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Labor’s hypocrisy in Finnigan’s wake

Opinion

Labor owes us a decent candidate to replace the disgraced Bernard Finnigan. And, argues Tom Richardson, if it wants to retain credibility on gender equality, it should appoint a woman.

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The sad tale of Bernard Finnigan is still unfolding, but a crucial chapter has finally, mercifully, closed.

Found guilty of obtaining child pornography – but yet to find out whether he will have a conviction against his name – the one-time leader of the Government in the Upper House is today no longer an MP, after resigning yesterday afternoon.

There is no honour in any of these proceedings, but it was at least the right course, if not the right time.

Many – most notably the Premier – have fervently argued that his position was untenable the moment he was charged, four and a half years ago. Maybe it was, and none could argue he has made a vital contribution to the political life of the state in the intervening years. But governments, it seems, are wont to invoke the presumption of innocence only when it suits them.

Finnigan’s career was just taking flight back in 2011; he had recently been promoted to the frontbench. It will be said that he climbed the coat-tails of factional fancy, but those colleagues honest enough to deliver a sober assessment will acknowledge him as a gifted strategist.

Nonetheless, his career is done now. It was done four and a half years ago.

It took those four and a half years for the court system to deliver a guilty verdict and for Finnigan to be persuaded to vacate his seat. It will take merely days for that vacant seat to be filled.

Already, Finnigan’s former factional ally, one-time ALP state secretary Michael Brown, is being touted as a frontrunner, under the tried and tested Labor principle of Buggin’s Turn.

Brown, while another factional machine-man, is a worthy contender who will undoubtedly find his way into parliament sooner or later, but Labor should consider making a more pertinent statement with its appointment.

After all, the party hacks were the first to rightly howl their outrage when the first Abbott ministry contained only one woman – his deputy, Julie Bishop.

But of the eight Labor MPs in our state’s Upper House, there is only one woman, the Left faction’s Gail Gago. She is also, incidentally, Minister for the Status of Women, and would no doubt have some misgivings about her own status as the ALP’s sole female representative in the Legislative Council.

Last week, in InDaily, Labor backbencher Chris Picton argued passionately that quotas, while imperfect, were “a pragmatic, accelerated solution to a problem ingrained over centuries”.

“No one has come up with a better solution,” he insisted.

I don’t know what kind of quota Labor has assigned to its cushiest elected gig – an eight-year term that requires no pesky campaigning – but the numbers simply don’t stack up.

Of the Labor Unity (the Right faction) group of MPs in state parliament (counting Bernie Finnigan, since the faction certainly counted him when it gifted him his seat), 14 are men. Only four are women.

Of those in cabinet, there are five men and only one woman – an Abbott-esque imbalance.

In the House of Assembly there are 10 men to four women.

In the Legislative Council there are four men…and no women.

Yep. Zero. The Right faction has not deemed one woman worthy of election to the state’s house of review.

The ALP first committed to an “affirmative action” target of 35 per cent more than two decades ago, but the Labor Unity faction lags stubbornly behind that mark, despite all its members bar Mick Atkinson having been preselected in the intervening years.

Picton took great delight in chiding the Liberals’ “all-male contingent” of recently-elected MPs.

“Not a single female coming up through the ranks…it is pretty embarrassing,” he lamented.

“The Liberals’ low number of female MPs contributes to South Australia having the lowest percentage of female MPs of any parliament in the nation.”

Minister Gail Gago

Labor’s sole female MLC Gail Gago

Picton’s right-faction colleague Tom Koutsantonis promoted his piece on social media, boasting that the ALP was “once again demonstrating renewal in action” and showing “the depth of talent on show”.

Picton further warned that without remedial affirmative action, the Opposition’s lack of female talent “will be to their own downfall”.

“I don’t think it helps their chances of ever hoping to form Government again one day,” he mocked.

Labor, however, is in Government today; and today, it has an opportunity to put its political capital where its rather big mouth is.

Labor gave us Bernie Finnigan.

It now owes us a stellar, driven, dynamic replacement.

And it should seriously consider the hypocrisy of its own self-congratulation on gender equality when it makes its choice.

Unless Labor Unity has a problem with women?

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