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Australia Has Voted

Australia has now been to the polls. And as predicted we have elected a Coalition Government, ending 6 years of ALP rule starting and ending with Kevin Rudd, albeit with a stint from Julia Gillard for 3 years.

Kevin Rudd has decided, not so gracefully, to exit stage left in terms of the Labor leadership and Tony Abbott is now PM-elect.

Whether Kevin Rudd decides to stick around for another 3 years on the backbench is another story. Going on history you would expect him to quit the parliament at some stage during this term – likely early on. A number of his current and former colleagues have less than subtly suggested he quit the parliament for the good of the party.

WHAT WAS NOT A SURPRISE

It was not a surprise that Labor lost and that the Coalition victory was significant. For most of the last three years the Liberal and National Party opposition have been ahead in the polls – at times way ahead. An Abbott-led opposition victory, apart from at the very start of Rudd redux and the very early stages of the election campaign, was a fait accompli.

It was not a surprise that the Coalition would pick up seats and that these would be mostly in the eastern states, Liberal and National Party seats were gained in all four eastern states: Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

With the retirement of the two Independent MP’s who delivered Julia Gillard minority government, the Opposition started the campaign assured of picking up two electorates.

It was also probably not so much a surprise that a poor campaign performance from Greenway candidate Jaymes Diaz saw the Liberal Party fail to gain the seat of Greenway. At the same time, it was probably somewhat significant that Michelle Rowland actually had a pretty significant swing in her favour which should help out somewhat in future elections.

WHAT WAS A SURPRISE

First of all, a significant feature of the results was that western Sydney did not bring anywhere near as much pain for the ALP as many of the polls had predicted. Western Sydney was largely expected to turn blue, well before the campaign even commenced. As noted though, it was not a surprise that Jaymes Diaz lost in Greenway.

It was a pretty significant surprise that Tasmania saw the biggest swing against the Australian Labor Party. It was also significant that other southern states saw a bigger swing to the Coalition than the more northern states of New South Wales and Queensland, where both the Liberal and National Party were expected to enjoy significant swings.

In Queensland, the LNP would have hoped, even expected to gain the seat of Lilley from former Treasurer Wayne Swan, but this did not eventuate. For much of the night it looked as if the LNP would not take any Labor seats in Queensland, but now it would appear they have picked up two. It would appear they have not gone too well in Fairfax, with Clive Palmer seemingly headed for a surprise victory.

WHAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE RESULT

It must be said that the result was probably closer than it would have been had Julia Gillard still been Prime Minister, The election results are still a disaster for Labor. But even party faithful would be pretty happy with the fact that they did not lose a number of seats which would have largely been written off by party tacticians.

So the Rudd return to the leadership was probably responsible for a minor improvement in the electoral standing of the ALP. However it was far from the political masterstroke that polls claimed it would be.

At various times throughout the night it was mooted by commentators, Labor, Liberal and those non-aligned, that a significant factor in the result was the instability within the ALP over the last three years. They would not be wrong on that assumption. Disunity is political suicide.

But those commenting, particularly from the Labor side, gave far too much attention to that one single factor. Few were able to acknowledge that the Opposition were a united force and sufficiently strong force. In doing so, the ALP implied that the collective electorate had made a choice to vote for an Abbott Government based on one factor alone.

There were not just chaotic relationships within the ALP. there was also chaotic administration. Too much was rushed and there was not enough caution in the way the ALP governed. Australians appear to love big government in some ways and not others and Australians also love a pretty conservative style of governance. Labor did not deliver on the latter. And unless they realise that they have to be more cautious and circumspect in the future, they will continue to lose public support pretty swiftly.

WHAT LIES AHEAD

The Coalition now has another three years to govern the country. And this new opportunity probably comes a term sooner than expected. The challenge will be to carefully set out and plan the agenda for the next three years and not repeat the same governance mistakes that Labor have. What will likely be the most conservative administration in our history, is unlikely to make the same mistake.

Sorting out the budget as soon as possible is also likely to be a major challenge. The Coalition has come to recognise this in recent weeks, changing its’ stance on the surplus pledge.

There are an interesting three years ahead 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.

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?

