Kevin Rudd has recruited Maxine McKew to run in John Howard’s seat of Bennelong. And today, ABC News’ Mike Bailey was announced as the ALP candidate for North Sydney. For an organisation that’s understandably sensitive about allegations of political bias, having some of its most respected current affairs presenters parachuting straight into Labor pre-selections, where their formidable ABC reputations become a huge electoral asset, is not a fantastic look. It raises a great many questions. Chief among which is this: since I work (part-time, as a writer) at the ABC, which seat can I have?
I reckon I’d be a better candidate than Mike Bailey, to be honest. For one thing, I grew up in the electorate, so I’d be fully aware that my chances were Buckley’s. Joe Hockey has a ten percent margin, and that was before he went on Sunrise, and proved, much to my surprise, that he’s actually a pretty down-to-earth bloke. Especially next to Kevin Rudd.
The seat used to be an independent stronghold under architect-mayor-MP Ted Mack, but then a redistribution bunged more of Mosman into the electorate and that pleasant little arrangement was toast. (Most of the public architecture in North Sydney still dates form Mack’s era, and is now looking sadly in need of a lick of peach-coloured paint.) And many inner-city seats that were once Liberal strongholds are becoming genuinely marginal. Malcolm Mackerras recently named Bennelong as the most marginal in the country in Crikey (actually, that would indicate it’s probably safe as houses for John Howard, surely?) while Malcolm Turnbull will have even more of a fight on his hands in Wentworth because a redistribution has brought in more of leftie Bondi. But North Sydney? More specifically, Mosman? Surely not. If polls show that Bailey has a chance of toppling Hockey, I’ll be astonished.
Which makes me wonder what he’s thinking, exactly. If he doesn’t get elected, what’s he going to do? I suppose, like everyone else who’s unwisely left the ABC, he could get a gig at Vega.
For the organisation, though, this has to be a bit of a pain. For the duration of the Howard Government, the ABC has been accused of left-wing bias. (Ironically, Keating had many a bone to pick with Aunty as well.) Former Communications Minister Richard Alston ran a McCarthy-like campaign to weed out secret Labor apparatchiks, and found precious little.
The ABC’s News and Current Affairs division seems to be turning into a Labor training camp – and in some ways it always has been. We can add to the list NT Chief Minister Claire Martin, who once hosted the NT 7.30 Report, and even Bob Carr, a former AM journo. And that could undermine the integrity of those who haven’t jumped ship – yet. (Speaking of which, seriously, who wouldn’t vote for Kerry O’Brien?) But it’s considerably worse for the ABC’s integrity when its presenters shift immediately from an on-air role to running for office.
Now, I’m not saying that Bailey, McKew, or indeed anyone in the place behaves with anything less than total integrity. I have far more respect for the ABC than almost any other institution in the country – certainly the Parliament. And I would defend intelligent people’s right to have political opinions, and capacity to insulate their private principles from their public statements. A recent profile of Maxine McKew in The Oz Magazine made the point that she has always been under the microscope because her partner, Bob Hogg, is a former ALP National Secretary, but that she’s never been faulted for bias. And the ABC has stringent editorial procedures to ensure that lack of bias. Nevertheless, it won’t help the leftie perception, and that makes it harder for everyone who isn’t jumping ship to the ever-loving arms of Kevin Rudd.
The thing is, Rudd could easily have found another respected celebrity to serve as a candidate, and without making life more difficult for the ABC. If he was looking for a charismatic, popular weathermen to use as cannon-fodder against Joe Hockey, what about Tim Bailey?
Or me. The enormous readership of this blog could well launch a massive surge that would catapult me to high office. Probably straight into a ministry, I reckon. Not that I’m saying I’m a Labor supporter, of course. Heavens, no. I am unimpeachably unbiased. But I don’t actually think that having left-wing principles is all that important these days, when there’s political power up for grabs. It certainly doesn’t seem to trouble the leader.