Boobytrapped Leadership Shellshocked Labor’s First Test

THE DAMAGE inflicted on Labor by Kevin Rudd’s brief and ill-advised second stint as its leader is about to be hit by the full glare of public scrutiny; in tandem with the dearth of real talent the ALP has to work with, the Rudd “reforms” have the potential to hobble the party for many years to come.

It isn’t often that I find myself in vigorous agreement with Stephen Conroy, but the words of that divisive, abrasive Labor warrior on the subject of “reforms” made to the ALP’s leadership selection process by Kevin Rudd are deadly in their potency and accuracy.

In an article in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today, Conroy describes the rules — under which Labor’s MPs and its membership base elect a leader with a 50-50 weighting of their voting blocs — as a “farce” that will leave Labor “helpless” and make it look like a laughing stock.

These changes — introduced by Kevin Rudd in the arrogant delusion that he would win last week’s election, and therefore need his back to be covered against colleagues who (rightly) detest the mere sight of him — would need to be endorsed by the ALP’s national conference next year to become binding.

Excluding the unions completely from the leadership selection process — as Rudd intended, in a jab at the party’s dominant AWU right — also seemingly excludes the prospect of any such endorsement ever being forthcoming.

Yet just like lemmings to the slaughter, many of Labor’s MPs appear determined to work within the confines of these “reforms” to the party’s enduring detriment, and Conroy is absolutely right to lash out at them.

We have in this column discussed the issue of major parties giving their rank and file a say in selecting parliamentary leaders before; despite the best of intentions, the practice doesn’t work — often visiting upon MPs leaders without the requisite political skills to cut through, or without parliamentary support, or who personify the agenda of external forces.

Iain Duncan Smith and Ed Miliband — of the UK’s Conservative and Labour Parties, respectively — represent excellent examples of the phenomenon I am talking about.

The ALP, to even clear the first hurdle, must undo these changes before it contemplates a leadership ballot: a sham endorsement of MPs to afford Rudd the apparent cover of party unity is the only dubious legitimacy the measures presently enjoy, and the same process — a vote of MPs — should be employed to undo even that.

And the imperative is obvious: once selected, a dud leader would be virtually impossible to remove (again, as Rudd intended): in opposition, 60% of MPs would be required to petition just for a leadership spill; in government, that proportion climbs to 75%.

It is interesting to speculate whether even Mark Latham would have managed to galvanise 60% of his MPs against him when his leadership imploded in early 2005.

But in the wake of its comprehensive election defeat, Labor’s MPs should be setting about undoing as much of Rudd’s toxic legacy as they can, and the abolition of these “reforms” represent an absolute no-brainer as the very first item of business to be dealt with.

That said, Labor faces a bigger problem in deciding who should become its leader to carry the early fight up to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his shiny new Coalition government.

In a clear sign some in its ranks never learn, influential elements within the ALP appear to be trying to engineer momentum for Bill Shorten to become the new Labor leader.

Shorten is not without ability, and his capacity as a political communicator is unquestioned.

But a Shorten leadership would hand the Liberals a potent, and enduring, weapon.

Simply stated, he can’t be trusted — the role he played in the downfall of Rudd and the elevation of Julia Gillard in 2010, and the subsequent dumping of Gillard in favour of Rudd’s return in June, leaves an enduring question mark over his integrity that the Coalition will be ruthless in exploiting — and rightly so.

And Shorten is publicly perceived as being too close to the union forces behind the Gillard Prime Ministership, and what has become known as the “NSW disease:” a revolving-door, disposable attitude toward Labor’s party leadership, and the negative suggestions of union cronyism and patronage that association evokes.

The other frontrunner — former deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese — is perhaps the better of the two potential choices, but he, too, has his drawbacks.

Albanese, a former Rudd adherent, is unique among Labor’s senior ranks in that he was not only prepared to work professionally with both Rudd and Gillard, but seen to do so.

His fighting instincts and thuggish approach to “fighting Tories” is perhaps what Labor needs at this early stage of what could be a protracted period in the political never-never.

