Canberra Report: Kristina will do a great job

If all the paperwork comes through in time, former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally will be sworn in as Senator tomorrow. She will replace Labor's Sam Dastyari.

Kristina's arrival and the comings and goings of various Senators as a result of the Citizenship debacle has caused many residents to ask me how it all works. When a Member of the House of Representatives leaves his or her post between general elections a by-election is held. But when a Senator departs, the position is declared a "casual vacancy" and filled by the Parliament in the State the outgoing Senator represented.

Remember, the Senate was designed to be the "States House" and Senators are elected to represent the State as a whole, not a single electorate. On that basis the State Parliament makes the decision on the Senate vacancy. Remember too, Senators are elected by "proportional representation" and taking the issue back to the electorate would be both complex and costly.

Prior to 1975, it had become "convention" that the State Parliament elect a Senator from the same political party as the departing Senator. The controversy over Joh Bjelke-Petersen's decision to appoint a person (Albert Field) who was a member of the Labor Party but not the Labor Party's choice, triggered a successful move to change the constitution to ensure the person nominated is the Party's choice.

Today the two Houses of the NSW will sit together to nominate Kristina Keneally, the Labor Party's choice. I believe she'll do a great job.

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The most memorable aspect of Labor's 1975 National Conference was the sight of young ACTU and Party President Bob Hawke sporting his patterned speedos (eat your heart out Tony). He wasn't without contest, Parliamentary Leader Gough Whitlam delivered his keynote speech in a Hawaiian shirt.

The Party's triennial event is far more subdued these days. It's also bigger and more democratic. The more than 400 delegates who attend this year's Adelaide event will have secured their participation in a range of ways. Some will attend as Party Leaders or Parliamentary delegates. Some will have been elected by their State Branch. The newer part is, many will have been elected by their local Labor Branch members.

The new system allows for a broader representation, provides local Party members with a greater chance of participating and makes local delegates more accountable to local Labor Party Members. It's an interesting process.


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