Sunday, November 23, 2008

McMullin firms for lord mayor role, but is he a little bit stale?

A serial seat chaser or a passionate servant of the community? Meet the lawyer who may lead Melbourne.

NEXT Sunday Melbourne will have a new lord mayor. There's barely a political commentator in the state brave enough to predict the winner - the city's electoral system is too quirky and the preference flows too unpredictable. But yesterday the bookie's favourite was a man called Peter McMullin.

So, who is Peter McMullin and what sort of lord mayor would he make?

In the race to Town Hall, McMullin, 56, has stood out. He is the biggest spender, producing a letterbox-clogging tide of paper. He is the man the State Government wants to win, although it is not saying so publicly (the Labor Party has decided not to officially endorse a candidate). And the Labor lawyer, who once ran one of the state's biggest legal aid practices, has thrown more mud than anyone else (in two mail-outs, attacking The Greens and current councillor Catherine Ng, and recently targeting former Liberal leader Robert Doyle for not turning up to community forums).

McMullin has also secured two important endorsements, one from former premier Steve Bracks, who said he "couldn't think of a better person" to be the city's next mayor, and the other from Lord Mayor John So, who described McMullin as "someone I have always held in the highest regard".

The mediation lawyer would probably be vaguely remembered as deputy lord mayor in the late 1990s and for his run for lord mayor in 2001. He has a long record of community service and is deputy president of the state's business lobby group and Museums Victoria.

He certainly has his enemies - mostly within the Labor Party. Many members were upset by his choice of deputy, Liberal Party member Tim Wilson, most Melbourne local branch members preferring the more left-leaning Will Fowles, a fellow Labor candidate. The local members were overruled by ALP head office, which is run by McMullin's right faction, Labor Unity, the same faction as Premier John Brumby.

Perhaps the best indication of Lord Mayor Peter McMullin is his 2005-06 stint as the mayor of Geelong. Jim Cousins, the chairman of the Committee for Geelong, said McMullin did not get much of a chance to prove himself as mayor because it was a year-only term and the city's culture was very anti-change. "He's very politically, well, astute," said Cousins. "He knows how to get the best out of a particular position. Peter can do the job, but it comes down to the best person on the day."

His stint on the Melbourne council, however, gets less favourable reviews. Former City of Melbourne Labor councillor Kevin Chamberlin, who served with McMullin in the 1990s, said he was dubbed Marcel Marceau because "he never said anything" when meetings became heated. He will do whatever the State Government wants, Chamberlin predicts.

Rob Maclellan, who was the Kennett government's local government minister when McMullin was deputy lord mayor, told The Sunday Age he was "the darling of the Kennett government", always ready to follow the premier's line.

Maclellan said he believed Melbourne deserved better. "I don't think he would be a puppet of the State Government, I think he would be a puppet of his own ambitions."...

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