But nobody is suggesting Albanese will ever be Prime Ministerial material; whether he is or not, his abilities as a communicator often lack the coherence and cogency required of a major party leader in Australia’s adversarial political environment.

Nonetheless, few would argue that his only driving interest is the betterment of his party: and on that score alone, some of his colleagues would do well to take a leaf from his book.

Tanya Plibersek, on the surface of it, represents a decisive break with the Rudd-Gillard era that has progressively hobbled Labor over the past seven years, and as we have said before she is certainly a highly capable and astute political operative.

Unfortunately for her, she is also damaged goods: her enthusiastic participation in what some have termed Julia Gillard’s “handbag hit squad” in which she, Nicola Roxon, Gillard herself and others sought to destroy Abbott on a charge of “misogyny” has not enhanced her credibility as a potential Labor leader.

And her propensity as Health minister to play highly partisan games with the conservative states over health funding probably hasn’t helped her cause either.

The former Treasurer, Chris Bowen, is probably the best candidate for leadership remaining in Labor’s parliamentary ranks.

But he has been candid enough to admit he is not ready for to job, and at the very least — like Albanese — has shown a loyalty to Labor’s best interests that transcends his own ambition in doing so.

As we’ve said before, other candidates don’t seem to fit the brief either: former Immigration minister Tony Burke doesn’t have the public profile, for example, whilst former minister for Justice and Home Affairs Jason Clare — like Bowen — is also unready for a leadership role.

I think it’s quite likely Labor’s next Prime Minister is yet to enter Parliament; if this is the case it resolves one conundrum for the ALP (burning a future PM this early in opposition is not a concern) but it does raise two others.

Who is the best person to lead Labor right now? Which of its senior figures represents the best chance of healing Labor as a party, whilst taking on Abbott in Parliament and in the country?

But more to the point, where is its next Prime Minister?

We did talk last week about WA Labor leader Mark McGowan, but even that was only in the context of looking at ready-made Labor leaders within its existing base of MPs around the country, and not through the prism of a prospective Prime Ministership.

For the Australian Labor Party, the choices it will soon make about its leadership will say much of its view of itself, and of what it will offer voters in the medium and longer term.


Filthy Preselection Brawl: For Labor, Misogyny Begins At Home

LABOR has engaged in an unseemly and unedifying brawl in its preselection to find a replacement candidate for Nicola Roxon; the episode puts on show everything wrong with the present-day ALP and — frankly — shows its guilt of the very evils it accuses its opponents in the Liberal Party of committing.

I know I’ll attracted a barrage of criticism for saying this, but it’s probably a very good thing a man has been preselected to the uber-safe western Melbourne seat of Gellibrand.

Certain female members of the federal ALP have amply demonstrated over the past six months that “when in doubt,” their tactic of choice is to smear opponents.

Former minister Nicola Roxon — as an attack dog of Julia Gillard’s — has been one of them.

The weapon of choice is to level an allegation of “misogyny,” but it’s bigger than that, of course: play the victim, play the gender card, hide behind a faux cloak of feminist righteousness — all the while claiming that their gender has nothing to do with anything.

If it didn’t, there would be no need to deploy gender-based battle tactics; the distinction invites the rather obvious cliché that those who play by such rules can’t have it both ways.

I’m getting sick of listening to Labor women rattle on about misogyny and sexism whenever they can’t argue their way legitimately to a desired outcome; in doing so, they perpetuate the very sins they claim to want to stamp out.

To date, the targets have been men who threaten their prospects: to turn on Tony Abbott the way she did (defending the grub Peter Slipper, no less), Gillard simply demonstrated she offers nothing of substance, and proved that when faced with the consequences of her own ineptitude, the contents of the muck bucket are preferable to a constructive attempt to fix a situation for which her own incompetence  is mostly, if not wholly, to blame.

The recent death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has brought the ALP and its “misogyny” capers into sharp relief; Thatcher — elected to Parliament in 1959, and operating in conditions far less favourable to women than are prevalent today — never hid behind femininity as an excuse, a tool for eliciting sympathy, or an instrument to damage others.