It’s All Toxic For Labor, the Question is How Much Time Can be Bought

The toxicity of the Labor Party thanks largely to the leadership looks set to continue, even if some form of action is taken, whether it be a successful spill for Gillard or Rudd followed by a sacking, a pure sacking of Rudd, no action taken or if an election were called by the Prime Minister to end the pain. However, it is also worth noting it is not just the leadership and the problems are just as much about policy and promise-breaking.

The leadership tension has clearly mounted, particularly in the last two or so weeks with Ministers warning the Rudd camp and even a back-bencher, Darren Cheeseman calling for the Prime Minister to fall on her sword. A video was leaked of a sweary Kevin Rudd, doing nothing to harm his prospects of returning to the top job.

It is likely that some form of action will be taken in the near future. This will either take the form of a spill, forced by Gillard supporters, not by those who support Kevin Rudd, or the Prime Minister stoking up the courage, with an extra seat buffer, to sack Rudd and send him not to the back-bench, but back to south Brisbane for a holiday.

What is seeming less and less likely as the days go by is for Kevin Rudd to continue in his portfolio of Foreign Affairs. In my view Rudd doesn’t have the numbers to be successful, at least in the event of an initial spill, but almost certainly would have enough support to continue the terminal pain, with possibly a third or slightly more of the caucus supporting him in that event.

But the Labor Party is in a toxic position and no course of action would likely save them from electoral oblivion.

A successful spill by either Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd on its own, with the failed candidate going to the back bench is one option would provide the most longevity for the Labor Government. However, this option would also prove more toxic in the long-term with the deposed candidate, at this stage likely to be Kevin Rudd, sent to the back bench and even more free to take shots at the leadership, de-stabilising the ALP even further electorally for the next one and a bit years.

Were Rudd to be successful it is also entirely possible that there would be ructions caused by Gillard supporters which would also have the same long-term impact as allowing Kevin Rudd to stay in the parliament.

No action, it should be noted, would have the same impact on the future election prospects of the Labor Party, with Kevin Rudd and his supporters able to continue the same distractions that have plagued the Government since he lost the Prime Ministership. They would last until the next election, if a challenge were not eventually mounted, but suffer badly.

So then there is the option of sacking Kevin Rudd, not just from the Cabinet and Foreign ministry, but also from the parliament. This would provide the Gillard Government some clear with the only clear alternative to Julia Gillard not even in the room anymore.

But this action is fraught with its own danger in that it would return the Government to the position they were in last year before Peter Slipper left the Liberal Party upon becoming Speaker. Then, any small mishap or misadventure could see Labor lose office, though that seems fairly unlikely at this point.

Further, were the Government to sack Rudd from the parliament, he may then choose to leave the parliament altogether, in a final act of vengeance toward the party that cut him down in his early days. This would trigger a by-election in which it is entirely possible a Liberal Party candidate could win. In that event, the Gillard backers would have to make damn sure that Mr Rudd would remain in the parliament as an Independent MP.

The final action is for the Prime Minister to call an election and this may end up being better for the ALP in the long-term even though they would face a very heavy loss at an imminent election.

The other downside of this is that a general election would likely leave the two antagonists in the fold, with a general election unlikely to throw either of them out. The current Prime Minister would almost certainly leave the parliament after an election loss, possibly leaving it open for Rudd to take the post of Opposition Leader.

Another possible outcome would be that another member of caucus, possibly a Shorten or a Combet, less likely a Crean or a Smith would take the leadership, hopefully learning from recent history. In that case Kevin Rudd would certainly leave the parliament, triggering a by-election, again leading to a possible Liberal victory in the seat of Griffith.

It is clear to me that the least toxic option would be for a fresh election which would most likely result in either one or both of the protagonists leaving the parliament, allowing for fresh, relatively untainted leadership. There are options for longevity in a Rudd or Gillard Government with no action taken but they both are likely capped at around 12-18 months. The middle ground is to sack Rudd and at least get rid of the leadership tensions, still leaving the policy and believeability factors and returning to the very tenuous parliamentary circumstances of just a few short months ago.

The ALP have a lot to mull over in the coming days, at most weeks before deciding on a course of action. The outcome will be interesting and for them must be the good of the party over the want of the egos behind the party. I am not too sure it will end that way.

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