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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.

Where’s That Button?

Calendars have only just been flipped over to February and already so much has happened in Australian politics this new year. In just a few weeks the government’s standing has gone from bad to worse. Many of the government’s woes over the last 18 months have been as a result of difficult policy decisions made in response to the less than ideal budgetary position. A lot of the government’s troubles are also down to Tony Abbott’s leadership and the style of governance he has allowed to linger. So far in 2015 all the missteps are down to Tony Abbott – and only Tony Abbott.

That brings us to today, the 2nd of February, 2015. The Prime Minister made a rare appearance at the National Press Club today in a bid to give the public a taste of a government finally engaging with the public and proving that they have begun to listen to voter concerns.

Election night in Queensland drew our attention to the address in spectacular fashion, with Jane Prentice nominating it as a forum at which the Prime Minister had to perform some kind of miraculous recovery effort – setting out a way to escape the doldrums.

Unsurprisingly, Prime Minister Abbott was unable to perform this feat. There were ever so slight slivers of hope that the speech might give some kind of direction. At best it was a tired, spent leader trying to conjure up a final burst of energy, sprinting a bit, but wobbling at the crucial moment. At worst it was a display of arrogance and disdain for voters. Actually, it was probably a mix of the two.

The Prime Minister started by making some broad statements about what government should do and followed that with what his government had done and what it could both do, and do better.

In reality, what the Prime Minister should have done first was to move pretty swiftly into apology mode. Almost the whole speech could have been one long mea culpa, with a little bit of what he and the government were going to do for the next 18 months thrown in at the end.

Making broad statements about what governments should do is irrelevant when you have already achieved government. You draw attention to the fact that you are not doing those things if you need to spend time talking about them. Furthermore, it is the talk of an Opposition Leader and that is not a good look 18 months into office.

In other words, Tony Abbott had his speech in completely the wrong order.The resulting display was at least one-third waffle and two-thirds slight improvement.

The arrogance sprang from the way the Prime Minister took so long getting to what everyone was made to believe was the point of the speech – an apology for taking voters for mugs and a new way forward. In the case of a new way forward, we only got a brief glimpse of that, but again it was all vision and no substance. Again, something expected of Oppositions early on in a political term.

Shockingly, the Prime Minister also implied that voters were stupid and had encountered a “fit of absent-mindedness” in the Victorian and Queensland elections. Even a rookie politician knows that this kind of thought must not be put into words publicly, regardless of whether it is a correct observation or not.

It was tired precisely for the reasons mentioned above, in that there had been little thought and substance woven into the speech. And the Prime Minister looked tired too. There was very little energy put into the delivery, except when the PM mentioned the few things his government has actually done. The fact that came so early gave the address a valedictory feel.

Tony Abbott has spoken multiple times of hitting the reset button. On each occasion he has instead forgotten that the metaphorical button ever existed in the first place. Today was another one of those days for the struggling leader.

Today could have been Tony Abbott’s last chance to save his leadership and he did a very poor job of fighting for it . Or perhaps he knows that he is a spent force and today’s speech was simply going through the motions. He did however imply that his colleagues would have a fight on their hands to unseat him.

It is pretty clear from some of the facial expressions of his colleagues, captured on film throughout the hour, that they had noticed his suboptimal performance too.

Latham Ignores History

On breakfast radio, former Labor leader Mark Latham gave his two cents about the predicament that the Australian Labor Party finds itself in at the present time. Latham’s views on the Australian Labor Party and the election came less than 48 hours after a thumping victory for the WA Liberals and Nationals at the state poll in the west. The former Opposition Leader made clear on the ABC’s AM program this morning, his views about Kevin Rudd and the question of the leadership of the Australian Labor Party as we amble towards the September 14 election.

To put it quite simply, Mark Latham’s thoughts on how to deal with Kevin Rudd appears to have been, like some of his past actions, the result of a brain snap. It is clear that Mark Latham has forgotten much of Australia’s recent political history. Or perhaps he like many Labor supporters, is simply wishing it away in his mind. Whatever the reason, the thought process was lacking.

Mark Latham’s brilliant advice to the ALP was for the Prime Minister to give Kevin Rudd a ministry, preferably Climate Change Minister. In making this point, Latham said that giving Rudd a ministry would be a “much better utilisation of Rudd’s talents than being Labor’s destabiliser-in-chief”.

