Saturday, August 10, 2013

Young Labor star favoured to step in after Rudd dumps candidate - Sydney Morning Herald

Clare O'Neil, when she was a 23-year-old mayor of Dandenong, with dumped Labor candidate Geoff Lake, then president of the Municipal Association of Victoria and Monash councillor.

Clare O'Neil, when she was a 23-year-old mayor of Dandenong, with dumped Labor candidate Geoff Lake, then president of the Municipal Association of Victoria and Monash councillor. Photo: Ken Irwin

Clare O'Neil, who at 23 became the youngest female mayor in Australian history, has emerged as a contender for the safe Labor seat of Hotham.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd yesterday announced the preselected Labor candidate, Geoff Lake, would be dumped after revelations that he had verbally abused a wheelchair bound woman during a 2002 council meeting.

The seat in Melbourne's south-east has been held since 1990 by former Labor leader Simon Crean, who is retiring. It was held by Labor at the last election by a margin of more than 13%.


Mr Rudd issued a statement late on Saturday night saying he had asked for Mr Lake to be disendorsed following an investigation by ALP national secretary George Wright.

"Earlier today, I asked the national secretary to report on a range of allegations concerning Mr Lake's conduct in his previous career in local government – in particular his conduct in relation to fellow councillors at the City of Monash Council," the Prime Minister said.

"The National Secretary has informed me that he is not satisfied that there has been full disclosure about these previous matters.

"Based on the investigation, I have concluded that it is inappropriate for Mr Lake to continue as the endorsed Labor candidate for Hotham.

"As such I cannot be confident that he has met the standards that I would expect and demand from members of the federal parliamentary Labor Party."

Ms O'Neil, who currently works for management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company, joined the ALP when she was 17 and at 22, while still at university, was elected as a city councillor for the City of Greater Dandenong. She was elected mayor in 2004.

Explaining her decision to run for mayor, Ms O'Neil told Fairfax Media in 2004: "I looked around in my life and saw I'd had huge opportunities, and I just became aware that not everyone had those opportunities ... I strongly believed that something needed to be done." Reflecting on her election as mayor, she said: "I think this says to young people that if you're energetic and you care about something enough to put your hand up ... then you can really achieve anything you want."

Mr Crean has previously praised Ms O'Neil as "a local champion".

"Clare is a young and vibrant person with a passion for promoting young people," Mr Crean said in 2004.

Ms O'Neil has arts and law degrees from Monash University and a Masters of Public Policy from Harvard University, where she studied on a Fulbright scholarship.

Treasurer Chris Bowen said there was a ''drama'' in every election campaign with one candidate or another, but Mr Rudd had shown leadership in calling for Mr Lake's removal.

''He ordered an immediate inquiry, got the report back,  consulted with senior colleagues and then insisted upon the highest standards, not only of behaviour but of accountability of his candidates and took the difficult decision to ask the national executive to remove them as candidates,'' Mr Bowen told ABC TV on Sunday.

Mr Bowen said the party's national executive would choose the new candidate.

''Obviously we always prefer rank and file ballots but when you're in an election campaign it's very justified for the national executive to make a decision and make a decision quickly, and I expect that's exactly what they will do,'' he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott refused to buy in to the issue on Sunday, telling journalists it was a matter for Mr Rudd.

The removal of Mr Lake as candidate came as a senior government source also confirmed that Queensland candidate Ken Robertson has lost his endorsement for the seat of Kennedy.

Mr Robertson caused an outcry on Saturday when he accused Opposition Leader Tony Abbott of being a racist who wanted a return to the White Australia policy.

"He's gone too," the source said.

The seat of Kennedy is currently held by independent Bob Katter, who held it at the last election by a margin of more than 18%.

with Chris Johnson
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