Saturday, March 3, 2012

Carr no trailblazer on state-federal path

Bob Carr is hardly blazing a new trail. He will be the fifth premier of New South Wales to seek a new life in Federal Parliament - and the seventh former premier or chief minister to do so in the past 50 years.

But few former premiers have succeeded in Canberra. Federal politics is far more diverse, and newcomers can win partyroom support only by taking it from those already entrenched.

Some succeed. An example was Mr Carr's predecessor in Macquarie Street, John Fahey, who became a respected finance minister in the Howard government, until a cancer scare forced him out of politics in 2001.

Carmen Lawrence followed her stint as Western Australia's first female premier by becoming minister for health and human services in the Keating government. But her years in Canberra were dominated by a partisan campaign and court charges over the suicide of Perth woman Penny Easton. Lawrence was acquitted on all counts, but it crippled her politically.

Former South Australian premier Steele Hall went on to Canberra, first for the centrist Liberal Movement, then back in the Liberal Party. But despite his high profile, he ended up in the outer, not the members'.

One-time Queensland premier Vince Gair certainly made an impact. Dethroned as Queensland premier in 1957 after he broke with Labor, he was elected as a Democratic Labor Party senator in 1964 and took over as party leader. But after losing the leadership, he accepted an appointment from arch-enemy Gough Whitlam as ambassador to Ireland. His irate colleagues then joined the Liberals to force an election, in which the DLP was wiped out entirely.

State premiers used to have more clout. The first Federal Parliament had at least 10 former premiers, including the only Victorian premier ever to make the move, Sir George Turner, who became the first federal treasurer. But only former NSW Premier Sir George Reid became prime minister, and for a brief, precarious year.

The most successful was Tasmanian Labor premier Joe Lyons. He became a minister in the Scullin government, then acting treasurer when E.G. Theodore, a former Queensland premier, was bogged down by more muckraking. When Theodore was cleared and reinstated as treasurer, Lyons quit the cabinet, then quit Labor and took over as leader of the conservative side, becoming prime minister in 1932 until his death in 1939.