Well Mark Latham is right about one thing here: it would be much better for the Labor Party to have a man of Rudd’s popularity in the ministry. People, on the whole, still seem willing to listen to what Kevin Rudd has to say and having one of the smarter members of the Labor team actually in the ministry would be a wise tactical decision.

Where Mr Latham’s argument fails him is his inability or perhaps unwillingness to remember what happened when the former PM was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. There was open hostility towards Prime Minister Julia Gillard from the vanquished and it all culminated in a leadership spill after which Kevin Rudd retreated to the backbench, becoming simply the MP for Griffith.

For Kevin Rudd and many of his supporters, being a part of Labor’s inner-circle would simply not be enough. We know that the backgrounding and sniping at the Prime Minister would continue right through until polling day. The only thing which would come close to bringing an end to the divisions within the party would be if he were to be given his old friend Wayne Swan’s portfolios – both of them. Even then, that most likely would not be enough for the man.

Something that needs to be kept in mind is that the worry within the Labor Party about the leadership is now far less about causing trouble for Julia Gillard because she knifed a first-term PM, and far more about worried backbench MP’s considering their best hope for electoral survival as election day nears.

The backgrounding and destabilisation now far less about causing trouble for the Julia Gillard than it was in the early days and far more about the poor poll predicament Labor find themselves in. For as long as the polls are bad for Labor, the rumbles about leadership change will continue.

In the interview Mark Latham also cautioned against Labor re-installing Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. If the polls are to be believed, there would certainly be a positive change amid a reversion to Kevin Rudd and Labor would become at the very least competitive, but poll-winning heroics would appear to be a far-fetched idea.

The long and the short of it is that Mark Latham is wrong on Rudd. There is no way to stop the ructions in Labor except to do much better in the opinion polls. The question of leadership change is more complicated, but ultimately, if we choose to believe the published numbers, then going back to Rudd, at least in theory, is a better decision.

The Politics of The Stupidly Predictable: The ‘Ruddbull’ Q&A

In the week leading up to last night’s episode of ABC1 panel show Q&A, the instalment was billed as the Rudd and Turnbull show, the ‘two elephants in the room’, despite the fact that there was two other panellists, Judith Sloan and Heather Ridout. A new noun was spawned for the two former leaders, ‘Ruddbull’.

Despite the two female members of the panel, that’s basically what it was, the Rudd-Turnbull conversation hour with the occasional recognition of the other two guests on the show.

There were two questions you just knew were unfortunately going to be asked, either by a member of the audience or through a video question. After a good 53 minutes of intelligent questions and reasonable debate, a rarity for Q&A, those questions came.

The first question was along the lines of ‘Malcolm and Kevin: When will you take back the reins of leadership, reclaiming the place that rightly belongs to you in your respective political parties?’.

The second question that is usually asked when Kevin Rudd or Malcolm Turnbull are appearing publicly is equally as vapid, predictable and lacking in intellect. It is a question that, coming from a guest on a show about politics , actually reveals a distinct lack of understanding of both the ideological spectrum and the political realities of present day politics.

That question usually goes a little something like this- ‘Kevin and Malcolm: When are you two going to leave your respective political parties and form a third force in politics to conquer all evil in both the Liberal and Labor Parties?’

This might come as a shock to many, but both the Liberal and Labor Party dumped Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd some time ago now. Malcolm Turnbull was the first to go, dispatched in favour of the more conservative and anti-ETS  Tony Abbott. Then, half a year later, in the swiftest and rarest of prime ministerial coups, Kevin Rudd was gone in favour of Julia Gillard.

What may also surprise people is that despite the poll popularity of both Rudd and Turnbull, neither candidate can lay claim to the being the rightful ‘owner’ of the leadership. That is true of any candidate, despite popularity.

We know in theory that the polls say that is the contest people want. But the reality is different.

Rudd may be more popular with voters than Julia Gillard, but his popularity was sliding while still in office. Also, after having his reputation so heavily besmirched by his own party, by some of his own cabinet, there is absolutely no hope of him ever being returned. This is especially the case after being heavily defeated in the February leadership spill.

If Mr Rudd were returned, the Liberal Party would have a field day. As it is, their campaign strategy for the next election, in terms of targeting the ALP, has already been written.

The case for Mr Turnbull is slightly different.