If anything, she worked out how to turn it to her advantage, and did; and Thatcher — despite the outcry from the Australian Left — was a finer proponent of the advancement of women than the likes of Gillard, the odious Roxon, or any of their “sisterhood” ever will be.

This brings me to the fracas over the Labor preselection, and the convoluted but ultimately gutter tactic of “misogyny” that has been allegedly deployed — and the likely saga that seems destined to follow it.

You don’t need to follow these matters too closely to see my point.

Murdoch papers are reporting that a “misogynistic dirt file” was circulated during the vicious Gellibrand preselection; apparently beaten candidate Kimberley Kitching was accused — supposedly by Roxon — of putting around a “shit sheet” containing defamatory and sexually explicit slurs about another candidate, Katie Hall, who just happens to be a former Roxon staffer.

Kitching claims several witnesses confirmed that Ms Roxon had accused her of being behind it; in turn, Roxon denies she had accused Ms Kitching of being the source.

As the accusations and counter-accusations continue over who said and wrote and sent what, and about who, Kitching has intimated she will lodge a complaint with Labor’s administrative wing about Roxon’s alleged conduct, and that she will initiate “external legal action” against Roxon as well — code, surely, for defamation proceedings.

In the meantime, Labor Senator Stephen Conroy — whose staffer, Tim Watts, was the eventual winner of the preselection when Hall and Kitching withdrew — has been dragged into the row as well, angrily denying accusations that the “misogyny file” against Hall was authored and/or distributed by a person or persons in his own office.

The one thing Roxon, Kitching, Hall and Conroy all seem to agree on is that “dirt files,” “shit sheets” and sexually explicit innuendo constitute grubby and disgusting tactics.

In this instance, however, consensus appears to start and end on that point.

Roxon, for her part, is reported to have written to branch members this week to express “alarm” that misogyny had emerged within the ranks of her own party.

Even so, it seems the drama of the Gellibrand preselection still has at least one act left to play out — in Court, as the combatants slug it out over who did what.

And in the meantime, the rest of the world will doubtless view this as further evidence of the sick cancer afflicting the ALP, where abuse and slurs now apparently pass muster as meaningful debate.

It is the first time, however, accusations of misogyny in the ALP have been levelled at one woman by another, but there you go: I can’t wait to see the party’s official election policy on “misogyny” — the way the party seems to be headed, it should be a cracker.

Can I simply say that rightly or wrongly, the use of questionable tactics at preselection contests in all political parties is nothing new; it doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t diminish or salve the justified anger of those on the receiving end of such treatment.

But I also make the observation that if all Labor women want to do is throw around misogynistic, sexist and now allegedly sexual slurs at each other, at male opponents and God alone knows who else, then it’s a good thing the victor in Gellibrand was male.

The last thing the wider electorate needs is  a culture of fabricated, gender-based allegations over actual or imagined grievances to form an ongoing hallmark of the conduct of Labor women — or anyone else, for that matter.

The Gellibrand episode, irrespective of how it plays out, was a disgrace.

But its combatants would be better served to learn from Thatcher’s example, rather than seeking to trash her legacy for no other reason than she was not a creature of the Left.

Kill Bill: Anti-Democratic Media “Reform” Legislation Canned

IN A FLUID day in federal politics, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has withdrawn legislation that, if passed, would have handed the government the power to regulate and censor the press; a lack of parliamentary support has forced Gillard to kill the bills, and now attention turns to her own survival.

This will be a reasonably short post, as I do intend to write again later today or tonight, but it seems the so-called media reforms being tarted around by Gillard and her Communications minister, Stephen Conroy, have met the end they deserved.

Citing a lack of support among crossbench MPs, Gillard has withdrawn four of the six bills from Parliament.

The two remaining bills — involving inoffensive changes to rules governing local content on television, and reductions in commercial broadcast licence fees — were passed yesterday with support from the Coalition.

I simply point out the remaining legislation should never have been tabled; this is Australia, not Soviet Russia, Communist China or North Korea; there is no justification or precedent for institutionalised state control of the media in this country.

