett’s pre-selection as the thin end of the wedge in that respect, and I doubt that he’ll have too much trouble winning local Branch support in Kingsford Smith over time. In any event, even grass-roots support in the ALP tends to be generated and organised along factional more than local lines. If (as I assume) Garrett aligns himself with the Left, that faction will ensure that he has the local campaign workers he needs to get elected, even if many of the local NSW Right troglodytes around Kingsford and Maroubra boycott his campaign in the short term.
One aspect of the Garrett affair that will bear watching, however, is the question of his electoral enrolment. The most recent update claims:
Environmentalist and former rock star Peter Garrett today rejected claims he had not voted in elections for 10 years, saying he had cast his vote but was not aware he was not on electoral rolls. …
Responding to the reports, Mr Garrett said he had voted but that he was not on the electoral roll, even though he thought he was.
“My understanding was I thought I was on the electoral roll. I thought I had a silent enrolment. I have voted in previous elections, I have voted in referenda, I have even voted when I was overseas,” he told reporters.
“I have received no communication from the Electoral Commission that I’m not on the roll, no communications that I’m aware of, to tell me I’m not on the roll.
“As of yesterday, I’m on the roll as a regular enrolled candidate and that’s where I’ll stay.”
However, this explanation raises many more questions than it answers. If Garrett really has voted at all elections and referenda over the last decade despite not being enrolled, then on every occasion he would have been required to make a “provisional” vote and sign a declaration that he was regularly enrolled. As the Australian Electoral Commission website explains:
What do I do if my name is not on the list at the polling place?
People whose names cannot be found on the list of voters for the division in which they believe themselves to be enrolled, or whose names have already been marked off the list but who claim not to have voted, may cast a ‘provisional vote’. These votes are not counted until a careful check of enrolment records has been made.
What is a ‘Declaration Vote’ ?
Absent, postal, pre-poll and provisional votes are also known as ‘declaration votes’ because each voter has to sign a declaration stating that they are eligible to vote. Declaration votes are also given to people who have silent enrolment listings.
The only ways Garrett could have failed to receive notification from the AEC that he wasn’t enrolled (contrary to his claimed belief) would be if either (a) he’s changed home address so frequently that successive AEC correspondence has failed to reach him for an entire decade; or (b) the AEC has repeatedly been guilty of clerical oversight by failing to follow up his (numerous?) declaration votes by writing to him to advise that his claimed belief is mistaken. The AEC occasionally makes such errors, but it’s more than a tad hard to believe that it would fail to do so multiple times in a row.
If Garrett is telling porkies (and I reckon there’s a fair chance he is), he might just have torpedoed a promising political career before it even starts. ‘Fessing up to failing to vote for 10 years would have been no more than a momentary embarrassment, but lying about it raises integrity issues that could potentially cripple his political future by making him a bald, macho version of Carmen Lawrence.
Update – here’s a more comprehensive ABC story (although it doesn’t tell us anything additional about the enrolment question).
Update 2 – This ABC AM interview with Garrett from earlier this morning (Friday) rather tends to reinforce the suspicion that he isn’t being entirely candid about his enrolment and voting record. There’s more mileage in this story yet, methinks.