MP retirement threatens Gillard numbers
Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer, AAPUpdated February 15, 2013, 1:30 pm
The NSW coalition government could cause a headache for Prime Minister Julia Gillard if it appoints former federal minister Robert McClelland to a key job in the next couple of months.
Mr McClelland, a 17-year parliamentary veteran, told the NSW ALP last month he would not stand for Labor preselection in his Sydney seat of Barton ahead of the September 14 federal vote.
The former attorney-general is understood to be considering the role of commissioner with the NSW Industrial Relations Commission, which pays $265,000 a year.
“Mr McClelland is considering a number of potential opportunities for his post-parliamentary career,” a spokeswoman for Mr McClelland told AAP on Friday.
“He does not intend to publicly discuss those or to speculate on the course of action he may take.”
But unlike two other retiring ministers – Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans – Mr McClelland hasn’t specifically ruled out standing down before the election campaign begins on August 12.
That’s fuelled concerns he could retire earlier and trigger a by-election in Barton, particularly if the NSW job is confirmed.
The NSW IRC advertised only on Friday for commissioners, seeking expressions of interest by February 22.
Potential candidates will meet with a panel of officials before a selection is made.
But the final decision is up to NSW Treasurer and Industrial Relations Minister Mike Baird, who will make a recommendation to his cabinet colleagues.
The recruitment process was “midway” and a decision on the new commissioners was expected within the next four to eight weeks, a source close to the process said.
A spokeswoman for Mr Baird told AAP the state government did not discuss internal recruitment processes.
“All appointments are based on merit and ensuring that the candidate has the right experience and skills to deliver in the role,” she said.
Mr McClelland said in his retirement statement he looked forward to “continuing to make a contribution to the Australian community in the next stage of my professional career”.
A by-election loss would take Labor’s numbers in the House of Representatives to 70.
But the government could survive because there are six independents and one Greens MP on the crossbenches of the 150-member house from whom it draws support.
Speaker Anna Burke is yet to say whether or not she would approve a by-election ahead of September 14 – she has the option of deferring a vote until the national poll.
Mr McClelland was dumped from cabinet in 2012 after speaking out in favour of Kevin Rudd’s unsuccessful quest to regain the leadership.
Labor frontbencher Simon Crean, who attended a dinner for his long-time friend Mr McClelland in Canberra on Wednesday, said he had spoken with him on Friday.
“He has not confirmed that he has sought another job … and why should he if it’s confidential,” Mr Crean told reporters in Canberra.
Mr Crean did not think speculation about Mr McClelland’s early exit was destabilising for the government.
“It’s not destabilising … there is no by-election,” he said.
“The government has announced the election date and we are getting on with the task of trying to win at the next election.”
Mr Crean said the dinner, which was also attended by another former Labor leader Kevin Rudd, had been held in Canberra this week because of convenience.
“It wasn’t a farewell dinner. It was a dinner for a mate who had announced the fact that he was ending his parliamentary career and there aren’t many parliamentary sitting weeks left,” Mr Crean said.