It is true that under his leadership the polls were getting close and may have continued to improve for the Coalition as we neared the 2010 election, However, a first term defeat still would have been a very unlikely proposition, even though that nearly happened under Tony Abbott.

The simple fact with the Liberal side of politics is that Malcolm Turnbull was dumped in favour of Tony Abbott who managed to greatly excite the party’s base, increasingly conservative voters.

The positive for Turnbull is that the polls are narrowing and Tony Abbott continues to be an unpopular leader. Among Liberal voters, according to one poll, Malcolm Turnbull is preferred Liberal leader.

It is also the case that the carbon price, according to the polls, is becoming much less of an issue. If that trend continues, a pro-ETS leader in what was largely a pro-ETS party, but for electoral purposes, could again seize the leadership.

However, it is a case of ‘what-ifs’. It would seem that the polls are unlikely to change much more than they already have and if they do not narrow further in the coming months, the case for Turnbull leading the Liberal Party will again peter out.

But again, Turnbull is not the rightful heir of some kind of political kingdom.

In terms of the hilarious proposition that Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull hand in their membership cards and leave their respective parties to form a new political force, well, one can only laugh.

Of course largely, across politics, particularly in recent decades, there has been a significant amount agreement on policy grounds, over 80%, even during what is supposed to have been a destructive Abbott leadership.

Really, there should be more of a policy difference between both the Coalition and the Labor Party. There is however, in the real world of politics, the bane, many would say electoral reality, of populism.

What, in terms of major policy, do the two actually agree on? Very little actually. They may agree on outcomes, but as for the mode of getting there? Well there is clearly a difference.

Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull do both agree about acting on climate change, but so did most of the Liberal Party under Turnbull’s leadership and at least 44 Liberal MP’s in the leadership vote until the electoral popularity of the anti-carbon tax stance set in. So then obviously a number in the Liberal Party should actually leave it, not just Malcolm? I think not.

That really is the key similarity other than Kevin Rudd’s fake claim before the 2007 election to be an economic conservative. Malcolm Turnbull actually is one and has a history of economically conservative actions in an economically conservative government.

The only other key similarity is actually still a difference. Both Mr Rudd and Mr Turnbull represent more of what their party used to be than what it is today. Kevin Rudd is a social democrat and Malcolm Turnbull a liberal conservative rather than a conservative liberal, some would even say a true liberal.

Of course populism means there will be other similarities between the two and between the political parties they represent, though they are not as deep and abiding as to allow for the formation of a political party with broad common interests.

Kevin Rudd is undoubtedly to the left of the current ALP and Malcolm Turnbull to the left of the Liberal Party. However, Turnbull is firmly placed on the right of the political spectrum and Rudd on the left.

Unfortunately, a show now more interested in the superficial, in personalities, or at the very least a narrow range of policy areas again strayed into the absurd.

What should be a serious political show must not indulge such strange, deluded and predictable thoughts and certainly not on a regular basis.

Newspoll and Mischievous Thoughts

The Prime Minister and her government have been enjoying some improvements to their poll fortunes in recent times. The Labor Party have been clawing back ground, at least as far as the Morgan, Nielsen and Newspoll results have shown. The Essential Poll on the other hand hovers at around the levels we have seen from that survey for some time now.

While it appears that the Newspoll is mischievous, bouncing like a kid on a pogo stick and now showing the ALP and the Coalition level-pegging, it appears that the electoral reality lies somewhere between Essential, Morgan and Nielsen where the real electoral prospects for the Labor Party seem to lie.

However, the improvement, while much less dramatic than Newspoll would have you believe, should be pause for some thought. In the Labor Party caucus room they would be pondering mostly positive thoughts. The belief that they are done for, while not dissipating at a rate of knots within the party room, would be receding slowly in the mind’s of some MP’s.

For the Liberal and National Party coalition thoughts would or at least should be turning to what they can do now, to how they can shift strategy to arrest the decline in their vote instead of having to play a game of catch-up.

But let’s for a moment, in the spirit of mischief, contemplate the options that might lie ahead for both the Labor Government and the Opposition. What would they be thinking? What scheming would be happening?

If the result really was level on a two-party preferred basis the ALP would be incredibly buoyant. They would feel that a win at the 2013 election was within reach. Labor Ministers and MP’s think that now in the wake of improving poll numbers, though that belief is still somewhat delusional. The election is far from being lost by the Liberal and National Party coalition.

