Call for stricter vetting of political candidates
POLITICAL parties need to overhaul candidate vetting systems to prevent ugly public rows and attract higher quality candidates, a former senior Labor adviser believes.
Following the spectacular dumping of several Federal election candidates this week Steve Michelson - himself no stranger to controversy - has called for the bar to be set higher on background checks.
Mr Michelson resigned as Bill Shorten's adviser in October 2017 after a decade-old photo taken at a fancy dress party resurfaced of him in blackface and wearing a curly, black wig.
At the time he was seen as a rising star in the Labor party and a potential candidate for the sea of Isaacs.
He has described his decision to don the costume in 2007 as a "regrettable mistake".
Mr Michelson, now 36 and a corporate adviser in Melbourne, yesterday told News Corp Australia the party vetting process was poor and undertaken too late in the selection process.
In "the new world order" of social media and everlasting digital footprints, candidate backgrounds needed to be comprehensively checked to ensure there was nothing that could potentially surface down the track to embarrass the party and lead to disendorsement, or worse, legal action.
"What we've seen in this campaign is that political parties need to do more to vet their candidates and clearly need to do more to attract better quality candidates," he said.
"I think parties should be thinking about third-party character references and checks."
He said "freaks and geeks" with extreme views were sometimes drawn to the minor parties and needed to be identified early and prevented from throwing their hats into the ring.
His call for a tougher selection process comes after a horror week for the major parties as questionable social media posts - including those sharing racist, sexist and homophobic views - and past actions have come back to haunt several candidates.
But a former political adviser to several minor party leaders, who did not want to be named, said candidates were already thoroughly investigated before being endorsed, social media accounts checked and character references sought.
It was unrealistic to think candidates of any party could have a history in which no mistakes had been made, "simply because they're human", she said.
"I don't think the candidates have changed, I think the environment has changed with social media and digital footprints," she said.
"We expect our politicians to be perfect human beings but that's just not realistic. We need to have standards, of course, but we need to be realistic too."
Tasmanian Liberal candidate for Lyons Jessica Whelan today resigned over racist remarks made online.
Hours later Labor's candidate for Melbourne Luke Creasey quit following condemnation over a rape joke and lewd images he posted on Facebook in 2012.
Their resignations follow the dumping of a string of other Liberal and Labor candidates, leaving party leaders and officials scrambling.
Other candidates in the headlines have included the Victorian Liberal candidate for Isaacs Jeremy Hearn for an anti-Islamic rant posted online last year and candidate for Wills Peter Killan for a homophobic comment.
Labor's Northern Territory Senate hopeful Wayne Kurnoth also has come under fire for an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory shared on social media.
Labor's Western Australian candidate for Curtin Melissa Parke resigned in week one of the campaign after comments about Israel while the Liberal candidate for Lalor, Kate Oski, and for Wills, Vaishali Ghosh, both had to withdraw in Victoria over dual citizenship issues.
The Victorian Liberal candidate for Cooper Helen Jackson was asked to withdraw over Section 44 issues because of her status as an employee of Australia Post and the Liberal candidate in the safe seat of Corio Murray Angus was disendorsed in record time after expressing support for unions, his Labor opponent Richard Marles, and likening his campaign to a can of WD40.
One Nation's Steve Dickson also quit his party in Queensland after Facebook footage emerged of him behaving badly in a US strip club.
Australian political expert and Deakin University academic Geoff Robinson said political candidates needed to be more intensively "interrogated", early on, to ensure they did not hold racist, sexist, homophobic or extreme views.
"The Liberal Party might start by asking candidates up front, have they ever put (controversial) posts or comments on social media," Dr Robinson said.
He said he would not be surpised to see more candidates dumped or resigning before the May 18 election as their posts and pasts came back to haunt them.
Other candidates who are in the frame after making controversial comments include One Nation candidate for Leichhardt Ross McDonald who posted about feeding Aboriginal people to crocodiles and has been photographed squeezing a breast in a Thai bar, posing with a topless waitress and shared photoshopped images of a half-woman, half-horse.