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A Recipe for Chaos and Fatalism

The Prime Minister paid a visit to the Governor-General today for the swearing-in ceremony of her latest ministry. This is the second visit to Yarralumla in as many months for Julia Gillard and it comes just a matter of days after the ALP again found themselves facing a leadership spill, which this time did not happen. The election date was obviously firmly in mind in the ministerial considerations the Prime Minister again had to make ahead of the May budget session. The result – the continued perpetuation of some of the same issues which have plagued the Gillard Government.

Perhaps the most striking think about today’s announcement is the decision made by Julia Gillard to create multiple ‘ministers for everything’. Five existing ministers in the Gillard ministry now have extra portfolios.

Anthony Albanese has had Regional Development and Local Government added to his title, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus takes on the dual role of Special Minister of State and Minister for Public Service and Integrity and Craig Emerson snares Chris Bowen’s former role in Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. Finally, Greg Combet becomes Minister for Climate Change, Industry and Innovation and Tony Burke adds Minister for the Arts to his already lengthy ministerial title.

Gillard backers have clearly been rewarded with the exception of Anthony Albanese, the conciliatory Rudd backer who has received the key portfolio of Regional Development which is a very neat fit with his existing responsibilities in Infrastructure and Transport.

There are just six months until the election. Obviously that has had a major impact on the distinct lack of change and renewal in the changes announced today at Government House. It would have been wise to promote existing talent, despite the electoral prospects of the ALP at the September 14 election. Some would consider that a waste of good people, but the best team should always be made available regardless of the state of play.

There were a number of new additions to the ministry, but for the most part they were underwhelming choices. Andrew Leigh and Gary Gray were the best appointments in the new ministry. Others elevated were Sharon Bird, Don Farrell, Catherine King, Michael Danby, Senator Jan McLucas, Senator Matt Thistlethwaite, Amanda Rishworth and Shayne Neumann.

If the Prime Minister was looking for a way to continue to foment chaos within her government, today she found it. Having so many ministers, already struggling with burdensome portfolios is not a smart political move at all. Yes, there is only six months to go until the polls and there will not be much more legislative work undertaken, but the policy effort must continue and will be stifled by the mega portfolios created today.

If ever you wanted a glimpse at the thinking of our leaders, without actually needing to hear an answer, you got it. Far from the bloated portfolios simply making policy work more difficult, the ministerial announcements also portray a fatalism within the Labor Party. That fatalism is obviously at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s mind, the reshuffle was designed by her.

If there was one strong positive about the announcement it is that there will apparently be a decrease in the size of government, or at least a bit of a streamlining of it. The Department of Climate Change will now merge with the Department of Industry and Innovation.

Like many problems, the solution to the personnel issue was rushed and ill-considered. There was a small amount of good done in the selections made, but it was cancelled out by the poor decisions.

Chaos will continue to reign and now the government quite clearly looks to have given up all electoral hope.

The Big Spill: All the Wash-up

This morning the ballot for the ALP leadership overwhelmingly confirmed that the ALP want Julia Gillard to continue to be the Prime Minister to take the Labor Party to the next election. This comes after a prolonged period of terrible polling dating back almost to the August 2010 federal election where the ALP Government swiftly lost its majority after Gillard wrested the Prime Ministership.

The Prime Minister won the leadership ballot today 71 votes to 31 for Kevin Rudd, a strong victory, though one that will continue to raise questions about the ongoing unity of the Gillard Labor Government nonetheless.

The lead-up to this big day was incredibly ugly, one of the most de-stabilising times for any party in my living memory (27 years).

The ugly, strong and vitriolic words started to accelerate a week or more before the Minister for Foreign Affairs decided, at a snap press conference at 1:30am in Washington DC to resign his posting, with Simon Crean coming out and declaring open warfare on Mr Rudd.

Those hurtful and damaging words and claims only intensified after that early morning press conference which signified the likelihood of a leadership challenge being brought to the Member for Griffith. This challenge came late last week with the Prime Minister calling for a spill with the former PM on his way home to announce his future, which was always going to be a tilt at the Prime Ministership.

Simon Crean continued his strong words against the former Prime Minister with notable contributions, for all the wrong reasons from Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy, Nicola Roxon and others.

The Rudd camp could quickly count in its corner the likes of Kim Carr, Doug Cameron, Martin Ferguson and Robert McClelland, both of whom came out publicly and supported Mr Rudd. They were followed slowly by Chris Bowen and in an emotional weekend announcement, Leader of the House Anthony Albanese.

It was very clear, almost from the outset of the spill announcement, that the Rudd camp would struggle to get close to the numbers required to take back the leadership of the ALP Government. The Rudd camp thought that they would have around 40, but of course ended up on the comparatively low 31 votes.

So with the vote now dispensed with and the hostilities finally quelled, at least from the public view, what happens now for the Gillard Government, to borrow a phrase, in “moving forward”?

This afternoon one of the factional heavyweights, Mark Arbib resigned his post as Assistant Treasurer and Minister for Sport and as a Senator for NSW, citing the need to heal the party and also family reasons for his shock decision. This will lead to at least one new face in the Gillard ministry.

More importantly, the Government need to find a new Foreign Minister, with Craig Emerson, the Trade Minister acting in the portfolio until a replacement is announced. Dr Emerson was in the frame for the job in the wake of the Rudd resignation from the post, but you would think him acting in the portfolio means that someone else would be chosen to take on the role full-time.