The Liberal Party would be, if they had not already as a result of the declining numbers, be seriously questioning what might be going wrong. They would be looking at changing tack, changing strategy where their efforts on specific issues are losing traction.

The Coalition would also need to look at beginning to both refine and announce more aspects of their policy agenda. At the same time, they would need to continue to explain that the budget situation is tight. To not continue to further prosecute this case would result in one of the remaining areas of some strength for the Opposition falling away. To not continue talking about it would look like backing away from the validity of their arguments about the budget position.

In terms of leadership, there would be even further clear air for Julia Gillard. The Prime Minister would almost certainly be safe in the run-up to the 2013 election. To come back from the depths of despair, from record low votes, would cement Ms Gillard’s leadership position.

Kevin Rudd, already out of the leadership equation for the most part, would see his prospects for a return to Prime Minister, even in terms of the way his ego allows him to see things, almost completely vanish.

The third candidate idea too would practically cease being necessary.

Leadership of the Liberal Party would also be affected in some way by even poll results. Malcolm Turnbull would at least have distant sight of the leadership, especially if it was the case that the arguments against the carbon price continued to fall away.

Were poll results to actually reach the stage of being level it would be important that the Liberal Party had learned the lesson of Labor. That very public education in the perils of leadership transitions should have taught all political parties that a knee-jerk reaction to poor polling could have long-term negative consequences. There is a possibility though that this argument need only apply to a popular leader and Tony Abbott certainly cannot be characterised in that way.

In terms of going to an early election, ordinarily that would be on the table. However, with a minority government situation, supported by MP’s that want the parliament to go full-term, the chances of that outcome are almost non-existent.

Even if an early poll was a possibility, the decision to go to one would be fraught with danger. Electors could view a snap poll as a move of pure political expediency and therefore not take too kindly to the idea at all.

The polls are undoubtedly getting closer, but how close and how real the narrowing of margins is remains unclear. It is still on the naughty side to be talking of leadership change in the Opposition despite results being less assured. What is almost without doubt is the need for a shift in the focus of Coalition strategy.

Old Lessons Still Proving Hard to Learn for Confused Labor

Labor had been in the doldrums for a long time and then along came a Newspoll, probably errant, but buoying the ALP nonetheless. That pleasant feeling must not have lasted for long. Another Essential Media poll this week put the lead Coalition lead at about where it has been this year, 55% for the Opposition and 45% for the Gillard Government. As if the realisation that things were likely nowhere near as good as they seemed last week, along came Lindsay Tanner today to make unpleasant feelings a whole lot worse.

The former ALP MP and Finance Minister under the leadership of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd again sparked the flames that Labor probably felt had been extinguished, or at least brought under control after the February leadership vote which Mr Rudd lost so comprehensively. But far from just rubbing salt into the slowly healing Labor Party wounds in relationship to leadership matters, Mr Tanner also ventured deeply into criticisms of the ALP, questioning whether or not they still hold any values.

The former frontbench MP today said of the decision to dump Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard that it was a “poll-driven panic” which of course even the most casual of political observers, even the uninformed, would say is an accurate classification of the circumstances and events that saw Kevin Rudd so ruthlessly dumped by the Labor Party.

He goes on to say that the factional bosses have learnt from the shockingly stupid and incredibly premature move in mid 2010. That is almost certainly the case too. While now actually faced with little to no prospects of re-election for a long period of time, the Australian Labor Party have remained strongly attached to the leadership of Julia Gillard.

Again covering old territory, though slightly more recent, Tanner said that the strongly vitriolic criticisms directed at Kevin Rudd, just prior to and during the February leadership brouhaha were silly then an would have lasting consequences for the electorally troubled party.

But where the dismay at the ALP from Lindsay gets more interesting, though no less dated, indeed, arguably much more long-term than the Rudd leadership coup and internal party ructions around that, is whether there are any Labor values anymore. He says that “the Labor Party is ceasing to be an incubator and a driver of reform.”

This is not far from the truth. Despite what you think about the costs and benefits of the National Broadband Network, which are both high and highly questionable, it is essentially a Labor reform and one that would have historically been recognised as such.

