What to do with Dr Bourke

THE election of Chris Bourke to the Legislative Assembly to replace Jon Stanhope in the electorate of Ginninderra raises a series of challenges for Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher.

On the one hand, Bourke needs parliamentary experience before she should consider him for a ministry. On the other, he needs the sort of exposure to the public that comes with being a minister if he is to stand a good chance for Labor at the next election in 16 months.

Bourke comes into the Assembly with an impressive background as a local businessman and health professional. He has run his own successful dental practice for a decade and an indication of his commitment to others is that he volunteers his professional services at the Karabar Dental Clinic.

Mr Bourke has been the president of the Indigenous Dentists Association and says he is particularly proud of his heritage. He told ABC radio: “I’m proud to have been elected during Reconciliation Week, the first indigenous member of the Legislative Assembly. It is an important event, not just for Canberra’s indigenous community, but also the half a million Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who continue to be under represented in our democracy.”

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has also addressed this issue when she welcomed Mr Bourke, saying: “It’s fantastic that the Labor Party has elected through its processes the first indigenous member of the ACT Legislative Assembly.”

Bourke’s election does not change the factional arrangement of the Labor Party in the Assembly.

Like Stanhope, Bourke is part of the non-aligned group. Stanhope’s factional position was one of the reasons that he was able to remain as Chief Minister without any real threat of being rolled from within the party in the way that Kevin Rudd was ignominiously dumped as Prime Minister.

For both the right and the left it was much less problematic to have a Chief Minister being non-aligned rather than having a leader from the alternative faction.

The Federal election pre-selection results from last year illustrate the general demise of the power of Labor factional systems in Canberra. There we saw the rejection of the party factional candidates in favour of Andrew Leigh in the electorate of Fraser and Gai Brodtmann in the electorate of Canberra.

When it comes to pre-selection under the Hare-Clarke system, the party is likely to put up candidates from all factions and the electorate will determine the outcome.

Having a left-faction Chief Minister should, in theory, make the Assembly less stable.

However, instability will certainly not be an issue before the next election and the nature of the Hare-Clarke electoral system means that it is possible for any mix of factions to emerge after the election.

At the moment Katy Gallagher will be thinking not so much about what faction is elected as much as ensuring Bourke gets the recognition necessary to be re-elected rather than face the threat of a second Green candidate in Ginninderra.

Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.

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