Limping to the Election

Federal parliament returns tomorrow, bringing with it Question Time and all the shouty goodness we’ve grown to expect from our parliamentarians. And today the new Gillard Government ministers were sworn in by the Governor-General in Canberra. After that there was time for a meeting of Labor caucus which endorsed Senator Stephen Conroy as the Leader of the Government in the Senate and back Senator Penny Wong as his deputy. Finally, in that same caucus meeting there was time for a little bit of a warning from the Prime Minister.

All of today’s events, in their own separate ways, provide lessons. They should serve as a reminder that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about participating in the business of party politics.

Two senior Gillard Government MP’s announced their retirements at the weekend, sparking a reshuffle of the ministry late in the election cycle, close to seven months before the 2013 election. This is not an irregular event before an election, especially one where the incumbents are expected to lose. To have two go in the same day is particularly bad, especially when one is the Attorney-General.

Such a public exodus of ministers, especially when combined with MP’s, does the job of reinforcing to the public that the incumbents are on the way out. It also fuels the cynic’s, in many cases the realists’ fire. It looks like they are going to preserve the best possible parliamentary pension that they can.

It is strange that so close to an election that the Labor Party will likely lose, that the Prime Minister would choose to finally promote some of the more talented members of her caucus. Mark Dreyfus QC  has been made Attorney-General, in place of Nicola Roxon and is, in terms of legal prowess and standing, a much more robust choice for the role. Chris Bowen finally breaks free of the shackles of the immigration portfolio, while Mike Kelly takes on Defence Materiel.

What happens to the talent in the event of a stint in opposition? Surely some will want to return to their private lives before being granted the chance to govern again?

Let’s not forget that the Liberal Party will also see a number of MP’s making an exit at the election too. In fact, at this stage more Liberal member’s of parliament are leaving the Australian parliament. This is not however about electoral prospects, but rather, more liberal Liberals giving up representing an increasingly conservative Liberal Party.

The ALP caucus today erred on a further two fronts. First of all, endorsing Senator Conroy as Leader of the Government in the Senate is a poor decision, though of course it will not matter so much in terms of the election result. Senator Conroy is one of the most underwhelming parliamentarians and one of the poorest communicators. His new deputy, Senator Wong, would have made a much better choice. In fact almost anyone on the Labor side in the Senate bar Senator Ludwig, would have been a better option.

Finally this afternoon, the Labor Party was given a bit of a lecture from the PM where Ms Gillard warned against leaks. Leaks are inevitable, that’s politics. But to be outwardly warning your party against such unwise actions after a recent history of damaging tit-for-tat backgrounding is unfortunate. It also helps reinforce the argument that tensions within the government are making it unstable. How many warnings against harmful leaks need to go completely unheeded? If everyone in the party room does not yet know that the enemy is the opposition and not each other, then that is a real shame for the Australian Labor Party.

There needs to be far more discipline shown by Labor. They need to prove they are not in complete disarray and at the very least mitigate against the potential for a major loss of seats on September 14th.

After close to 6 years in office, the Labor Party should have finally learned to make the right decisions in terms of internal governance. Instead a still stewing split between the Gillard and Rudd supporters has helped hijack the chances of more sensible  and more strategically sound decision-making.

It’s too late for any of that to make a real difference now.

About Tom Bridge

A perennial student of politics, providing commentary for money and for free. Email me at or contact me on 0435 035 095 for engagements.

Posted on February 5, 2013, in Federal Politics and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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