There are other Labor reforms, like the NDIS and the recent Gonski and dental health announcements which would be recognised as Labor reforms. But these have tended to be grand announcements which the ALP has little or no intention of funding, nor would they think that their administration would have to fund them, though part funding has been allocated to both the National Disability Insurance Scheme and oral healthcare changes. In the case of the NDIS too, Tanner says the design and development was outsourced to the Productivity Commission and would not have been in the past.

Tanner goes on to say that the Labor Party is becoming “a reactor, a passive political player that sits there responding to circumstances and pressures rather than being the driver of where our nation heads.”

This suggests that Tanner believes the ALP is becoming more conservative in nature, that is not tending to engage in change because it might be the smart thing to do in certain policy areas.

The use of the word ‘reactor’ by Mr Tanner also tends to bear out this argument as conservatives too, when actually engaging in change tend to react well behind the curve.

It has become clear, through actions too, particularly post-Rudd that the plea of the former ALP PM in 2010 to not swing to the right, has fallen on deaf ears. Almost immediately the new Prime Minister swung to the right on asylum seekers, a move that probably resulted in a wry smile on the face of former Prime Minister John Howard.

But again, this is old news. The party of the right, the Liberal Party swung farther to the right, from social liberal mixed with some religious conservatism to almost full-blown conservatism with a little liberalism mixed in from time to time. This probably occurred earlier than Labor began their evolution into a party that doesn’t particularly represent their traditional values.

Uncomfortable for some, this could be largely down to political realities which appear to show that some form of conservatism suits the people, those going out to vote. But both sides of politics could lose more true believers of the ideologies that are supposed to dominate the core thinking of the two major political parties.

These lessons from Tanner are in no way new, apart from the fact that this is really the first time he has publicly directed both barrels at the party he once served in government. What his words do is bear out some truths in the shift that has occurred in ALP politics both after Kevin Rudd and more broadly over the political history of the ALP, the last 15 to 20 years in particular.

Tanner’s words, repetitive as they are, also prove that these lessons, though repeatedly taught are proving hard to learn from.

Fitzgibbon Airs the Obvious and Again Opens Wide the Leadership Question

Leadership rumblings: they’re like a perennial thing in politics these days unless it seems you’ve had the same Prime Minister or Premier in for more than a term or so and doing consistently well. Comments last night from Chief Government Whip, Joel Fitzgibbon, whilst not explicitly suggesting or admonishing Julia Gillard to depart from the top job have added fuel to the leadership fire. This fire began smouldering basically on the day Ms Gillard snatched the leadership from Kevin Rudd 2 years ago with the public not taking particularly kindly, especially in Queensland, to the move to oust Rudd from office. Throw in an array of political and policy failures along the way, some neglected under Kevin Rudd and not dealt with or attacked in the wrong way by Julia Gillard and that inferno is now well and truly alight.

The appearance of Joel Fitzgibbon, a key Gillard-backer just months ago during the February leadership spill brought on by the Prime Minister on Q&A raised not just the question of who would be leader at the next election, Gillard, Rudd or a third candidate, but also exactly what qualities and appeal that leader would need to possess to be electorally enticing.

From the outset, it is important to point out that the next election for Labor, despite leadership choice will surely be a lost cause for the ALP. Not only will it be a loss for the government, but on polling numbers for months on end, it has the makings of an epic defeat where the Labor Party could be all but wiped out in Queensland.

To lose an MP or two in Queensland, without gaining any elsewhere would be a big enough worry for the ALP Government so on the nose with the public and enough to seal their fate. But the government also look likely to have trouble saving seats in New South Wales too which due to it’s population has a number of seats on offer that the Coalition failed to grab, but could easily have won in 2010.

Staying with Prime Minister Gillard will almost certainly lead to a massive defeat, with the current Prime Minister seen by the public as the face of the credibility crisis that the Labor Party faces at the present time. Out of the three leadership options of Gillard, Rudd or anyone but Rudd and Gillard it is the one likely to lead to the biggest electoral defeat.

Were Labor to go with the second option, a return to Rudd, they would need to mend the massive wounds caused by the Rudd-Gillard spat which has been continuing even since the PM secured 2/3 support of her party room in the February ballot for the ALP leadership. That would mean countless ministers either resigning their posts and as they said at the time, refusing to serve under Kevin Rudd or it would mean a reconciliation of sorts between these senior figures and the reinstated PM. The latter would be hard for the public to buy with the harsh words splashed across the news just months ago and the former would just add to the electoral rot.