Much has been made by Labor types of the scandal and fallout surrounding Murdoch operations in the UK, and the official responses to the Leveson inquiry that probed them by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government of David Cameron.

It is true that the measures being implemented by the Cameron government do impose a degree of regulation and state control upon the British press that does not exist in Australia.

But Fleet Street is a very different beast to the local media; and whilst Murdoch’s operations in the UK have justifiably come under fire in recent years — including a surveillance scandal that contributed to the decision to close down the notorious tabloid The News Of The World — there has never been any suggestion that the Australian operations of the Murdoch press are tainted by the same practices.

A dislike of what a free press writes is not in itself a justification in any way to regulate and censor the press to realise more favourable coverage from it — yet Labor tried to do it.

I will write more on this point at a later juncture, but aside from a colossal misjudgement in even presenting such odious legislation for debate, the ALP has handed the Coalition a powerful principle on which to build a potent point of difference to Labor: freedom, liberty, and the right to free speech in a democratic country.

Irrespective of what happens from here, and whether the laws are ever revived, Labor has now allowed the Coalition to forever paint it as the party of censorship, of stifling debate, and state control over the free flow of ideas.

It’s a reasonable own-goal by any measure, and a monumental balls-up.

Attention now turns to Julia Gillard, and the fraught issue of the ALP leadership.

Even since my article late last night, the rumours and muttering continue; as we speak, Simon Crean is said to be in talks on a deal to restore Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, and to serve as his deputy in what would presumably be portrayed as some type of cross-factional unity ticket.

Gillard is said to have lost at least one other cabinet minister overnight, in addition to potentially Crean and up to five additional leadership votes that are said to shift with him if he does a deal with the Rudd camp.

As I write (at 1pm, Melbourne time) there’s still more than enough time for something to happen this afternoon; like everyone else I will be following developments with an eagle eye, and will post again later on.

(In case anyone is wondering, I’m out of action now until about 6pm, so if I am delayed at all, I won’t be too far away if something interesting does occur before the end of the day).

Shoulder Tap: Is Julia Gillard About To Be Replaced?

THIS COLUMN usually resists the temptation to indulge in idle gossip, but a few interesting things this week make the question reasonable: is Gillard about to be dumped? The Labor Party is a dangerous beast when cornered, and right now it is cornered; something seems likely to happen, and soon.

It’s probably the most discussed subject in politics of the past decade — the leadership of the ALP and the when/whether/who of a change that some believe is inevitable, and others believe will never come.

To me, I am to some extent unfazed; as a conservative looking for a resounding election win in September (if the election is in September) I’d prefer Julia Gillard to remain the Labor leader, but an honest assessment is that the parliamentary ALP has nobody in its ranks who can lead it to an election win this year.

That includes Kevin Rudd.

But it is what it is: a government heading toward an election looking like sitting ducks, constituted from a party with a significant recent culture of opinion poll obsessions and hair-trigger leadership changes, a wounded ego on the backbench who generates huge hypothetical opinion numbers, and a Prime Minister who generates anything but.

The Canberra press pack went into a frenzy on Thursday afternoon, with news that a delegation of senior ministers was about to visit/was visiting/had visited Julia Gillard; the shoulder tap, it seemed, was afoot.

It turned out to be a false alarm; the “visit” never occurred, and the purported leader of the MPs involved — Simon Crean — was in Newcastle at the time. The rumour was attributed by some to Liberal MPs making mischief, but the response to it is instructive.

Friday saw Crikey columnist Bob Gosford publish a piece in which he claimed “solid Labor sources” had confirmed that Gillard had been given the ubiquitous shoulder tap earlier that day, and that Gillard would be gone by Wednesday this coming week.

Peter van Onselen, in the Weekend Australian, made the case that Labor was “poised to restore Rudd,” and the tone of his article indicates he feels it will be this week based on his own sources in the ALP. Van Onselen’s logic is the most compelling I have seen in recent days, and certainly the most thorough. But he also makes it clear that whilst his sources suggest something will happen this week, there’s as much possibility that something won’t.

