The Kiss of Death


The only thing in Canberra that was louder than the verbal stoush between Labor leader Kim Beazley and Liberal backbencher Wilson Tuckey was the self-righteous tut-tutting over the incident emanating from the Prime Minister and his supplicants in the ministry and the mainstream media.


Tuckey interrupted Beazley’s press conference and began abusing him in the fashion for which he is infamous. (Tuckey was nicknamed ‘Iron Bar’ after assaulting a hotel patron with a metal cable, and was dumped from Howard’s frontbench after breaching ministerial guidelines by attempting to get his son off a traffic fine in South Australia.)

Beazley told him to go inside and ‘take his tablets,’ and take his ‘weak, worthless’ anti-asylum-seeker legislation with him, to which Tuckey responded by calling him a ‘fat so and so.’ Cue the hypocrites and puritans.

‘I don’t think that altercation reflected well on either of them,’ Howard opined, before abandoning his appearance of neutrality. ‘Bear in mind, of course, Mr Beazley does aspire to be the Prime Minister.’ I’m sure Beazley was suitably chastened by the po-faced master.

One of Howard’s more legendary sycophants in the parliamentary Liberal Party, Assistant Treasurer and former Queensland copper Peter Dutton, then went on ABC TV’s Lateline to carpet Beazley for showing insufficient deference to the geriatric hooligan who attacked him. ‘He showed, I think, a great deal of disrespect for somebody who is some years his senior,’ declaimed Dutton, whom Howard humours as you would a grovelling schoolboy.

The Herald-Sun‘s in-house Howard courtesan, Andrew Bolt, joined the fray: ‘Beazley telling Tuckey to œtake your tablets  and sneering at his œweak, worthless self  well, that’s hardly prime ministerial, is it? Just ask yourself: Would Howard be caught dead in such a stoush, saying such things?’ He followed the prime ministerial crib sheet perfectly.

But this contrived outrage about supposedly un-prime ministerial behaviour from an aspirant to the office and unparliamentary behaviour from Labor MPs who held up toy chickens to symbolise Treasurer Peter Costello’s cowardice in failing to challenge Howard for the leadership is typical insider stuff.

What the public has long craved is an Opposition with a bit of chutzpah, a bit of mongrel anger in them. They want a bit of passion in politics. Remember, Mark Latham was at his most popular in the early days of his leadership when he was seen as the unvarnished man from Sydney’s western suburbs.

Beazley was merely giving as good as he got from one of the least dignified bruisers in Australian politics. Polite bipartisanship may suit the business lobby and the foreign affairs establishment, who want to continue to run the country no matter who gets elected, but it is usually an abrogation of democracy itself.

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It was bipartisanship that brought undone one of the highest-profile US politicians last week. Joe Lieberman, Al Gore’s vice presidential running mate in 2000, lost the Connecticut Democratic primary for the Senate to a political novice, Ned Lamont, who challenged Lieberman on an anti-Iraq War platform.

Lieberman, these days only a nominal Democrat (and since his election in 1988 always on the hard Right of the Party), was one of George W Bush’s most reliable allies in Congress when it came to prosecuting the misadventure in Iraq. Last year, immediately following Bush’s State of the Union speech actually, it was more like his State of Denial speech the President planted a kiss on the cheek of the wildly applauding Lieberman. It turned out to be the kiss of death, as Lamont played footage of it over and over again in a campaign that helped him to a 52 “48 victory over the incumbent Senator.

Establishment Washington went into meltdown and began blaming, well, democracy itself for costing their friend a Senate seat he had come to consider a life peerage. New York Times columnist David Brooks, a Right-wing elitist in the same vein as Melbourne’s Andrew Bolt, cursed grassroots Democrats, declaring, ‘Polarised primary voters shouldn’t be allowed to define the choices in American politics.’

Thanks to Clay Bennett

Lieberman is maintaining his determination to fight the November general election as an ‘Independent,’ determined to ‘save’ his Democratic Party from anti-war zealots, who just happen to be among the 60 per cent-plus of Americans who oppose the Iraq quagmire. In the meantime, he is scooping up money from Republican donors, including the National Beer Wholesalers.

DeWayne Wickham, a columnist for USA Today, put it most crisply this week, when he said that Lieberman, far from being his Party’s saviour, was actually a ‘fifth columnist.’

His defeat also underscores the eternal truth in politics, as applicable here as anywhere else: voters want Oppositions to provide genuine choice, genuine difference, not pale imitations of incumbent governments.

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Speaking of which, the NSW Iemma Government recently marked its first year in office. After more than 10 years in power under another leader, Bob Carr, the Labor Party has decided it needs an, um, 10-year plan.

Iemma, presiding over a Sydney metropolitan rail system that now runs slower than in the mid-1930s, has also declared he wants to be the ‘public transport Premier.’ He has brought down a Budget deficit of $700 million, is managing a sluggish State economy and a slower than average employment growth. And yet there is buoyancy, almost cockiness, in the demeanour of the NSW Premier.

Newspoll has put Iemma’s Government in front of, or level-pegging with, Peter Debnam’s Coalition for the past three out of six polls, while the latest AC Nielsen poll gave the Government a 51 “49 lead. The very public factional war inside the NSW Liberals, especially over the Epping pre-selection, would seem to only strengthen Iemma’s position.

But in Iemma’s current good fortune there is an echo of governments past. According to Jim Hagan and Craig Clothier in Volume III of The People’s Choice: Electoral Politics in 20th Century NSW:

There was a brief period in mid-1987 when a Labor victory did appear possible. Learning their lesson from the dramatic swing against Labor in the Bass Hill and Rockdale by-elections [following the installation of Barrie Unsworth to succeed Neville Wran as Premier]Labor Party strategists immediately set about improving Unsworth’s image with the launching of the ‘Back to Basics’ campaign, which emphasised Labor’s commitment to health, education and law and order.

The campaign reaped results and Labor comfortably won two further by-elections. By ‘April/May 1987 public opinion poll trends suggested there was an excellent opportunity for the election of another Labor Government.’

Less than a year later, in March 1988, Labor lost office on a swing of 10.26 per cent, recording, at 38.49 per cent, the lowest Labor vote in 50 years.

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.