That said, in spite of the immense problems a Rudd return would bring, it would serve at the moment as the best option that the ALP have to at the very least save some of the furniture and perhaps do a bit more than that. But it would also give the Liberal and National Party much more electoral fuel to run with and ultimately likely still end up with a Labor electoral loss.

This is where Mr Fitzgibbon’s comments about populism mattering in politics come to the fore. Kevin Rudd is by far the most popular person in politics in Australian in just about any poll that is realised and that is despite the Opposition under Tony Abbott enjoying such an extensive lead in the race for The Lodge. It is true though that a Rudd return has been shown to translate into a winning position for the ALP but this would have to be accompanied by policy backdowns and reversals at the very least.

The idea of populism mattering in politics doesn’t just apply to leadership too. Populist politics as far as policy development and implementation goes is also smart politically, at least in limited use over ideologically pure politics and is common practice of just about any democratic government anywhere in the world.

A third candidate would probably be the most disastrous option with none of the floated alternatives, be it Stephen Smith, Bill Shorten, Simon Crean or otherwise polling anywhere near competitive in preferred leader stakes. It would be best to save one of these candidates until after the election to lead the Labor Party in a process of rebuilding rather than to waste them on an election they would lose and not admirably.

All in all it looks at least for the foreseeable future that the government will persevere with Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, but you would have to think that Kevin Rudd or a third candidate, regardless of the pitfalls are still options that are being canvassed, surely with electability being foremost on the collective mind of the caucus.

Labor have a lot of questions to ask inwardly of themselves over the next 12 months before the 2013 election but basically every answer will be a completely negative one with the most important question then being “what do we do to help put us in the best position to rebuild in a fast and efficient manner”. Also, a little dose of populism despite the ugliness of the term in politics might just help a little.

Question Time Ahead of Time

They say that politics is unpredictable and of late you could not disagree more with that statement, especially when talking about the Question Time strategy employed particularly by the Tony Abbott led Opposition, but also the plan of attack of the Gillard Government. But that all seemed to change for at least yesterdays hour or so of Question Time where the usual focus of the Coalition was turfed out for the most part and the issue of importing overseas workers for a mining project took centre stage in the political debate during Question Time in Canberrra.

This issue came to the fore because of the leadership tensions which it apparently stoked and will likely fizzle out as a story fairly quickly and as a major point of attack for the Coalition who will probably return to the usual suspects of topics if not today, then tomorrow or maybe later this week.

The Coalition may continue to attempt making some political mileage out of the leadership issue tomorrow in relation to the deal struck between Gina Rinehart and the ALP Government, but it will almost certainly be less of a focus than it was during Question Time today.

What seems more likely is a return to the script which has been performed to within an inch of its life and that is the Coalition returning to focus on the carbon tax which will play front and centre of the political strategy and be the major election issue that the Liberal and National Party will fight on during the (presumably) 2013 election campaign.

There might also be somewhat of a focus on the Craig Thomson/HSU debate which despite not being particularly evident yesterday, except for during Senate Estimates still bubbles along as an unresolved issue for the government even though they have ditched the Member for Dobell from the caucus. Pretty much every avenue of parliamentary attack and then some around this issue has been utilised.

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan which is currently being debated in Canberra may also be a subject of parliamentary debate in the House of Representatives, though this is much more likely to occur in the Senate and come from Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce.

The government will likely again focus on the economy with the post-budget message still needing to be sold to the groups targetted in the fiscal statement just weeks ago.

The ALP will also focus the use of the Dorothy Dixer on the Household Assistance Package which will provide compensation for the carbon price which will commence in just over a month on the 1st of July, with initial payments hitting the accounts of pensioners already this week ahead of the introduction of the controversial policy.

It could also be legitimately expected that the Labor Party focus their questions too on a wider range of issues with one or two questions possible about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and other issues not canvassed by the Opposition in which the government thinks they can get a good message out on.

Whatever tomorrow holds, you can be certain that it will be the start of a return to business as usual after some ever so brief respite from the one issue politics that has seemed to dominate political discourse in Australia in recent years and accelerated under this minority government.

All the Question Time action begins at 2pm though you will be forgiven if you decide it’s best to give it a miss.