And finally — in the context of this article — is a more forensic approach to the issue by Judith Ireland appearing in tomorrow’s Sunday Age in Melbourne, in which she canvasses all of the variables (polling, a [real] visit from a delegation of MPs, etc) and rates the relative threat factors to Gillard’s tenure as leader and Prime Minister posed by each.

I’ve included the links to all of the articles I mention because — aside from providing some additional reading matter from diverse quarters — readers will see that despite the qualifications made by each, there’s a definite “next week” flavour common to all of them.

And all three have contacts and sources within the Labor Party.

The point is that we appear to be nearing an endgame of sorts, whether you want to see a change in the Labor leadership or you don’t; to some extent Gillard has seemed immune to threats to her leadership until now, and the crushing defeat of a challenge by Kevin Rudd last February reinforced that sense.

There is little doubt that Julia Gillard and her government rank among the least popular in Australian history; the only quarter in which anyone seriously believes that a Labor win at this year’s election is possible (barring some cataclysmic mistake by the Liberals) is the ALP, and even then I think we’re talking about the truest of the “true believers” indeed.

I really don’t see what the ALP stands to gain from changing leaders now; as we’ve recently discussed, Kevin Rudd is no real solution, and the other names routinely mentioned as third options — Bill Shorten, Simon Crean and Stephen Smith — all come into the equation with serious question marks around them as well.

One thing I am certain of, however, is that if anything does happen on the Labor leadership this week, the reprehensible draft laws to regulate the press that have been tabled by Communications minister Stephen Conroy will be the trigger.

Conroy is a staunch supporter of Gillard; he is one of the many who have refused point-blank to serve under a restored Rudd leadership; and he is the architect of a disgraceful attempt at media “reform” that a solid contingent within the ALP cannot stomach — presumably because they know the Australian public won’t stomach it either.

So we wait.

As I said, I wouldn’t normally indulge the gossip, but it seems something, if it is going to happen, will happen soon.

For the political junkies amongst us, this is the sort of thing that rivets us; the hours and hours of ABC coverage the night Kevin Rudd was knifed was a sterling evening’s viewing in my opinion, and a repeat would be just as entertaining.

For the Labor Party, it would appear to be trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea; damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t, and I reiterate my view that given the unlikelihood of any current Labor MP being able to lead their party to a win this year, the exercise is to some extent rather pointless.

As for the Australian public, there are no clear winners here: the evidence that Australians are fed up with this government is overwhelming, and an election — and a change of government — is of far more interest to them than the internecine squabbles of the ALP.

A week is a long time in politics, or so the adage runs; and this is likely to be especially true of the week that lies ahead for the ALP.

ALP Media “Reforms:” Piers Akerman Sinks The Boot

GIVEN News Limited seems to be the hatred-fuelled target of the Gillard government’s attempts to control the media and instil “fairness” — code for enforced publication of pro-Labor sycophancy — it’s exquisitely ironic to share an article by the Murdoch stable’s most anti-Labor opinion writer.

Readers will know I have a lot of time for Piers Akerman; not just because his conservative musings largely mirror my own, but also because he simply makes a lot of good, old-fashioned common sense.

We briefly covered the issue of Labor’s so-called media reforms earlier this week, and whilst I do intend to return to the subject (issues notwithstanding, of course), tonight I want to share an excellent comment piece by Akerman that appeared in today’s issue of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

Readers can read this excellent missive here.

What can I say?

The entire premise of a government exercising a discretionary power over the press is complete anathema to me; as I hinted in my article on Wednesday, if we’re going to go down that track, we might as well go and live in North Korea, with its repulsive state-sanctioned media and the illegality of dissent and of dissenting views.

The article I’m linking to tonight represents a powerful analysis of the pitfalls of these despicable “reforms” by a journalist for whom the freedom of the press is a favourite subject, and whose voice is arguably one of the most authoritative in the outraged chorus of opposition the ALP’s proposed measures have elicited.

I’ll be interested to see what people think here. And remember, unless you think being brainwashed is a great idea, you should be just as affronted as we are that a democratically elected government should even contemplate such an undemocratic suite of policy changes.

