Senator axed as Gillard takes Olympian as 'captain's pick'

VETERAN senator Trish Crossin has lashed out at Julia Gillard's demand that the Labor Party dump her for Aboriginal gold medallist Nova Peris, who will become Labor's first indigenous federal MP.

Despite weeks of Labor Party negotiations with Ms Peris, 41, to install her as ALP Northern Territory senator, the Prime Minister only told Senator Crossin on Monday night that she was being pushed out.

Appearing with her star candidate - who is not yet a Labor Party member - Ms Gillard told a news conference she had made a ''captain's pick''. She brushed off the treatment of Senator Crossin. ''I've made a decision and that's it.''

At the PM's request, the ALP national executive on Wednesday in a phone hook-up is set to override the normal preselection procedure to embrace Ms Peris, who is assured of winning the seat at this year's election.

The executive will take over the preselection and open nominations for a week, as well as accepting Ms Peris as a party member and waiving the rules so she can stand. If there was more than one candidate, a ballot of the 21-member executive would be held next week.

Ms Gillard said she had been ''very troubled'' that federal Labor had never been able to count among its number an indigenous Australian.

''I am determined that at the 2013 election we change that,'' she said. Ms Peris' selection was ''a matter of national significance, as well as a matter of significance for the Northern Territory''. It was the first time Labor had put forward an indigenous candidate in a winnable federal seat.

One factor in the move is to try to hold up Labor's vote in Warren Snowdon's marginal seat of Lingiari. The Gillard plan was put to a phone hook-up of the national executive's inner group early on Tuesday morning.

In angry comments Senator Crossin, a well known Rudd supporter, said: ''This action has been taken without consultation or negotiation with the NT branch of the ALP or my input as the long-serving federal Labor senator for the Northern Territory.''

Accusing Ms Gillard of totally undermining the party process, she said preselection should always be a matter for NT Labor branch members to decide. ''It is these members of the party whose opinions and trust must be respected in terms of determining who can best serve the diverse interests of the NT electorate''.

Former NT Labor chief minister Paul Henderson welcomed Ms Peris' decision to stand. But he said the NT party should have a say in the preselection. ''We have the rules of the party and the rules are that people do have a vote.''

A visibly nervous and emotional Ms Peris told the news conference: ''I stand here before you all today not only as an Australian but as a proud Aboriginal woman, proud of my heritage and culture.'' As part of the Australian hockey team, Ms Peris in 1996 became the first Aboriginal to win an Olympic gold medal.

Ms Gillard said she had asked ALP national secretary George Wright to make inquiries about whether Ms Peris would be prepared to stand. He approached her six or eight weeks ago. Mental Health Minister Mark Butler is understood to have had a central role in urging an Aboriginal candidate and promoting Ms Peris.

Asked whether she supported the federal intervention in the NT, Ms Peris said that ''something needed to be done'' but the way it was done was wrong. The government now had its ''stronger futures'' legislation, in which she hoped to play a big part.

Ms Peris will be in Parliament before the end of this year.

With JONATHAN SWAN

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