A sinking ship


What a fool Kim Beazley is. He has been presented with probably his best ever opportunity to get his house in order and he is refusing to do it. In Beazley’s own words, this man of action, the man who has principles and is tough enough to make the hard decisions is shown to be a fraud.

The toughest decision Beazley needs to make in the next fortnight – before it’s too late is to spill the entire frontbench and reshuffle the ministry. But he won’t do it.

There are many wonderful conventions and traditions associated with the Labor party including the rule that Caucus votes on who should serve on the frontbench. Unfortunately this idealistic democratic principle has been so utterly corrupted and twisted by the factions that Labor finds itself with a bumbling, ponderous and at times deeply inept shadow ministry.

Thanks to Leahy

Thanks to Leahy

The frontbench is stacked with the factional heads assuring positions for themselves year after year, the most militant of whom, particularly in Victoria, are constant bomb throwers and seem to thrive on drama and division. Meanwhile some of their more talented colleagues waste away on the backbench becoming disillusioned and bitter as they are continually passed over.

There has been much written about who should go and who should stay. It’s not a particularly pleasant or edifying exercise to slam specific individuals, and while it may be a little unfair to mercilessly cherry-pick if some of the frontbench haven’t the gumption or the selflessness to retire gracefully, they deserve to be pilloried.

Let’s start at the top. My number one pick for the red card is Simon Crean. Socially, he’s a nice bloke, and there’s no doubt he was white-anted throughout his tenure as Leader and has good cause to feel bitter. However these days, he’s pure poison. Crean pretty much hates the world. He loathes Beazley and the Roosters just about as much as he hates most of the Left and most of his own Victorian right faction. The list of those whom he feels have wronged him is very long indeed. Labor will never be able to heal or rejuvenate until Crean is gone. He has contributed very little to the trade portfolio, or anything else for that matter and will not be missed.

Martin Ferguson. He was difficult to find a spot for last year but he needed one of course because he runs part of the Left. His grasp on his current portfolio Primary Industries and Resources is pretty weak and he’s lucky he’s got a particularly well-informed adviser, however I haven’t heard of him making any trips to drought-ridden country Australia. He wasn’t much better when he had transport, regional development and infrastructure. Ferguson could best serve his party by promoting someone else.

Immigration should be a Cabinet position and while Laurie Ferguson is not a stupid man he is artless and has little time for the finessing that this job entails. As unpalatable as this may be, and I expect to receive torrents of abuse, Laurie is accurately reflecting how much of middle Australia feels. That doesn’t mean it’s right and it is his responsibility to persuade and convince others to change their minds. But as far as Laurie’s concerned he’s on the money and there are many in Caucus who agree with him but to preserve the façade and placate the chattering elements of the ALP Ferguson will be moved on.

Gavan O’Connor will also be lucky to survive pre-selection to the next election but his mediocrity dictates that he should be on the backbench. Kerry O’Brien was enraged at being left out of Cabinet last year and is the only person in the party room who thinks he should have a better portfolio. Mark Bishop should carve himself out a career as a Senate Estimates Inquisitor because they will be sorely needed in the years to come – ditto Kim Carr. Poor old Bob Sercombe should have taken his five minutes of fame announcing the Latham ballot and stayed on the backbench. Arch Beivs, well he’s been there before and it should be Graham Edwards, the Vietnam vet who knows these issues intimately who should be in the smaller defence portfolio.

I was saving the tricky Finance and Treasury portfolios till last. It’s just not getting any better for Swan. I’m almost dreading the final two weeks of Parliament and being forced to watch Peter Costello utterly destroy and humiliate Swan, Beazley and the Opposition. The vagaries of blocking the tax cuts aside, Swan has asked just one Budget question of Costello since May 11 and his overall performance in Parliament has been abysmal. While it’s acknowledged throughout Caucus that Swan deserves more than six months in the job and should not be the scapegoat for what was a group decision, 12 months will be all he gets. If he hasn’t turned his and Labor’s fortunes around by the end of the year he’s dead and any Leadership aspirations will be buried with him.

I almost feel sorry for Swan and I remain taken aback by his amateur-like conduct. He works tirelessly talking to people up and down the east coast and I doubt if his family has seen much of him in the past six months. Yet something seems to have gone awry in Swan’s headspace. His frontbench colleagues are puzzled by his behaviour as his confidence and assertiveness has almost disappeared. In Swan’s defence, he gets little or no support from Nick Sherry. Sherry might know Superannuation but get him out of Cabinet. Fitzgibbon has been the buffer for Swan and has the thankless task of being the tax amendment workhorse. Stephen Smith has performed well in Industrial Relations despite having little airplay. He needs to dump infrastructure, in which he hasn’t done so well, and concentrate on Industry and IR.

So on the positive side who are the alternatives?

I do not share the considered opinion that Craig Emerson is desperately needed on the frontbench. Some of his parliamentary performances over the years leave a lot to be desired. There was always lots of hand waving and stunts including bringing a saucer of milk into the Chamber but his substance and contributions were sporadic. The return of McMullan and Tanner though is a different matter. They need McMullan for strategy and Tanner for broader thinking. Give McMullan infrastructure and resources, and put Tanner in either finance or trade.

Catherine King and Kirsten Livermore deserve junior portfolios and Brendan O’Connor, Bernie Ripoll and Anna Burke at a pinch also deserve to step up. Despite the leap-frogging upsetting some in Caucus I have high hopes for Annette Hurley. If Tony Burke can make the jump in his first term why can’t she? And finally there are the outsiders like Bill Shorten and internet millionaire Evan Thornley.

Since the 11 May Budget the Parliamentary Labor Party has released close to five hundred press releases and transcripts of interviews. So the advisers and transcribers have been busy but there is little common sense coming out of the ALP right now.

Labor is bleeding and losing support like rats deserting the proverbial sinking ship. Beazley needs credibility and he needs it urgently. Now is the time to radically change the shadow ministry and restore some morale not only to Caucus but to their long-suffering constituency. This needs to be about talent and not how many spots each faction gets. Beazley’s leadership is safe, there is no one else to step up as Leader. Please Kim, have some ticker, pull yourself together and for God’s sake make a decision and save the Labor Party from itself.

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