Media “Reform” Gillard Government’s Latest Clueless Policy Foray

THE much-hyped draft legislation to “reform” the media in Australia isn’t even released yet, and already a storm of controversy is set to greet it; Labor dismisses charges that it seeks to control the press, whilst opponents scream of attempts at censorship and the death of free speech.

It promises to be another ugly bunfight over another ugly Gillard government policy, and from what is already known it seems clear Labor’s media “reforms” are just as clueless as its mining tax and some of the other policy shockers it’s embarked upon, like “cash for clunkers,” “pink batts,” and the notorious “Building the Education Revolution” program.

I’m not going to get into too much depth tonight; we’ll see what the legislation — in all its wart-ridden glory — contains tomorrow, and talk about this issue again in a few days’ time.

Already, however, the portents are ominous.

I’ve got a vested interest in this; not only do I come from a media background spanning nearly 20 years, but as a freelance commentator and blogger (who, incidentally, is hostile to the Left by instinct and intellectual bent) I’m keen to see what measures the bill might contain to “regulate” what I have to say, or how I say it.

There are hundreds — if not thousands — of bloggers and independent providers of political opinion and comment who fall into the same boat, and many of these are far less friendly to the Left than I am; it’s well known that the unregulated but booming section of the media that we collectively represent is a source of great frustration to the Left, but of course the criticism only applies to those of us who are sympathetic to the mainstream Right, and have the audacity to say so.

Any attempt to legislate “fairness” (read: enforced sycophantic dross a la KCNA or Al-Jazeera) into my opinions will be stonily met with a curt two-word response, I assure you…

I raise this issue of “fairness” because Neil Mitchell was talking about it on 3AW this morning; he mentioned that the Murdoch press is apparently singled out for treatment.

Mitchell raised the point that News Media, to the extent the proposed laws provide, needs to introduce “fairness” to its political comment and opinion pieces.

It’s hardly surprising that such a notion would be raised; after all, the ALP and the Left generally have railed against the “Tory press” for decades, and when they do so, they mean the Murdoch press.

Which, in turn is somewhat perplexing, because the same voices rarely — if ever — raise themselves a decibel over the Fairfax press, which in other quarters has come to be regarded as a loudspeaker for their own interests.

(It’s also why the Left is so outraged/panicked/desperate over the shareholdings in Fairfax of mining magnate Gina Rinehart).

Apparently there is to be a “Public Interest Media Advocate” created as part of these so-called reforms; exactly what constitutes “public interest” would seem a subjective consideration indeed, and I would venture to say that such an office is no more than a brazen exercise in raw power politics.

The office may as well be called the “Political Interest Media Advocate” and headquartered in Sussex Street in Sydney: the motive and the intent are that blatant.

Julia Gillard has had the temerity to liken this mooted new office to those of the head of the ACCC, and to High Court judges: according to her, “there is no evidence anywhere that despite the fact that we appoint High Court judges, which we do, that we somehow get beneficial decisions from them.”

That, in itself, is rubbish: High Court judges are political appointments; and whilst this column would never seek to presume to criticise their Worships’ suitability for the Bench, it does remain the fact that judiciaries around the world that are politically appointed earn their reputations for judicial activism — and that stems directly from the appointment process in the first place.

The mainstream media industry is howling; among its criticisms is the claim it hasn’t been adequately consulted — a charge easy to believe when it is considered that the mining tax, for example, was essentially a commercial pact negotiated between the federal government and three large mining companies to the exclusion of every other operator in the industry.

Arguments about media mergers, media diversity and the concentration of media ownership in given markets might have more credence, and perhaps more credibility.

But it remains to be seen whether that aspect of the proposed reforms are a botch too, and again — given the track record of this government, and its unrivalled capacity to make a complete mess of virtually anything it touches, I’d almost bet tens that this will simply prove to be another instance of the same thing happening.

Labor figures — including the relevant minister, Communications spokesman Stephen Conroy — have, thus far, proven unable or unwilling to answer simple questions around the operability of the proposed reforms, and how key aspects of those reforms might function.

Which is why I’m saying that whilst I want to flag this issue now, we’ll wait a little longer and see what the letter of the detail has to reveal.

