Flat White

Goosey Lucy goes independent

1 May 2017

7:45 AM

1 May 2017

7:45 AM

Kenyan-born lawyer, now Family First Senator for South Australia Lucy Gichuhi was confirmed in her Senate seat after Labor decided to take her debated Kenyan-Australian nationality up to the High Court.

Gichuhi was propelled into the Senate after Bob Day’s unexpected exit and, under the circumstances, handled things skilfully, demonstrating that she’s smart, savvy – and according to an ABC Insider owns several properties (they know these things in the media).

Well and good, but while her Family First colleagues have elected to join Senator Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives, Gichuhi has held back, affirming that while she respects the decision of the Family Firsters to join the Conservatives, “Given the circumstances …I have not been able to determine if joining this new entity is the best way for me to serve the people of South Australia.”

On Insiders, in the program’s whimsical way, Lucy was portrayed heroically, as a Star Wars heroine, leaping to freedom, beyond the control of an autocratic Cory Bernardi but in truth, she may be slipping deep into a quagmire whose depths she has yet to fathom.

Lucy may be sinking even while she strategises that, as an independent, she may be courted by both major parties and hold her own, a kind of one-woman Family First Senator to whom the faithful will rally, as they did to Bob Day.

The truth is, she probably won’t be around after the next election.

I say that, as a former staffer who worked for an Independent, a champagne-bubbly politician who unfortunately lost support when she left the Canberra Liberals. Like flat champagne, Helen Cross was less appealing to the electorate as an independent than she was as a member of the Liberal team.

She was one of those charismatic Greek-Australian women that also manage to be fun, take you along on a magical mystery tour but sadly, politics demands steel in the soul, fire in the belly and loyalty to the Liberal team. In the Labor stronghold of Canberra, the Libs are a small, taut, tight-lipped team that, despite almost-insurmountable challenges fights on in Opposition, against the behemoth Labor-Green alliance.

Helen, the then-Liberal leader Gary Humphries once remarked, is “the cross we have to bear”.

I was the unfortunate staffer caught in the crossfire of her leaving the Canberra Liberals, after she broke ranks, voting against an anti-abortion motion on which every other Liberal had held the line.

She had to go and go she went to the cross-benches; the experience taught me lessons, the most important being, that working for an independent is like being the sole survivor of a particularly nasty battlefield conflict. You’re left wondering if you can crawl back to your lines or whether you’ll be shot as a deserter the moment they see your face.

For about twelve weeks, detested and despised by both Libs and Labs, my former colleagues for me continuing to work for a traitor and Laborites because, well, they hate Liberals, when I finally left Helen’s office (her last words, echoing in my brain, “You’re such a Liberal’) I felt a surge of relief. I also felt like throwing up.

You need a strong stomach to be a politician.

You need an even stronger stomach to be a staffer to a politician.

So Lucy Gichuhi may not be Smart Lucy but Goosey Lucy, the independent who must be on top of every issue, every twist and turn and throw of the political dice, who must network ‘til she drops and still smile for the cameras.

Yes, she’ll have supporters, her friends, those cheerful African-Australian women staunchly surrounding her when she gave her media conference, but politics is a really hard game when there’s just one of you. As they say in Canberra, ‘a week’s a really long time in politics’.

Helen stood for her old seat again in south Canberra when another election rolled along.

I was walking to my local supermarket, checking my shopping list, then she was right there in front of me, smiling the warm, charismatic smile I remembered, a bunch of election flyers in her hand. I kept walking.

Illustration: Family First/YouTube.

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