2001_09_september_leader25sep meninga

The decision by its former Raiders football star Mal Meninga not to stand for the seat of Molonglo at the October 20 Legislative Assembly election was obviously unscripted. It was apparent that when Meninga was being interviewed by ABC Morning Show host Chris Uhlmann yesterday that at first he ready to continue with the prepared script – the political spin. Then suddenly he reverted to his true self and said, “”I’m buggered. I’m sorry. I have to resign.” He walked out of the studio and returned a few minutes later, saying he that had decided on the spur of the moment he could not stomach a political career. He had tried to convince himself that politics was the way, but it was not.

He then said, “”Hopefully, I haven’t made a fool of myself. But I think I’ve done the right thing. I feel comfortable now . . . this feels right, definitely.”

Well, very few people in Canberra would say that Mr Meninga had made a fool of himself. To the contrary, they would be thinking that here was a man being true to himself and honestly assessing that he was not suited to the job. It is telling that he feels comfortable and right about his decision. The people now not feeling comfortable about the whole affair must be those who attempted to persuade him to enter politics, knowing that he had a very strong chance of election because of his well-justified popularity as a footballer, rather than administrative, organisational or other political abilities. Indeed, Mr Meninga’s career reveals a much greater talent for individual sporting prowess than ability to administer or coach a team. Those urging him to stand obviously hoped to translate the football prowess into a political number, dress it up as they might otherwise.

Mr Meninga’s decision not to stand might also be making Liberal Chief Minister Gary Humphries a little uncomfortable, too. Previously, his best chance of clinging to the chief ministership perhaps lay in the election of Mr Meninga along with like-minded Independents Dave Rugendyke and Paul Osborne. Mr Rugendyke and Mr Osborne protest (too much) that they are not part of the same team, but the correlation of their voting pattern in the House is such that that is the obvious conclusion. Mr Osborne did a lot of protesting that he and Mr Meninga would not be part of the same team, but both have obtained substantial help and advice from political lobbyist and gambling-industry businessman Richard Farmer.

It may well be that Mr Meninga had some policy difficulties with the Osborne-Rugendyke approach of going hard on drugs, crime and abortion. The horse could only be led to the water.

It is almost certain that on October 20 the Liberal vote will drop from 1998 levels when the party was on a high driven by the popularity of Kate Carnell and before the Bruce Stadium debacle. Labor’s vote is likely to rise. But they will still most likely get two seats each in the five-seat electorates. It means (as it did in 1995 and 1998) that government will be won and lost in the seven-seat Molonglo electorate. It will be determined by a combination of which party gets three seats and which gets only two and the complexion of the minor party and independent MLAs elected there.

It means voters in the ACT will have to think very carefully about how they vote. In particular, they should make the effort to exercise the full choice of preferences.

The absence of Mr Meninga will also free the two major parties. They no longer have to pander to social conservatism out of fear of alienating independents upon whom they might have to rely to govern.

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