The Political Landscape


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The time seems apposite for a take 5 look at the political landscape from a step back overview and not too up close and personal in the issues of the day. That being said, there are some big issues that are part of the mix and can not be ignored if we are going to make realistic sense of what is going on.

At the national level we are something like 60 weeks from Julia Gillard deposing Kevin Rudd from the leadership of the Labor Party, and hence the Prime Ministership. Following that she was able to become Prime Minister following the election last year.

It would be hard to say that she won that election, as the Prime Ministership is the result of a number of deals done with a range of people. This means that that she has had to be nice to the Greens. The Greens are certainly more likely to side with the Labor side of the house, and so in a real sense she should not have had to give too much away the gain their support. None the less it seems that the Greens assume a position of significant power and Bob Brown certainly wants Julia to know that he is there. Quite often he appears to be the Deputy Prime Minister and the Power behind the Throne.

Other deals done included with Tony Windsor and Robb Oakeshott both of whom are unnatural allies for her, each of them being independent – ex national party members. Tony Windsor is almost certainly serving his last term of office before retirement, and certainly has no love of Tony Abbott. At a state level Tony Windsor was prepared to mover either way – and it is clear that he has served the people of New England well, though one suspects that some of his electorate would have liked to seem him a little more independent for his final term. Robb Oakeshott is much younger, and was probably looking forward to a long term of office serving the people of Oxley. The people of his electorate are naturally conservative, and many of them feel they would have much preferred him to fall the other way.

Andrew Wilkie is an independent from Tasmania, who stood apart from the others, and played his own hand for the people of Tasmania and a personal issue about Poker Machine Reform. It was almost unthinkable that he would ever do any deals with any liberals.

So in the House of Representatives, in order to pass legislation the Prime Minster requires the support of all her own members, together the the One Green, The one Tasmanian Independent and the two ex-nationals from regional NSW.

In the Upper House the Greens now hold the Balance of Power in their own right. This ultimately means that Labor has had to share power, and make concessions on several scores to generate the numbers to have a parliamentary majority of 1.

This means she has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, she needs everybody for everything.

Is this then going to be the making of the Greens, or their great undoing? Effectively that will depend on how they play their hand. The Liberals and the Nationals have had many years of coalition, so much so that when when the Liberals could rule on their own, they have formed government with the Nationals.

The relationship between Labor and the Greens does not as yet have that level of maturity. Many Labor people are not all that keen on the Greens, and Julia Gillard did suggest they were a marginal party at one stage, and any reflection on why she said that left one to conclude she was endeavouring to placate discontent in her own party. Now of course one observes that it has come back to bite her, with Bob Brown now declaring that Gillard is “just plain wrong” on offshore processing of asylum seekers, and that the Greens will not support any legislation to enable it.

This now means that the best hope that Gillard now has for offshore processing of Asylum seekers is Tony Abbott and the Liberals. Any deal struck between Tony and Julia is likely to pass both houses with absolute security, regardless of the others – however such a deal may then make the entourage a little harder to subdue on issues she wants where she cannot strike a deal with the Liberals.

This salient truth affects all three leaders in specific ways.

For Julia Gillard it means the idea of working with her arch nemesis to see how much ground she has to give, and how much face she can save, and that also means the other problem of keeping the members of her own party happy while she does that. The lesson of Malcolm Turnbull is no doubt clear to her, when as leader of the opposition he lost the support of his own party by working with the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for some solutions to climate change he lost his own position in the Party.

For Tony Abbott it represents the opportunity to work with rather than against Julia Gillard for a solution. Tony has traditionally been seen more as a fighter than a lover, and so this role may not be well suited to him, especially when the other side of the table is the great sparing party of the Today Show. Tony will be working towards a Nauru option, and clearly Julia will want Malaysia. On balance one would think that Nauru may win this contest, given that the high court has already ruled Malaysia out and Nauru clearly ticks more boxes.

For Bob Brown it represents the opportunity to be relevant or irrelevant to the Australian voting public. This term of office for the Greens is critical. They have a seat in the House of Representatives, they have the Balance of Power in the Senate. The short term temptation must be to leverage that position for short term gain, however if they take a more balanced position they may well be able to leverage this to secure the future significance of the Greens going forward.

Against this background The Rudd factor persists. There was no doubt that the was a lot of community disquiet about the way he was tapped on the shoulder and as the word was invented “assackinated”. He has continued as foreign minister – a task which he seems to have done well, no doubt his background as a career diplomat has helped – and he has grown in public esteem without attacking the Prime Minister. According to some polls a federal election today would return Labor one seat in Queensland, yes that would be Kevin’s seat. In polls for preferred leader Kevin Rudd seems to attract 57% of the vote as against Julia’s 17%. Of course the leader of the party in parliament is determined by caucus, not by popular plebiscite, and the would be a few anxious folk in caucus if K Rudd was to return to centre stage.

