Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Carr is in, Rudd is out, but nothing much has changed

I have been away for three weeks and sadly nothing much has changed except that Kevin Rudd is out of the leadership race for now.

Although his popularity could have been a help to Labor, even marginal seat holders wouldn't have him. So we now know how much his own side can't stand him.

Apart from Kevin's current demise, the Labor leadership contest did nothing to deal with the many problems being loaded onto the Australian public.

Julia Gillard still holds the keys to the Lodge but we don't know for how long.

The basic equation for Labor remains; can Gillard get the votes to win a second term? Today, this issue has little prominence. The next election is not due until late 2013. When the election is nearer the poll ratings will not be ignored as they were by the ALP on February 27, 2012.

A last-minute change of leader is not new; there have been lots of last-minute changes at both state and federal levels. It will be an option carefully considered by Labor in 2013. It might be like the Rudd takeover of Beasley or Bob Hawke's last minute substitution of Bill Hayden that secured
Labor's win in 1983. Or it might be a John Howard situation in which case Gillard will go to the next election and lose.

The leadership election provided no response to the obvious fact that Australia's economic performance is not nearly as great as claimed by the Government. The latest GDP figures are worse than average, unemployment is up a notch as expected and we know productivity is languishing. Poor productivity is not helped when time lost to strikes in the last 12 months was twice the previous 12 months. This is indicative of the slow burn of Labor's economic management. And, from the July 1, 2012, the carbon tax will further penalise economic performance and will just add to the pressure to living standards.

Unfortunately another very obvious problem is our growing debt burden. Although Labor still promises a surplus, it is hard to believe unless there is some fiddling of the books. And that does not take into account the National Broadband Network which still looks like being the biggest white elephant ever built in Australia.

There are at least five other issues on the agenda still simmering away.

Education reform is most unlikely to go anywhere because Gillard is too weak to push big changes and even small changes are likely to raise suspicions about her real motives.

The referendum proposals for local government and Indigenous Australians are both too difficult. Labor has only ever succeeded once in persuading the Australian people to change the constitution. Gillard does not have the public standing to successfully propose a referendum.

Fourthly, pokies reform was always going to be uphill and it will now be buried. The final element to this saga will be when Andrew Wilkie loses his seat to the ALP at the 2013 election.

Fifthly, Labor's boat people policy is an unmitigated disaster. The weather has been particularly bad for boat arrivals in the last three weeks so it has not been an issue in the press most recently. However the weather will soon improve and the boats and the drownings will sadly resume.

Maybe the only thing to come out of the saga of Labor's leadership struggles will be the impact on two of the players in Labor's senior ranks.

Bob Carr's appointment was bungled at first but he is now Foreign Minister. Bob has been out of state politics since 2005 and is new to the Federal Parliament. His new job is far more physically demanding than any job he has had before. Premiers are busy people but driving around even a big place like NSW is not in the same league as the travel and night time phone calls of Foreign Ministers. He will have to accept and understand every detail and every big issue in a huge portfolio. He will get away with a few mistakes for a short time but not for long.

He will already be feeling a cultural shockwave. One moment he was a 64-year-old partially retired ex pollie enjoying mid-morning coffees at his own pace, probably reading the daily papers, doing the Sudoku, and saying 'no' as often as saying 'yes' to various things that ex-pollies are invited to do. Then in the next minute, he is a minister who no longer has five minutes of his own, the telephone calls keep coming 24/7, they are all important, he still can't remember all the names of his new advisers and he has not had one decent night of sleep since he started.

And that is just for the entree. Then he will have to learn the ropes around Parliament House and he will have to learn to work to his new boss. He has the experience to make a fist of the job but only time will tell if this was a good appointment or not. And he will have the added responsibility to all the under 64 'has beens' who dream of being rediscovered and reappointed to a top job in the cabinet.

The person who missed out was Stephen Smith. I surmise that Gillard knows that Smith sees himself as the dark horse alternative to her so she decided she would not give him any encouragement. If he is the man to replace her then he needs a strategy to make that happen. And he needs to get on with it.

So, we are sort of back to where we were three weeks ago. At least politics is never dull even when not much happens.

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