Wednesday, 7 March 2012
NSW Labor would have loved to see Bob Carr in the Senate. Unfortunately his answer to us is still no.
– Twitter last Tuesday by Sam Dastyari – NSW Right general secretary.
Just signed Bob Carr’s nomination form for the ALP Senate pre-selection – Awesome!
– Twitter last Friday by Paul Howes – NSW Right union hack.
The NSW Right is the group that gives Labor governments strength, stability and campaigning ability. When the NSW Right is weak, so is the party.
– Mark Arbib at a NSW Right do this week.
There were two limitations of the Australian media exposed by its coverage of the events of the last fortnight. First it has a tendency to get tangled up into the events to the point where it thinks its own reaction constitutes a political event in itself. Secondly, it tends to mystify what are the normal internal workings of political parties. This is not an intellectual problem of journalists. It simply reflects the way that the media is being used by an increasingly dysfunctional political system to conduct even its most internal functions.
Take its coverage of the Carr appointment as an example. Let’s leave aside the question of whether one of the ALP’s most outspoken opponents of “Big Australia”, and current immigration levels, might make the best first ambassador to a region where Australia’s attitude to immigration remains a sensitive issue. Gillard’s “masterstroke” came not from the appointment, but from blind-siding a media that was caught out because it also became caught up in the events.
It is perfectly natural that the NSW Right would want to replace Mark Arbib with another of its own. It would almost be just as natural that if the plum job of Foreign Affairs came up at the same time, it might want to fill that as well. Carr was ideal because it would have allowed the NSW Right to do precisely that. It also helped of course that Gillard would have no problem with Carr either; after all, his “Little Australia” views are perfectly in line with hers and Sussex St’s Howardesque world-view.
This is not to say that by this being primarily a NSW Right appointment that Gillard is a “prisoner” of the factions – anymore than Hawke, Keating and Whitlam were – it’s simply the way the ALP works. Indeed other than a certain Queenslander, Gillard is probably less beholden to the factions than any Labor leader for some time. The problem for her is that the factional system that she, like most other Labor leaders, is relying on, is starting to breakdown.
That the NSW Right, historically Labor’s most important faction, would be overseeing Carr’s appointment is not unusual. What was less usual was that instead of it going through on the nod, the NSW Right lost control of it.
One of the products of the Rudd challenge was that it not only highlighted the disarray of the NSW Right, but brought into prominence individual Ministers playing a much more upfront role as they took to the airwaves on an internal issue as though only Labor members were paying any attention (which to be fair, was probably the case). How much it was newly-empowered Ministers or just the naughty Victorian Right playing up, is hard to tell. But by Tuesday, the Carr push looked to be dead.
So what to do? Well, funnily enough, suddenly on Wednesday we had a raft of articles simultaneously appearing in the Fairfax and Murdoch press all saying what a disaster it would be for Gillard and the government if the Carr appointment didn’t go ahead. It would also have been a disaster, apparently, if Smith had been moved from Defence.
The spin on all the articles was the same, the Carr appointment was a major test for Gillard’s authority … Labor MPs wringing their hands … test of leadership … doubts return … hum-te-dum-te-dum. The themes were the same, but not for any obvious reason. Gillard giving it to Smith would apparently show she couldn’t stand up to the “faceless men”. Why? Ministers like Crean and Smith may be non-descript, but to call them “faceless” sort of goes against the whole point of the tag. According to Shanahan “if Smith now gets the job of foreign minister, Gillard’s impotence on ministerial selections and renewal will be confirmed” – when going against the wishes of the NSW Right might just have easily confirmed the opposite.
Where had these stories, especially with such a spin, come from? With the Evil Ming now out of the picture it couldn’t be him. Maybe it was just good investigative journalism, with the simultaneous slanting in favour of Carr just being a coincidence. Surely it wasn’t the NSW Right leaking it? Surely one faction wouldn’t be pushing its own interests to the press, even if it meant damaging the Prime Minister and the government in doing so? That would be something completely unheard of for the NSW Right – except, of course, the last time they did it.
What we do know is that the NSW General Secretary’s tweeting to the world about it on Tuesday night was not especially helpful. And we do know that by Friday, the NSW Right had got what it wanted and “faceless man” par excellence Howes could tweet victory to the world. The press had been so ready to interpret the appointment of Smith as the inevitable collapse of Gillard’s authority that the appointment of Carr had to be hailed as a political “masterstroke”. Of course, it wasn’t a masterstroke, just the way the ALP works, but a little more clumsily than before.
Posted by The Piping Shrike on Wednesday, 7 March 2012.Filed under Media analysis, Tactics