Why the ALP should preselect more union leaders

- First published in the Australian on 1 March 2014

New research reveals that contrary to popular belief, it would be in the interests of the federal Labor Party to preselect more, not fewer, former union leaders as candidates.

Researchers at an elite unit at the University of the Australian Capital Territory have analysed statistical returns for federal elections over the last four decades and found that a former ACTU leader is worth an astonishing 15.94 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote.

According to the research unit’s supervisor, Professor Roger Daintree, had the Labor Party run former ACTU leaders in 28 more House of Representatives electorates in 2013 they would have retained government.

“ The ACTU is not, strictly speaking, a union, but we used it as a proxy for high-profile union identities”, he explained.

“We analysed the performance of former ACTU leaders Greg Combet, Martin Ferguson, Simon Crean, Jennie George and [Bob] Hawke in their respective electorates and found on average they outperformed the average Labor vote, across all electorates at all elections since 1974, by 13.67 per cent in primary terms and 15.94 after preferences.”

Team leader Dr Peter Tenownd continues: “We controlled for all sorts of things: height, weight, age, median income and incumbency but the pattern persisted. We ran various regressions over the numbers and they came to the same conclusion.”

These astonishing findings suggest that Labor should preselect union identities wherever possible, preferably former ACTU leaders.

“This is very exciting news that has the potential to turn election results around”, says Dr Tenownd.

The policy unit is currently involved in other interesting projects. In one they have documented party spending at elections by electorate and tentatively find that concentrating resources in electorates produces the opposite effects to those intended.

Dr Tonownd: “In the seats the Coalition threw money at the 2013 election, seats like Lindsay, Eden-Monaro and McEwen, they performed quite poorly compared to others, like North Sydney, Kooyong and Groom, which they didn’t highly prioritise.

“Our conclusion at this stage is that allocating resources to particular electorates is not just a waste of time, but is counterproductive.”

Another of their studies involves the apparent link between residing in The Lodge and becoming prime minister.

According to Professor Daintree, “every prime minister over the last 70 years has lived in The Lodge at some point in their lives. There is obviously a complex relationship there, possibly to do with social class, which requires much more research.”

This research unit, called the Cart and Horse Institute, has more exciting projects planned over coming months and years. We will keep an eye out for more of their findings.