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Spilling the Blood in the Nicest Possible Way

Things are hotting up on the Liberal leadership front. The backgrounding from disgruntled PM’s has now morphed into spectacularly public dissent.

Public statements from Abbott Government MP’s about Tony Abbott’s leadership began in a very dramatic fashion with Jane Prentice on the national broadcaster. And again today the ABC played host to an even more dramatic statement – Dennis Jensen revealed he had told Tony Abbott that he could no longer support his leadership. Throw in Warren Entsch calling for the issue to be resolved in the partyroom next week and Mal Brough giving qualified support for the leader and you have the beginnings of a very messy situation.

Australia has seen a lot of leadership change in the last 5 years. Governments have fallen and governments have imploded, with leadership contests becoming more common. Matters look certain to come to a head in the near future within the Liberal Party.

Because of the certainty of the impending events, some care must be taken that the party deals with this difficult situation in the least ugly way possible. The Liberals need to learn from lessons of the past and make the move as seamlessly as possible. That will probably be easier said than done.

The best option is no challenge at all. That does not mean that the situation should continue as is. That would be among the worst outcomes. Poll results of 57%-43% in the Labor Party’s favour would become the new norm. The no-challenge option means the Prime Minister resigning in the face of growing discontent among members of caucus. Given the Prime Minister’s defiance and rhetoric at the National Press Club on Monday, this is also the least likely eventuality. So the party will have to navigate the next best way forward.

Another terrible option would be waiting too long before a challenge or transition. The Coalition Government would be even further paralysed by the inability to perform the basic functions of government – much like the ALP were in the period between 2010 and 2013. The present situation should be resolved within a matter of days or weeks and definitely not months. The new leader needs more than a year to get people listening again.

In an ideal world, one leadership contest or a single transition to a new Prime Minister would make the best of a bad situation. That means going about the process in a particular way.

In the event of a leadership contest, all candidates should publicly pledge to leave politics – like Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd did in the last leadership spill of 2013 – if they lose the battle. But instead of pledging to leave politics at the next election which is about 18 months away, the losing candidate or candidates should pledge to leave politics immediately, forcing a by-election. This option might cause some voters to be a little angry in the short-term, but it would be the best way project an air of stability in the medium to long-term.

Even more important than the ease of the transition is the shift in policy and rhetoric. This has already commenced, though barely, under Tony Abbott, but needs to go further under his replacement. The party must realise that the the products need to be re-designed and the sales pitch altered. A fresh team in the problematic treasury, health, education and social services portfolios would help sell the message of change.

Tony Abbott and the Coalition face some difficult days and weeks ahead. But this issue needs a resolution and that solution has to lead to the best medium and long-term outcomes for the party. Egos cannot get in the way or the Liberal Party leadership issue will fester. And that is what really cooked the Australian Labor Party.

Just how quickly these events will reach a crescendo is yet to be determined. But this situation can be controlled and managed better than it has been so far.

Cooler heads must prevail.

The Labor Leadership: the Winners, the Losers and the Journey to Unity

The Australian Labor Party had another very ordinary week last week. They have had a lot of ordinary weeks over the last two-and-a-half years, but the events of last week made that period of time for Labor one that they would surely rather forget. The ALP have also had two other periods of time they would rather forget, so the spill which never went ahead was not exactly a unique event. Labor has now had three leadership spills since coming to office in 2007. The first one was successful and the last two unsuccessful for very different reasons.

The spill which never was, happened to be truly bizarre. One of Rudd’s detractors, Simon Crean called on the Prime Minister to bring about a leadership spill and in the process got himself sacked from the ministry. It appeared he was trying to bring the issue to a head at the very least and quite possibly attempting to portray at least a facade of unity. Why else would one of Julia Gillard’s most vocal supporters stick his neck out like that?

There were some definite winners and losers last week. Prime Minister Julia Gillard came out of the botched spill itself a winner, but still damaged nonetheless. But there were other big winners last week and they were conservatism and liberalism. Simon Crean was obviously a big loser from what transpired. His ministerial colleagues who have backed Kevin Rudd since he was deposed have also paid a price, except for Anthony Albanese. And of course the last week will take a heavy toll on the Labor Party.

Julia Gillard again emerged victorious from a period of destabilisation. At each attempted coup the PM has triumphed. That in itself makes the Prime Minister a winner, but unfortunately for the Labor Party, it leaves them without electoral hope.

