Through the looking-glass

Monday, 4 February 2013 


I would not have left if I thought it would do harm to the Party or the Government.

Senator Chris Evans resigning on Saturday

This is precisely the right time because Parliament will resume next week, which gives my caucus colleagues an opportunity to deliver their judgment on who should be the next Senate Leader in a timely way.

Julia Gillard

Well at least we know why Roxon could say she would never work under Kevin Rudd last February, because she had already decided she wouldn’t work under anyone. Apparently.

One of the fascinating things to watch in the last few elections is the way that parties that have turned inwards in their malaise, are then forced to go through the agonising process of trying to turn outwards as they approach the electorate. They usually don’t succeed. It happened to the Liberals in 2007, both parties in 2010 and now Labor in 2013.

To anyone (bothering) to look at the events in Canberra last week, barely any of it would have made a lick of sense.

Let’s take the Prime Minister at her word, there is no reason not to, and agree that both Roxon and Evans did actually decide they wanted to quit a year ago (as opposed to the last few days as implied on Saturday by Craig Emerson and a sympathetic piece on Roxon in the SMH). So, having just been appointed Attorney-General, Roxon went to Gillard around the same time as Evans and said she wanted to resign.

Gillard then sat on what must have been Canberra’s best kept political secret for a full year not using any of the caucus meetings to elect a replacement for Evans in the Senate, while Roxon carried on with an even more ambitious program than before.

Then Gillard starts the new year with a landmark speech setting out (sort of) her plans for the year and then takes the unprecedented step of announcing an election date to create “certainty and stability”. But given how far Labor is behind, the only “certainty” it gives is to fix when Labor will lose. Furthermore, throwing away an advantage of incumbency to create certainty is done not only with a major reshuffle having still not been done, but without even giving a hint that it would be happening in a couple of days.

Finally when it does happen, instead of Gillard presenting it as a rejuvenation that she is control of, with a couple of necessary retirements as a sideline (as Howard used to), she presents it the other way round, as resignations that she is forced to respond to.

To anyone who thinks parties are just about winning elections, this seems like unfathomable electoral tactics and a sure way to give a sense of chaos for the Coalition to take advantage of. Yet on the basis which the party is being run at the moment, for internal reasons, it is easier to see why it happened.

Gillard is facing internal destabilisation. The source of that is not just Rudd, as it is almost purely discussed in the media. But rather the breakdown of the factional system of which Rudd is a chief beneficiary. As Gillard found when she replaced Arbib in the Senate and floated the idea of Smith as Foreign Minister last year, the prospect of a factional row has the potential to destabilise her own leadership as well.

This is likely to be why she waited until she announced the election date well in advance – a lousy tactic externally for someone so far behind – but an attempt to lock in the party behind her before attempting to deal with the Senate vacancy and minimising the time it could become a destabilising faction fight.

In many ways, Gillard’s announcement of an election date has echoes of Howard’s decision to announce his retirement before the 2007 election. It was designed to deal with internal pressures by keep Costello off his back in the short term, but it was a disastrous move electorally because it crystallised Howard’s problem to the electorate.

In Labor’s case it is more institutional. Gillard has come in on the back of the factions reasserting control, but faces the breakdown of the system below her, yet without being in a position to over-ride it. It is the problem with Peter Van Onselen’s call for Rudd’s return this morning. First because the barriers to Rudd’s return are institutional, not a matter of electoral mathematics. Secondly without a thorough breaking down of the factional system, under the guise of “party democracy”, Rudd would find any electoral advantage would be undermined away as well.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Monday, 4 February 2013.

Filed under Tactics

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8 responses to “Through the looking-glass”

  1. Avalon Dave on 5th February 2013 10:53 am

    ”Everyone should take a long, cold shower.” – K Rudd 5 Feb.

    A spill may be very close 🙂

  2. Ralph on 6th February 2013 4:47 pm

    Who knows what’s coming up, but I get the impression that Labor is far from in control of its re-election strategy. It’s hard to see a switch in leaders right now.

    However, if the polls are still looking dire in a few months’ time, a change to Rudd couldn’t be out of the question. If they’re going to lose anyway, may as well go for the miracle play. I get the impression that the public doesn’t really like Abbott and are wary of electing him. However, they probably will anyway because they have had a gutful of Gillard. I’m not sure if there is anyone in the ALP that could turn it around. What a truly awful choice Australians have on 14 September.

  3. Marilyn on 6th February 2013 6:28 pm

    Ralph, you are quite right. I will make a punt here and state that if Peter Garrett had the shackles removed he is the only one in parliament today with the pied piper skills required to lead the public with some honour.

    The rest are dirty dealing factional hacks.

    There is no-one in the liberal party.

  4. Riccardo on 6th February 2013 9:05 pm

    Question is – does rudd want the ignominy of being PM again for a defeat he didnt cause, or newly elected LOOP with many f the right faction bullies like swan and smith on small margins not elected to veto him in caucus

  5. Chris Grealy on 7th February 2013 4:01 am

    This is, of course, complete nonsense. People get tired, decide to retire, look for new opportunities or just a change, every single day. To suggest that pollies should never, ever be able to retire without bringing disaster on their party is quite literally insane, but that is what we have come to expect from the right whingers, and they were only too happy to oblige. Oh, and let’s throw in the 2000th Rudd challenge story of the past 2 years. Because if we mention the great achievements of this government, and the utter failure of the opposition, how would that make us look? Bitter and irrelevant?

  6. The Piping Shrike on 7th February 2013 7:30 am

    OK. Even for a Labor fan clearly under stress, that pretty well had nothing to do with what’s being written here.

  7. Austin 3:16 on 9th February 2013 8:36 pm

    –Because if we mention the great achievements of this government–

    Oh go on mention those achievements, it won’t take long.

  8. Thomas Paine on 18th February 2013 12:46 am

    Interesting choices for Labor. Protect the factions by going to defeat, or possibly keep Abbott out (or restrict opposition time to one term) by switching to Rudd.

    Though a return to Rudd is a loss of power for right factional power. It is clear already after this latest Nielsen that some right wing Labor hacks wont vote for Rudd Labor, preferring to protect their masters.

    But if things sit around these terrible numbers their will be revolt of the marginal seat MPs that even the right wing power brokers under their rocks wont be able to stop.

    Best thing for Labor would be either a thrashing at an election and a cleaning out of the corrupt elements in the right wing, or a return to Rudd who would also diminish their power.

    I think the right wing is going to be taken to the woodshed either way. Stick with gillard and get annihilated, go to Rudd and possibly win…but take your stripes from him.

    Maybe a long time before Labor factions treat the voting public like rubbish again I think.

    Gillard’s treachery with their aid coming back to haunt them, in spades it seems.

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