The man who could be the ACT’s next Senator is politic if not political about the prospects of replacing Senator Katy Gallagher if the High Court decides against her on Wednesday morning.
Senator Gallagher is one of a swag of MPs caught up in the dual citizenship tangle caused by Section 44 of the Constitution.
The No 2 candidate on the ALP’s 2016 Senate ticket and the one most likely to replace Senator Gallagher on a countback is David Smith, the Director of the ACT branch of Professionals Australia, the union representing people such as scientists, engineers and technical staff, some of the brightest and best.
Mr Smith, a 26-year veteran of the ALP, says any talk of him being elevated to the Senate is premature.
“My view is that Katy Gallagher is Senator for the ACT until something happens otherwise. People get ahead of themselves,” he said.
“I’ve got a job to do in representing members in Professionals Australia. That’s my main concern. It’s premature to be talking about hypothetical situations.”
Mr Smith refused to be drawn on the dual citizenship issue, the Constitution or whether, as has been suggested, he may throw his hat in the ring to contest the new third House of Representatives seat in the ACT.
“No one has actually talked to me about this,” he said, saying that about a dozen names have been thrown about.
It was, again, premature to talk about candidates when the new boundaries aren’t even finalised, although he supports sitting members Gai Brodtmann and Andrew Leigh staking their claims.
“It makes sense for Gai to have a strong view, she’s a strong member. It makes sense for Gai and Andrew Leigh to have a view,” Mr Smith said.
Not that he doesn’t have the right pedigree to throw his hat in the ring.
The 48-year-old Marist College old boy is Canberra born and bred, an ANU Arts honors graduate and family man with three children.
In the 1990s he went into the Federal industrial relations department of the time, then worked in the Chief Minister’s Department under Jon Stanhope before moving into the labour movement in 2004 with the AFP Association.
For the past 10 years, he’s headed up Professionals Australia, where he has been keenly aware of the Federal Government’s industrial relations approach with the public service and the increase in contracting out of work.
He may not want to express a view on his political prospects but Mr Smith has plenty to say on the Federal Government’s policies that are giving his members and public servants so much grief, and what he says is contributing to the uncertainty and precarious nature of work in the ACT and Australia in general.
“It’s a huge problem. It’s pretty hard to get a house loan when you can’t guarantee that you’ll have a job in three months’ or six months’ time. If at the same time there is real pressure on pay and conditions, people have significant challenges,” he said.
Mr Smith says there was a real move to rely on a large contract workforce, and bash public servants and, as a result, the notion of public service at almost any opportunity the Federal Government can get.
“When you have uncertainty, people have to make decisions, and make decisions towards jobs that provide more certainty. It’s not a smart way to run your workforce,” he said.
At present he is engaged in a lengthy dispute with the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex over its agreement with staff, grappling with the same issues other public servants have faced over the past four years – conditions, pay, and workplace rights.
Would a Labor Government be any different?
Of course, he says, but acknowledges that it’s easy to be sceptical.
“We’ve seen evidence of it previously. The Rudd Government in 2007 moved to rein in some of the excesses of contracting out. There’s a hell of a lot more work to be done this time around. The arrangements are much broader, it’s a real challenge,” Mr Smith said.
Like many he is also concerned about the development of two Canberras – the affluent world of those in full-time, permanent employment and those working from one contract to the next, or in the part-time or casual world of hospitality and retail, not to mention those without any job at all.
“People are doing it harder than some think,” he said.
Mr Smith said the much touted labour market flexibility was all one way, with his experience being that most people wanted permanent, reliable work.
“There is a pretty obvious understanding that if we don’t change the rules, workplaces are in a lot of trouble, Australian workers are in a lot of trouble,” he said.
“The key is to ensure, regardless of whose in government, that we move to a much fairer and balanced workplace relations system. As much as I get worn down occasionally, it’s nothing compared to members and potential members out in those workplaces and what they’re facing.”
His own workplace may change come Wednesday, although with the Prime Minister able to call an election any time after August, it will be a short stint in the Senate before having to face the people again.
But that’s all hypothetical, and something Mr Smith is not entertaining openly.
Until the court decides otherwise, it is still Senator Gallagher, and “regardless, I can’t imagine her career is over in any sort of way”, Mr Smith says.