It's Time for the Beazley Shuffle


With Peter Costello very theatrically displaying his leadership credentials over the weekend, and fresh speculation of a Coalition reshuffle, election 2007 now appears on the horizon.

Kim Beazley can see it, and he has renewed hope after Tuesday’s Newspoll that showed Labor at 53 per cent on a two Party preferred basis.


But the promising poll only underlines one of the weights in Beazley’s saddlebags: a mediocre front bench, laden with factional hacks and time-servers.

I’m informed that Beazley is itching for a chance to reshuffle his Shadow Ministry. He’s had to defend the indefensible since taking over from Mark Latham a front bench weighed down with dead wood and a back bench brimming with under-used talent.

As Mark Vaile prepares to step down from his Trade portfolio, the looming prospect of a Coalition ministerial reshuffle gives Beazley a real opportunity to freshen up his team. Steve Smith, for instance, should be made to choose between IR and Industry. He can’t do both jobs effectively.

It’s time for star recruit Peter Garrett to step into the spotlight. Labor luvvies would wet themselves at the prospect of the bald green icon waving the flag for the Party’s environment credentials. Factional functionary Anthony Albanese has been doing a solid job and will probably keep the portfolio, but Garrett would be a credible and compelling choice as Aboriginal Affairs Spokesman at a time when Black Australia is in the headlines.

The Labor Party’s raison d’être may well have been anaesthetised years ago, but could Lindsay Tanner sound any less like a member of the ALP?

We can’t duck fights about Industrial Relations, for example, but we’ve allowed that to consume us and we haven’t done enough work on building a better country for the hard-working families that we represent.

The Shadow Minister for Finance might be in the wrong party.

A really brave Beazley would make Julia Gillard Deputy Leader, and perhaps give Kevin Rudd a big domestic portfolio to demonstrate he wants his potential successors fighting with him at close quarters.

Kim Beazley and Julia Gillard

Still, Kim will most likely be Kim. Even though he has shown a willingness to change, he has no record of ‘crazy brave’ decisions.

But this is his only shot. If he really wants to win then he has to choose the A-team his A-Team, not someone else’s.

He needs to reward good back bench performers like Garrett, and bring back some depth and experience from people like Craig Emerson and Bob McMullan, who Latham shafted in one of his paranoid episodes.

A Rudd and Gillard swap would kill two birds Rudd would get both Health and Tony Abbott to whack. Gillard as Deputy Leader and IR spokeswoman would cut through a debate that slick Smith has failed to dominate.

Promoting Gillard would also show Beazley is unafraid of a strong Deputy and that he feels secure as Leader, despite his own personal approval rating lagging behind Labor’s improving 41 per cent primary vote.

Promoting her to Deputy ahead of the uninspiring incumbent might be seen as anointing her as his replacement. But that simply isn’t on in the mid-term. A woman (let alone one who ‘chooses to deliberately remain barren’ as Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan odioulsy declared) from what is called the ‘Left’, just won’t get up as Leader. And the memory of her support for Latham runs deep in the Caucus.

Caucus, of course, is nominally the institution that chooses the make-up of Labor’s front bench. In fact, it’s the factional warlords who arrange most of the places. Gillard is on the record as wanting to change that system perhaps because she wants to be able to pick her own front benchers in the future.

It’s a sensible suggestion, but it won’t be picked up by Beazley. He’s a captive of the Right, and challenging his masters’ authority is simply a bridge too far.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.