Kim Beazley’s antics over the past week have been bizarre. There are many erstwhile supporters and friends of the Labor Party who are still shaking their heads in wonderment and disbelief at his unilateral offer to pass Howard’s anti-terror laws before even seeing the final draft.

Increasingly, there has been criticism of some in the Federal Labor Party for behaving as if they were still in government. There have been many times since 1996 when the ALP looked as if it were suffering some strange kind of collective denial that the work of opposition, in a Westminster-style democracy, is different in kind and in purpose to the work of government.

If ever there was a stark demonstration of the truth of such observations, it was the sight of Kim Beazley this week. The Big Fella wants so much to be back on the other side of the Chamber, he’ll say and do almost anything.

All week, while everyone from Jon Stanhope to Peter Beattie and Steve Bracks have been commenting on the constitutional problems in the draft of the anti-terror laws, Beazley has kept his counsel to himself. In a week when Howard, Ruddock and Abbott were all overseas, and Costello was impersonating Bob Hope as the special guest at the Business Council of Australia dinner and getting huge laughs for some of the lamest jokes this side of a Democrats wine and cheese soiree Beazley passed up the opportunity for a ‘free kick’ on the anti-terror laws.

In a week when the pressure was building on Howard from former Liberals, former Prime Ministers and retired judges, and the Fairfax editorial on Monday boomed its criticisms about Howard’s laws, Beazley kept his powder dry. In a week when his Shadow Attorney-General and Shadow Minister for Homeland Security came out with a considered and sensible Press Release raising concerns about Howard’s legislation and his abuse of parliamentary process, Beazley chose to remain cool, calm and collected.

Or so we thought.

On Monday afternoon, almost as if he’d been sitting in his office trying to come up with the most byzantine and unpredictable chess move possible, Beazley strides across a sward of Canberra couch grass and announces to the assembled reporters that he’ll recommend to the ALP Caucus that they make a few perfunctory noises in the limited parliamentary time allowed them by Howard. But then, as Howard’s marshals apply the gag to parliamentary debate and the guillotine comes down, Beazley proposes that the ALP vote with the Government and pass the legislation no matter how draconian it is, no matter how much Labor disagrees with it, no matter what it says!

Who is advising this guy?

Or is it more nefarious? Is Beazley a plant, a mole, a sleeper? Has ASIO pulled a switcheroo? Is this a career politician from the feared Right Wing of the ALP, or a ring-in, a puppet? Can we get a DNA swab?

Or was Monday’s performance a pitiful kind of job application? Is Beazley desperately hoping that Howard forms a kind of wartime Government of National Unity and gives him some boats and tanks to play with?

Let’s be clear about this. Beazley’s solution to the political muddle he’s got himself into over the anti-terror laws is to rush them through Federal Parliament and then go to the next election (in two years’ time) with a clear alternative for the electorate. Does he not see that, if he helps Howard push these laws through, the ‘alternative’ Beazley will be offering in 2007 will be hopelessly tainted as gutless, as bereft of not only any new ideas but even of any political dog-cunning?

Under Beazley’s plan, the ALP would stand in 2007 as a party that cannot see the value of opposing these laws on principle, that cannot stomach a fight when the numbers are against it. (Another great moment in political marketing!)

In the meantime, Beazley’s proposed action lets certain Senators off the hook. There are many on the Coalition side who see Howard’s obsession to get these laws passed without proper scrutiny as dangerous. If Beazley gets his way, we will never know what amendments could have been negotiated.

Beazley’s is the kind of super-sophisticated, double-think strategy that only makes sense in a world where you actually don’t believe in anything. It makes sense in a world where politics is just a game a serious, pitiless, and sometimes brutal game but a game all the same. It makes sense in a world where you’re continually playing to what you think the shock jocks and Right-wing, elite commentariat think. It makes sense when you are constantly checking your rear end in case you’ve blundered, or in case you’ve had a knife inserted there.

Hey Kim! How about standing up and believing in something and then telling the electorate why. If you’re good at politics, then you’ll convince more than half of us and we’ll vote for you next time. If you’re not good at politics, then …

Until now, Kim Beazley has been a sad joke and an embarrassment. After Monday’s performance, he is a disgrace.

José Borghino

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