Even so, the whole thing stinks of censorship, an attempt to stymie the dissemination of opposing viewpoints, and a move to grab control over media content under the easy-to-use and readily-abused cover of acting “in the public interest.”

From what I’ve seen and heard so far, News CEO Kim Williams probably has it about right when he slams the touted reform package as amounting to “Soviet-style media reforms.”

We will see.

But I would simply make the point that it is impossible to regulate the press without compromising and/or losing the freedom of the press; and governments who seek to do so attack the one independent means open in a democratic system of governance to hold the government of the day — and its opponents — rigorously to account.

Stay tuned.

Another One Bites The Dust: ALP Senate Leader To Quit Ministry, Politics

Labor Senate leader and cabinet minister Chris Evans will tomorrow announce he is quitting his leadership post and the ministry, with his exit from Parliament to follow; the development swells the ranks of a growing exodus of Labor MPs ahead of the looming federal election.

For the second time in four days, the ALP is faced with the loss of a long-term key player from the past two decades of its history, with former cabinet minister Robert McClelland –a key backer of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in the Labor Party leadership stakes — having also called it quits this week.

The departure brings the tally of serving Labor MPs either jumping ship before the election or being pushed close to double figures, with several others opting not to contest again this year (the most notable of these being former Speaker Harry Jenkins) or being pushed in the wake of disendorsements (think the recently-shafted NT Senator Trish Crossin) or scandals (such as the ubiquitous Craig Thomson in Dobell).

It is interesting to note that once again, it’s a Rudd supporter leaving; and it is especially interesting to note that of those Labor MPs already announced as leaving Parliament for one reason or another, the overwhelming majority of them are known supporters of the former PM.

The group is also a little heavy on the number of people whose ministerial careers have been terminated during Gillard’s tenure as Labor leader.

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that the two names most widely being discussed as likely successors to Evans’ leadership position in the Senate — Finance minister Penny Wong and Communications minister Stephen Conroy — are both died-in-the-wool Gillard loyalists.

One Labor source, quoted in the Fairfax press, said that Evans had decided to get out of politics and that the timing was appropriate. “He’d just had enough,” the source said.

Senator Evans will relinquish the Labor Senate leadership and his portfolio of Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research immediately; the exact timing of his departure from Parliament altogether seems unclear tonight, although it is generally expected he will remain in the Senate for somewhere between two months and the date of the coming election, purportedly to be held in September.

I would like to correct one mistake that seems to be common to the mainstream media outlets’ coverage: contrary to reports indicating otherwise, Evans’ Senate term does not expire on 30 June next year; as a Senator elected in 2010 at a half-Senate election from WA, his term will expire on 30 June 2017.

This means that in addition to the vacancies in the leadership group and the ministry, there will also be a casual Senate vacancy via which the ALP can parachute somebody into Parliament.

(If I were Crossin, I’d be a bit angry tonight; Nova could have had the Evans vacancy).

I sincerely wish Senator Evans well in his retirement, and having spent decades around Australian politics, I understand of course that parties need to regenerate and renew.

Even so, the list of departing pollies on the Labor side is growing, and is beginning to look suspiciously like a mass exodus ahead of the expected slaughter.

Whilst it’s not yet in the proportions of the 21 retirements (from a total party room of 70) that NSW Labor posted prior to its belting in 2011 — by my count, it’s 8 out of 103 so far — it’s certainly a tally that, with seven months left to go, could become just as much as an embarrassment for the ALP in its own right.

For a second-term government still relatively young in electoral terms, it’s hardly a vote of confidence in the future or in the prospects of the Labor Party by those leaving.

But it’s an opportunity for Gillard to continue to stack her ministry with adherents, and to recruit into the vacant seats of the departed fresh candidates who will back her over Kevin Rudd or — God forbid — someone newer and with a bit of spark, like Bill Shorten.

So here we are…again…calling time on a third Labor MP in the space of less than a fortnight.

Something tells me there will be many more such announcements in the next few months.

But once again, this column wishes the departing Senator Evans well in his life beyond the Houses on the hill.