In the pantheon of political heroes there are those who win new seats, removing an incumbent from their opposing side, and those who fight from the unwanted third spot on the Senate ticket and win against the odds.
Senator Ursula Stephens was one such Labor hero who won an election from the No.3 spot on the ballot paper.
LNP Senator Amanda Stoker is now polishing her shield for her fight to win from the third position.
It is challenging to win from the third polling position, but not impossible.
The Nationals’ Ron Boswell, with 34 years in the Senate, knew how to do it. He won from the third position on his last ticket because he had the guts to try.
Former senators believe ALP Senator Kristina Keneally, who this week announced she would move from the Senate to take on lower house seat because she would be No.3 on the ALP Senate ballot paper, could do the same.
She has a solid personal following, is a former NSW premier but the question would be if she has the guts to try or the grassroots work ethic it would take to harness the vote.
If she had fought and won her Senator spot from there, her statue would stand in the ALP Pantheon.
Instead, she is choosing to run in the safe Labor Sydney seat of Fowler — a move that kicks the local branch’s choice, Tu Le, to the kerb.
Branch members are the people sweating at polling booths, wearing ugly party T-shirts and trying to press how-to-vote flyers into the hands of harried voters who don’t want to be there at all.
They are the ones organising fundraisers to pay for elections, branch meetings to organise elections, pushing forward policy solutions and having the tough conversations at the pub in the belief the party cares for them.
How do sell the line when it won’t accept the candidate grassroots members chose to represent them?
Senators choose where their office sits when they are elected.
If Senator Keneally had been heart-set on serving western Sydney, her office would be on Hughes St, Cabramatta, not on the 14th floor of 25 Bligh St with waterfront views of Sydney Harbour. It doesn’t even face western Sydney.
Senator Keneally lives on Scotland Island, a secluded and exclusive community off the northern beaches, and the biggest issue for its residents right now is a carbon offsetting certificate for the exclusive ferry. Out in Cabramatta, they have struggled to work during Covid lockdowns. She could have gone to Cabramatta, not to stand for Fowler, but to hear the views of the Vietnamese community, which in her entire time in the Senate, she has mentioned in the House twice.
Her most regular view of western Sydney was flying over it on the way to Canberra. All this time, as a Senator for NSW, part of her constituency did include Fowler.
So why on Hansard, has she never mentioned it?
People who have won from the third Senate position say the trick is to listen to those everyone else hasn’t. For Mr Boswell, it meant timber workers, fishers, tobacco farmers, and, coincidentally, the Vietnamese community.
A senate quota is 14.3 per cent of the vote. The job is to start with the flow-over from the first and second positions and go out and fight for the remainder, starting with the ethnically diverse groups of western Sydney. You need to inspire them to hand out for you.
The Coalition’s experience in the seat of Gilmore in 2019 showed a drop-in candidate can split the vote and lose the seat completely.
Last night Labor’s National Executive met to endorse Senator Keneally for Fowler. The party should have asked itself if Senator Keneally was incapable of securing the top spot on the ALP ballot paper when she only had to convince fellow members she was worthy, how will she convince the good people of Fowler to choose her over other candidates, who will presumably be locals. It takes more than a star persona to win over an electorate in which the constituency is not as fascinated by theatrical examination of a witness in Senate Estimates as they are with a train station with a lift so they don’t need to carry a pram up two flights of stairs with the groceries. How do you relate to that when your experience is of a private ferry to the exclusive Scotland Island, which doesn’t even take the Opal card? Welcome to the lower house, where your constituency prefers to see you in yellow gloves with a bottle of Domestos scrubbing toilets than perfectly preened under studio lighting.
The MP job is less West Wing, and more Neighbours — but for Senator Keneally it’s been an episode of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. Less swanning around polished media types over hors d’oeuvres, and more tea and scones in the local library, there are fewer microphones and cameras and more picking up complaints at the check out at Coles to follow up the next day. Your electorate may have passing interest in a particularly skewering assault on the opposing side, but conversation quickly moves to a new road to replace one marked with a string of memorials. Or a visa to keep the new doctor in town. Or the medicine their kids need on the PBS. At the same meeting tonight, Joel Fitzgibbon’s replacement for Hunter will be endorsed – an Olympian shooter, coal miner, working in mining services, whose portrait already sits in the Cessnock Hall of Fame.
Hunter, a marginal seat, gets a strong local and Fowler, a seat taken for granted, gets a potential new resident, apparently their local.