IT WAS an unprecedented opportunity for one of Australia’s most conservative political parties to show it could set the pace on diversity.
But it seems the chance has been rejected.
Instead of a black African woman being elevated to the Australian Parliament the party will follow the conventional route of promoting a middle-aged man.The Opportunity came today when Family First’s Bob Day quit the Senate because his group of companies Home Australia had gone bust and he wanted to pay his debts by hard work and even selling his family home.
Senator Day will be replaced by someone nominated by Family First, and his running mate in South Australia last election would usually be considered an automatic selection. She was Kenyan-born lawyer Lucy Gichuhi who arrived in Australia in 1999.
Just one member of Parliament was born in Africa — Health Minister Sussan Ley in Nigeria — and Ms Gichuhi would have been a striking arrival in the Senate on a journey she has described as “from the slopes of Mt Kenya to politics in Canberra”.
However, it became clear today Senator Day’s chief of staff, father-of-five Rikki Lambert, had nominated to succeed his boss, and was expected to win. Mr Lambert is a long-time Family First supporter and once stood unsuccessfully for a state seat in Adelaide while his wife Kirstin attempted a federal seat in 2013.
He was suspended from Family First in 2013 after leaking confidential details of the salaries paid to senior ABC staff.
The information had been provided by ABC to a Family First member of the state Upper House, who had ordered it be deleted and not distributed. Mr Lambert had disobeyed the instruction.
“By providing an electronic document to The Australian I wanted a focus on ABC expansion in Sydney and how that growth unfairly treats the rest of the ABC,” he said at the time in a statement that contained few signs of regret.
“Subsequent coverage has raised legitimate questions about pay discrimination on gender and regional location and confirmed sources’ claims about incredible Sydney budget growth.”
Mr Lambert had been slotted as Senator Day’s No. 2 last election but withdrew, apparently for personal reasons, and Ms Gichuhi took the position.
She is quietly spoken and did not figure much in the campaign. Mr Lambert is a more energetic character and is almost certain to match the policy priorities of Senator Day, particularly on workplace reforms and company tax cuts.
Meanwhile Senator Day, 64, considered by most in Parliament an ethical operator, said: “I will start again and repay all debts.”
All Home Australia work has stopped, affecting 207 projects across five states.
The company reported big losses of $1.2 million in 2013 and $3 million in 2014.
Writing to staff, Senator Day said: “As I have always agreed to sign personal guarantees to creditors, this closure also has serious implications for me and my family.
“Creditor liabilities greatly exceed our assets, so we will also lose our family home.”