Conservatism is clearly a winner after last week. The Coalition returning to government becomes even more of an electoral certainty than it was the week before the failed leadership ballot. Voters will certainly crave government stability and willingly forego a more policy energetic government after the last three years.

Liberalism is a winner on two fronts. Obviously the Liberal Party does subscribe, in part, to the liberal tradition, even though the party has long been hijacked by the conservative ideology. So of course liberalism is, in part, on an electoral winner.

Liberalism also wins for another reason. Senior Labor MP and now former minister Martin Ferguson gave a considered speech about the future of the ALP upon resigning his post. He said that the party must regain the reforming mantle of the Hawke and Keating governments. Both these governments, though Labor in brand, can be considered to have a not insignificant association with the liberal tradition.

Some talented ministers and whips have now resigned their posts, all because of their association with the Rudd camp. This seems counter-intuitive when  there has been absolutely no question of ministerial wrongd0ing by any of those in question. They simply backed a man with an ego who, when push came to shove, failed to turn up. If showing unity is the game, then there should have been no resignations, whether they were pushed or took the plunge themselves.

In the case of Simon Crean it is not easy to argue he should have been spared. Sacking Simon Crean on the day was the only option available to Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, but she could consider bringing him back and that would not cost any political capital.

It is quite possible, even likely, that those ministers who have resigned do not wish to serve under Prime Minister Julia Gillard. But we will likely never know.

Some healing needs to take place within Labor to save some seats at the September 14 poll, but that cannot happen with former ministers heading to the back-bench.

That healing and quest for unity needs to go deeper than Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard electioneering together in August and September and it needs to start today.

Who Might Get Portfolios Under Either Leader?

As speculation continues as to just how much support former Foreign and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has in the Labor caucus, the thoughts of some turn to what major portfolios may be granted under either the Prime Ministership of Julia Gillard or perhaps Kevin Rudd.

It is increasingly likely that Kevin Rudd would not take back the Prime Ministership at the leadership spill which occurs on Monday. But it is still possible, were Rudd to pull around 40+ votes of the party room that a second later ballot could be successful a la Keating in the 1991.

Either way that will not stop me speculating just who might get some of the major portfolios vacated or made untenable in this ugly, toxic and likely terminal battle.

As already said, it seems very likely at this early stage, even before Kevin Rudd returns home to Australia that Julia Gillard will win the ALP leadership vote on Monday morning at 10am. That certainly leaves the vacated Foreign Affairs portfolio available to either a strong talent or a key factional backer or perhaps someone with experience in a similar area. Maybe all three.

I strongly believe, and have been stating on Twitter for days now, given his strong backing of the Prime Minister in the media in recent times, becoming the first to outwardly condemn the actions of Kevin Rudd, that Simon Crean will be the successful candidate for the position of Foreign Minister.

Not only do I base my views on that support, but Simon Crean is one of the most experienced members of the ALP party room, having even been one of the leaders of the party this millenium.

More importantly, the current Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts was Minister for Trade, ironically under Kevin Rudd. Trade is a very closely related portfolio to Foreign Affairs and indeed shares the same departmental home, so it wouldn’t be an unnatural step to make.

It is far from certain, with the Prime Minister calling for unity after a vote where she is expected to win, that those Ministers who spoke outwardly in support of Kevin Rudd would be dumped from their portfolios. Indeed unity would probably dictate that they were kept in those positions. However, in the unlikely event they are forced out, that would leave spots for junior backers, including parliamentary secretaries, to take their spots.

Speculation then turns to what positions would be gained by Rudd backers in the event of a successful spill now or in the future. I am not so sure there would be pardons for some of the key Gillard backers in the ministry were Rudd to become PM again.

I think Wayne Swan may be an immediate casualty along with Gillard who would return to the backbench of her own volition, though action against the former may not be a politically smart move.

Of the already announced key backers, I would not mind betting that Chris Bowen would be a candidate for Deputy Prime Minister and add to that the Treasury portfolio, mirroring the situation at the moment where Wayne Swan has both responsibilities.

There might also be some blood from some of the other portfolios, with Gillard supporters like Crean and Conroy possibly losing their responsibilities or being demoted.

Either way, Gillard or Rudd,  it does not look like there would be wholesale changes as being so close to an election it would not give new ministers time to slot into roles properly in which they may not have had much background in their time in politics. Above all else, too much blood and collateral damage would not look like a party united.

It’s fun to speculate isn’t it?


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