Labor Senator David Smith will nominate for preselection in the new southern ACT seat of Bean in the wake of Member for Canberra Gai Brodtmann’s decision not to run and retire from politics at the next election.
Senator Smith, who replaced Katy Gallagher when the High Court booted her out of the Senate for being a dual citizen at the time of the 2016 election, said Bean was his local electorate.
“It is where I grew up and where I have chosen to raise my own family with my wife Liesl. There can be no greater honour than representing the people of this area in the House of Representatives,” he said in a statement.
When Ms Brodtmann made her shock announcement last night that the three-term MP would not be contesting preselection, the possibility emerged that the newly installed Senator Smith might opt for a run at the House, rather than almost certainly being ousted by the ever popular Ms Gallagher, who wants her job back.
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Senator Smith had said last night that Ms Brodtmann’s decision was out of the blue.
“I absolutely respect Gai’s decision. Canberra will be losing a significant advocate for the public sector, our cultural institutions and the broader community,” he said.
But he did not answer specific questions on whether the southside resident and former Marist College old boy would consider contesting Bean, instead of trying to hold on in the Senate.
The Right faction veteran would have faced a Left ticket of Ms Gallagher and Belconnen Community Council chair Glen Hyde.
Senator Smith thanked Ms Brodtmann for her service to the Canberra community, saying she had been a mentor and good friend.
He said that when he took the position as Senator for the Australian Capital Territory he had stated he was committed to serving the people of Canberra to ensure that their interests were represented in the Parliament.
“Being only the 9th Senator for the ACT has been an absolute honour. I will continue to work hard for all the people of the ACT right up until the next election,” he said.
“I would like to thank all those who have supported me in my current position. However, my decision to nominate for preselection in Bean provides a way of ensuring that the Party continues to offer quality representation across the entire ACT. The ACT Labor team is committed to working towards the election of a Shorten Labor Government whenever the election is called.”
Senator Smith’s move is the latest twist in an extraordinary ACT Labor preselection process.
ACT Labor secretary Matthew Byrne said on Monday that Ms Brodtmann and Andrew Leigh were not expected to be challenged, leaving the party without a candidate in Bean until today.
Ms Brodtmann made it clear on ABC radio this morning that she wanted a woman to run, which Mr Byrne said was a clear signal to the party but Senator Smith is the only one so far to throw his hat into the ring.
Mr Byrne said that while Ms Brodtmann’s decision was a surprise, the party preselection process would proceed as planned as it had been signed off by the national executive, with nominations to close at noon on Wednesday for the three federal seats and the Senate.
The latest twist adds to a closely watched process made more interesting by the ACT redistribution that redrew the electoral map and gave the Territory a third seat.
Not only did the name of the southern seat, Bean, in honour of the World War 1 journalist who contributed greatly to the founding of the Australian War Memorial, cause controversy but the creation of a new central seat of Canberra drew a large field of candidates anticipating a strong challenge from the Greens, who are still to reveal a candidate.
The preselection also had to contend with an unsavoury smear campaign against one of the candidates for Canberra, Kel Watt, which sparked a local and national executive inquiry that the branch is keen to put behind it.
National CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society John Falzon (Left faction) will go into the preselection vote for Canberra as favourite in a field of five so far.
Other candidates are Mr Watt from the Right, lobbyist Simon Banks (Independent); an adviser to Chief Minister Andrew Barr, Jacob Ingram (Right); and Alicia Payne (Independent), most recently chief-of-staff to shadow families and social services minister Jenny Macklin.
Party members have three opportunities to vote – Saturday 25 August, the evening of Wednesday 29 August and Saturday 1 September until 4 pm, after which the count will begin.
Mr Byrne said that after last year’s reforms, about 1200 to 1300 members would be eligible to vote in their respective electorates.
“I led those reforms at conference last year to move away from counting eligibility based on meeting attendance to just based on time and enrolments,” he said.
“Basically it is an acknowledgement that people want to engage in the Labor Party in different ways now and if they can’t turn up to meetings at night or whatever it doesn’t mean they don’t contribute to our campaigns or to other things in the party, and they still have a right to get a vote.”
He said having a broad voting membership was beneficial to party democracy and the candidates.
“If our candidates can contest a big preselection, that sets them up to be able to campaign well in an actual general election,” Mr Byrne said.
He’d like to think that the Watt smear or dirtsheet – “horrible and stupid material that added unnecessary colour to the process” – was behind the party now.
“The national executive held their investigation and that’s been resolved, Kel’s running, good luck to him,” Mr Byrne said.