I have maintained for over a week now that Simon Crean was behind the scenes angling for the job in the event of Rudd going to the back-bench or leaving the parliament altogether. I said this for dual reasons, one that Simon Crean was the first to come out strongly against Kevin Rudd for backgrounding and causing de-stabilisation and two, because Mr Crean has had a long history in parliament and was Trade Minister under Kevin Rudd in fact, a portfolio under the same department as the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

On the Foreign Affairs front still, the other option being put forward in the media is for Stephen Smith to go back to the role that he held under the leadership of Kevin Rudd, though this seems unlikely as he has much work left to do in defence.

The Prime Minister will also need to work out whether she will replace any of the ministers that spoke out against her leadership and who, if any Ms Gillard would replace them with.

On that front, one Rudd backer, the Infrastructure and Transport Minister and Leader of the House, Anthony Albanese in his teary, heartfelt speech offered his resignation from the front bench which was not accepted by the Prime Minister. This signals that the Gillard Government will try to portray a sense of unity within the Government.

Other Ministers, like Robert McClelland, Chris Bowen, Martin Ferguson  and Kim Carr, all Rudd backers, according to some commentators, may face demotion or replacement in a reshuffle in the wake of this damaging time in the ALP. The former and the latter both faced demotion in the last ministerial reshuffle which occurred last year.

It is arguable that for the sake of maintaining the last shred of a facade of unity within the ALP caucus that Gillard should keep all of the key Rudd backers there in their respective places.

This challenge today has also shown that there is a not insubstantial percentage of the Labor caucus that think the Prime Minister is doing a bad enough job to be replaced with the peoples choice, Kevin Rudd and consequently does not shut the door on Rudd or another candidate taking the job if poor polls continue in the election year.

The damage is far from over and the Liberal/National Party Coalition will certainly be out to capitalise on all the material provided to them over the last few weeks in particular and undoubtedly events back to the successful leadership spill in 2010 and the goverment are certainly pedalling up a very steep hill indeed.

The Sunday Sandwich (That’s a Wrap)

Another week in Australian politics and more sensational events which have overshadowed inter-party politics and policy for another seven day period. But this week has been different. A leadership challenge is now afoot

The week began with Kevin Rudd in Mexico G20 Foreign Minister talks followed by the now famous trip to the United States of America.

Little was said by Kevin Rudd about the G20 talks and the same went for his trip to the United States, though meetings he was there for were of a high-level nature, including meeting with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

But then came that bombshell that changed the complexion of the rest of the week. Kevin Rudd called a late night press conference at the Willard Hotel in Washington DC with reporters over there covering the trip scrambling out of bed, rushing to get to what was sure to be a press conference of major significance, given the time and location. Kevin Rudd was resigning his post as Foreign Minister as the position had become untenable in recent weeks with colleagues openly and privately telling him to throw out his leadership ambitions and Rudd saying he did not have the support of his ministerial colleagues.

From the speech onward you knew that was far from the end of this epic story of a party in trouble not least because of leadership tensions in existence within the party- which usually do no de-stabilise this much. Kevin Rudd was to return to Australia on Friday where he would make a definitive statement on his future, which everyone knew, was almost certainly going to be a tilt for the leadership.

The Prime Minister then came out and announced that on Monday at 10am AEDT there would be a leadership spill and that she would be contesting that ballot. Senior Ministers then began filing out one by one in support of the Prime Minister even before Kevin Rudd confirmed he would contest the leadership vote.

That confirmation from Kevin Rudd came from the second press conference he held on Friday, after his return from overseas, where he outlined his vision for the future and canvassed some of the things he regretted from his past time in the Prime Ministership.

Prior to the official announcement by Kevin Rudd of his part in the ballot, ministers like Kim Carr and Robert McClelland gave their support to the former leader in the event he ran.

On another front, Chris Bowen, the Immigration Minister under Prime Minister Julia and Assistant Treasurer under Prime Minister Rudd indicated that he would encourage the former Prime Minister to run, all but indicating formally that he would support Mr Rudd in the ballot.

But it was Saturday that saw the Rudd camp attract its most high-profile Cabinet supporter, in one Anthony Albanese, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport and the Leader of the House, a day which also saw Senator Mark Bishop, a Gillard backer in the last ballot, switching sides.

The battle looks set to be a win for Julia Gillard to continue her Prime Ministership, looking like polling about 2/3 of the caucus vote on Monday. Though how this could really be seen as a win for Gillard, 30 odd is still a significant number that just contributes to the already toxic image of the Labor Party and damage done to Labor that will just be made even worse when it comes to light during the parliamentary week ahead.

In other news the Gonski Report into education funding was released this week but obviously completely overshadowed by the leadership tensions especially because the Gillard Government has not yet even committed to anything recommended in the report.

The only thing the government has said is that independent schools will not lose a dollar of funding and this would certainly add to the budget woes of the government were it to take immediate action which they need to do at least in the area of disability and indigenous loading.

The week has been dramatic, certainly the most dramatic since the leadership coup in 2010 in my relatively short time observing and commenting on politics from Canberra. Even after tomorrow the story will be far from over with Rudd seemingly likely to continue his campaign to become Prime Minister. I can smell the Labor Party rot from here.

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