Julia’s problem here is even if she does not like the man, she cannot rule without him. And as the two succeeding parliaments merge in memory, the great moment of the national apology to the stolen generation reminds us what a statesman Kevin had the capacity to be, whilst the Pink Bats fiasco got laid on the head of Peter Garrett and the Building Education Rort was Julia’s Baby.

Whatever Kevin Rudd did to make the Asylum Seeker problem worse has been amalgamated with the seeming mess that now exists, and Julia has not managed to let the immigration minister own it, so she wears it all.

New South Wales in the election earlier this year saw one of the greatest de3mises of a sitting party yet. The ALP NSW Branch has a bad name – even in Labor ranks – and there were clearly a number of concerns about corruption, and failure in accountability, mismanagement, and behaviour unbecoming of those who hold public office.

NSW Labor promised a salutary review of the result, and a proper review of the lessons to be learned if they were to regain the trust of the people. Little seems to have happened on this score, aside from an assertion that the press was against them, that they had been in office for too long, and that their turn would come again.

Julia Gillard and others in Labor ranks did their best to distance Federal Labor from NSW Labor, and seemingly reasonably successfully.

The Member for Dobel has now been the target of increasing scrutiny over misuse of a union Credit Card to fund a extravagant personal lifestyle, though he has continued to deny the charges the rebuttals have not be convincing to all but the staunchest Labor supporters. The Labor party apparently recently paid 150,000 in legal fees to keep from becoming a bankrupt (which would have caused him to vacate his seat, causing a bi-election which is unacceptable to a party with a single seat majority. It has now been revealed that he has plans for a 100,000 renovation for his home before Wyong Shire Council.

The dilemma of this is that Julia has to support him, because she needs him, however he smells a lot like the NSW Labor she was trying to distance herself from.

Electorally Tony Abbott has never been all that popular, and he regularly engages mount before putting brain into gear. He has the public persona of an attack dog, and though he has had a few goes at reversing that idea, he has not convinced to voting hoards. He is regarded as a conservative catholic, and is painted as the ‘against things’ person. He got the job because too many people thought that Malcolm Turnbull was too nice to Kevin Rudd, and now they think Tony Abbott is too nasty to Julia Gillard.

He has some good one liners, but not enough, and he often does not seem deeply grounded in the issues about which he speaks.

So far I would say that Julia Gillard has lost it more than Tony Abbott has lost it. The independents have not convinced the electorate that they are a good ideas and the Greens run the risk of dying on the vine if they can not show that they have something better to contribute.

The Rt Honourable, the Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard recently defiantly stated “I’m going nowhere”. Many of us would concur, however we fear that she is taking Australia with her.

One of the issues around at the moment is the question as to the value in the Labor Party changing leadership again. At the moment they seem 24 months from defeat, and whilst that may be a long time in politics, NSW Labor looked down such a barrel for 36 months before it happened.

Obviously if they are to change leader they need someone to depose and someone as the alternative. There really do not seem any willing contenders. You would need to have to confidence that you can turn it abound in a short time, and that may not be that easy. NSW will be harder to convince for any Labor in the short term, and NSW is a big state in terms of population. Kevin Rudd may return, but I would imagine he would prefer to replace the person who replaces Julia Gillard, rather than the illusion of the revolving door. The poetry of Kevin 07 Kevin 11 is not lost on me, but it is merely poetry. Bill Sorthen, Simon Crean, Gregg Cobet, may all eye off the job, but in reality it has the look of a poison chalice at the moment, and sense and sensibility, and even a bit of stability mean that there probably will not be a tumble just yet. Maybe closer to the election that may be contemplated, but politics is strange and all things are possible.

A bigger question is possibly will the parliament see out it’s three years? It may, but it may well not. Lots of things could go wrong. Any Labor held seat falling vacant for any reason will probably change government, and that would probably trigger a general election, because One would imagine that trying to rule without a real majority, when he would not have to is probably not a good idea. There are any number of reasons why a seat may fall vacant. Typically these include the death, resignation, bankruptcy or incarceration of a member. Whilst it seems Labor is keen to prevent this, one of these events may happen. Otherwise it would seem we will continue to go where Julia is going.

The other thing that may happen is that the tenuous relationships so forged to allow tenancy of the Lodge may not last the distance. Andrew Wilkie has already made noises in relation to promises made to him to the Poker Machine Control legislation. Robert Oakeshott is already suggesting he may not support such legislation, and Wilkie is saying if he does not get it the deal is off. In truth there would be little expectation of Andrew Wilkie supporting the Liberals in any circumstances, which is his Achilles heal, because hard as he might try and push the Prime Minister, she really can be fairly sure she will get his vote on most issues.

And the biggest loser is bound to be the people of Australia.

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