December 19, 2012

The view from Billinudgel

Assange for the Senate

By Mungo MacCallum
Julian Assange in Ecuadorian Embassy, London, August 2012. © Snapperjack/Flickr

Making political predictions is an inherently risky task, but 2013 provides one pretty safe bet: barring armed revolution or similar catastrophe we will have a federal election in Australia.

And if the concluding events of 2012 are any guide, it will be a pretty ugly affair, a nude mud wrestle between an unloved Prime Minister leading a widely disliked government and a positively loathed opposition leader who has nonetheless put his party on track for a win which very few really look forward to.

It is not an enticing prospect, but there may be at least one reasonably entertaining diversion: from his haven in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, Wikileaker extraordinaire Julian Assange has threatened to stand as a candidate for the senate.

He is hardly the first outsider to seek to gatecrash the august body. From 1949, when Ben Chifley unwisely introduced proportional representation at the behest of his deputy, Doc Evatt – who assured him it would assure Labor of a perpetual dominance (Labor in fact lost its majority in the next election and has never since come close to regaining it) – the door has been at least partly ajar for independents. But it took a while for them to break through the party system.

The first was Reg “Spot” Turnbull, a somewhat eccentric Tasmanian medico who held a seat from 1962 till 1974, a period that included a brief flirtation with the short-lived Australia Party. In 1971 he was joined by a one-term sandgroper Syd Negus, who was elected on a platform of repealing death duties (he didn’t).

In 1985 another West Australian, Jo Vallentine arrived to represent the Nuclear Disarmament Party – in New South Wales her then colleague, one Peter Garrett, was narrowly defeated by Labor preferences. Vallentine defected to the WA Greens before dying on the job. Her replacement, the gorgeously named Christobel Chamarette, was improbably joined in 1993 by Dee Margetts. The pair afforded hours of harmless fun to their fellow members and to the press gallery, who promptly christened them “The gumnut Twins.”

Since then we have had such luminaries as Brian Harradine, Steve Fielding and the still extant Nick Xenophon. So at first glance Assange is not out of the question, although, for one reason or another, he may not be able to campaign in person. However, he believes that if elected, he can find a loyal deputy to warm his seat and immediately resign in his favour if and when he is able to take up his onerous parliamentary duties.

But it remains an unlikely outcome, because in the past all – not some but all—successful independents have had to rely on the preferences of a major party and both sides of Australian politics regard Assange with undisguised fear and loathing. This may be unfair, but it should be enough to keep him out of their exclusive club on the hill. It worked against One Nation.

Assange is, of course, a totally different kind of maverick, but don’t hold your breath. 

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum was a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Much of his work can be found here: The View from Billinudgel.

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