Question Time Ahead of Time

The life of this tense, predictable and too unpredictable 43rd parliament enters another week as it screams even closer to the long winter recess with this week and then another two week sitting period left in June before over a months break. But for now there is still another 3 weeks of sitting before the parliamentarians and viewers of it get some respite from the rowdiness and almost formulaic approach to Question Time that has emerged over a period of time. Our parliamentarians might be having a winter break from parliament, but they won’t be going into political hibernation, the thirst for power and political momentum precludes that.

As always there is a small combination of areas which the Coalition will use in their pursuit of the Gillard Government during Question Time. It is quite likely to be full-on attack strategy today in the hour and a bit of Question Time, though shock and awe it will not be because the subjects of focus have been discussed and debated for some time in the broader political debate.

As has been said previously, the carbon price is nearing commencement, due to come into effect on the 1st of July, pretty much just a month away and will likely be the major focus during Question Time, perhaps, though this is the slightly unpredictable factor, being the matter of the focus of most Opposition questions.

Events surrounding Craig Thomson, the MP for Dobell are also likely to bear some focus during Question Time from the Coalition despite the fact that the subject and avenues of action around it have been exhausted and this goes to the very nature of this minority government with power being the main game in the halls of Canberra.

Leadership and confidence is also quite likely to enter the Question Time debate with whispers flaring up over the weekend, thanks to a policy announcement by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen on Friday which has brought divisions in the caucus out into the sunshine again.

There were also reports over the weekend in relationship to the leadership issue that Joel Fitzgibbon, the Chief Government Whip, a Gillard supporter had openly been counting numbers for a Rudd return to the Prime Ministership, a post he lost so unceremoniously.

Further to these areas of debate, a question or two, perhaps more to mix things up and keep them slightly different may well be on the believability of the predicted budget surplus and the spending contained within the budget.

A question or questions from the Abbott-led Opposition in relation the operation of the Fair Work Act, as well as Fair Work Australia, not in relation to the Craig Thomson/HSU matter will also be a distinct possibility.

The ALP Government, for its part will almost certainly continue its effectively sole focus since the budget and that is, selling the budget. The government will use the Dorothy Dixer to attempt selling aspects of the budget that will provide low and middle income earners with extra money for educating their kids and for their families.

The Government may choose to talk about the Clean Energy Future (read, carbon tax, carbon price) but this is likely to have much less of a focus given the controversial nature of the policy and is likely to focus on the compensation package provided in an attempt to blunt the inevitable costs of such a policy.

Events will be borne out from 2pm today and they are not for the faint-hearted.  Indeed only the masochistic political wonks around this fair rock of ours should delve into the frustrating wonder that is Question Time. But seriously, politics is really cool.

Bounce, Bounce, Come On Bounce

The latest Newspoll continues to outline the grim and growing reality facing the Australian Labor Party, that barring a major fiasco tainting the Opposition, their hopes for winning the next election, due in 2013 are sinking further and further past the already toxic level it appears they have reached. The commentariat, including those that often are sympathetic toward an ALP Government seem to have roundly deserted praising and supporting the party in the press. This has been particularly the case since the events of the weekend when Craig Thomson and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Peter Slipper, both facing allegations of wrongdoing, were encouraged to appear to ostracise themselves.

The primary vote for the Coalition in the latest Newspoll has hit over 50% of the votes on offer if the polls are to be believed to indicate and mirror electoral reality exactly, now sitting at 51%. The Labor primary vote in the Newspoll released overnight now sits on 27%, close to half that of the Abbott-led Coalition and well into the electoral “death zone”.

In two-party-preferred terms the results could barely get any worse for the Gillard Government, with the 2PP vote now being 59% for the Liberal and National Party Opposition compared to 41% for the government, a result in itself which barely sees the government outside the zone for electoral disaster on two-party terms.

Even in the measure where the Prime Minister could draw at least some form of optimism if not for the hopes of the party, but for her leadership as compared with that of Tony Abott for the Liberal Party provides less cause for optimism. In the preferred Prime Minister stakes, Prime Minister Gillard has dropped 3% to sit on 36%  as opposed to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott who now sits on 41%, a 5 percentage point lead.

Surely the ALP will be saying internally to the polls to “bounce, bounce, come on bounce”, particularly after the budget is delivered on May 8th and after the announcement yesterday that the NDIS, which is projected to help over 400,000 families will commence a year earlier at 4 “launch sites” across Autralia, initially helping 10,000 Australians, but with a “tough budget” supposed to occur, that will likely not turn into a political reality.

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