Stephen Smith And The Puzzling Plot To Destroy WA Labor

PERHAPS IT’S SOMETHING in the desalinated Perth water, but the WA branch of the ALP must have a death wish; not content with the departure of a Senator and all of its lower house MPs ahead of this year’s federal election, some at WA Labor have orchestrated an attempt by former Defence minister Stephen Smith to lead the state party from outside Parliament ahead of an election next year. Even if it succeeds, it will all end in tears.

As senior ALP figures go, Stephen Smith is about as likeable — and as uncontroversial — as they get; in fact, during five years of publishing discussion pieces in this column, I have only ever found cause to focus on him directly just once: and perhaps in something of an omen, given what he has been up to in the past few days, that particular article noted a truly bizarre “opinion” piece that appeared in the Sunshine Coast Daily in late 2011, and which inexplicably implied he had spent time in a relationship with a dominatrix.

Nobody seemed to know what to make of it then, and I suspect anyone who recalls the piece is none the wiser now.

But as bizarre machinations go, what Smith has been up to in Western Australia — agitating to seize the leadership of the state ALP, from outside Parliament, to lead it into next year’s state election and become Premier (requiring a 10% two-party swing and an extra 10 seats in WA’s 59-seat lower house) — is simply astonishing.

For background, readers can access two pieces from The Australian here and here, and an analysis piece from the local Fairfax portal here.

That the apparent putsch by Smith to make a Campbell Newman-style foray into state politics without a seat in Parliament has been thwarted — for now — speaks volumes for the solidarity of his state counterparts, and their determination not to be shaken out of the kind of mediocre complacency that is so reflective of a federal party “led” by Bill Shorten: present state leader Mark McGowan performed impressively on a personal basis in 2013, just as his party received a comprehensive belting from voters, but the conduct of WA Labor ever since has been increasingly indicative of an approach based simply on waiting for Colin Barnett’s Liberals to fall over and die.

But it also seems clear that despite the shadow Cabinet unanimously closing ranks around McGowan — and Smith said to be able to garner just a handful of votes from the 32-strong state Caucus — the move to replace the former with the latter has been merely deferred, not abandoned.

To be sure, Western Australia is a basket case for the Labor Party, and that particular picnic seems unlikely to be unpacked any time soon.

Boasting just three of the 15 federal lower house seats in WA — a tally that does not increase on provisionally redistributed boundaries that will see the state command an extra seat from this year’s election onward — Labor has already been forced to endure the political embarrassment of all three of its MPs announcing their retirements from politics, deserting the ship in a rank humiliation of their “leader” that has delivered a clear indication of Labor’s likely election prospects in the process.

This evacuation of Labor’s federal ranks in the West was compounded by the resignation of one of its three Senators in Joe Bullock; whilst many in the ALP will not be sorry to see Bullock depart, of course, it still means that of the six elected representatives Labor could muster in its weakest state after the last election, two-thirds of them have jumped ship.

It’s not a good look.

But even with the limitations of McGowan’s leadership that have grown so evident over the past few years, the Barnett government looked like it would provide WA Labor with a silver lining; hit hard by the end of the resources boom, mired in ballooning debt as its export-dependent economy withers, and led by an ageing Premier with no obvious successor with Christian Porter now a federal MP, expectations on the ALP side (and among many Coalition hardheads) was that Barnett’s government would lose, however narrowly, the state election that is now just a year away.

In this context, the nonsense of the Smith leadership push is ridiculous.

One, it seems clear that for Smith to become leader in this unorthodox fashion, a huge amount of bad blood is going to have to be shed: not a helpful internal component in any serious bid to win a state election from opposition at the best of times, let alone when a 10% swing is required.

Two, the “template” most recently pioneered by Campbell Newman in Queensland — switching from City Hall in Brisbane to George Street — should be a warning to those who would emulate it, not a masterstroke to be adapted and redeployed: whilst far from a neophyte, Newman’s experience of state politics on becoming Premier was exactly zero (as is Smith’s) and the same political problems that befell Newman (who never really stopped being Lord Mayor of Brisbane in terms of style) could be expected to afflict Smith (who spent decades in federal politics and was twice a federal minister, which is in no way a comparable vocation to state politics).

Three, the Queensland LNP went into the 2012 state election needing a swing of just over 4% to get the 12 seats it needed to win; WA Labor approaches next year’s election needing more than double the swing to get 10 seats, which is a difficult ask at the best of times.

Four, Newman was co-opted into state Parliament to seal what shaped as a likely election win that some believed (mistakenly, in my view) was in jeopardy of being squandered under the leader he replaced; circumstances in WA are very different, and even with consistently favourable polls for the past 18 months or so, a Labor victory early next year is arguably far less certain than the one the LNP was always lined up to record in Queensland in 2012.

And finally, the prospect of a protracted leadership struggle — with Smith and his backers wearing down resistance through attrition — is likely to compound federal Labor’s chances in what has been its worst state for years; reputable polling over the past few months has seen the Coalition vote recover to the point the Liberals are likely to hold all (or almost all) of the 12 lower house seats they are defending, and perhaps win the new seat of Burt, too; in fact, when the resignations of its three lower house MPs are taken into consideration, there is a very real risk that Labor’s federal lower house presence could be cut to a single seat in Western Australia, and if that occurs it will be almost impossible to make up much ground overall at all, let alone install Bill Shorten in The Lodge.

In any case, Smith — already 60 years old, and set to turn 61 before next year’s election — hardly constitutes a long-term prospect for the state ALP, which means that if he succeeds in tearing McGowan down, then sooner rather than later Labor will be faced with the same dilemma that confronts the Liberal Party, with an ageing Premier leading a party with no obvious replacement.

After all, with just 21 lower house seats, McGowan presides over a shallow pond in which the talent quotient does not run deep; for Smith to succeed, McGowan’s viability as a leadership prospect down the track will be seriously (if not fatally) compromised just as John-Paul Langbroek’s was in Queensland, and Labor’s leadership stocks in WA are arguably much thinner than the LNP’s are now, its present leadership contortions notwithstanding.

You really have to wonder whether some at WA Labor simply have a political death wish.

Historically, WA has been far less unfriendly to the ALP than recent state and federal returns suggest; in fact, Labor has formed government in the state for roughly half the time since the party’s inception, and held half or more of the federal seats in the state as recently as 1998.

There is clear scope for the ALP, in favourable circumstances, to make hefty gains in Western Australia at both the state and federal level over the next year, even if it falls short of overthrowing Barnett at an election.

In this sense, and far from a masterstroke designed to seal victory for Labor, Smith’s machinations seem more like a puzzling plot designed to sabotage and then destroy his own party.

Even if he succeeds in dispatching McGowan, Smith’s victory will be a hollow one indeed: very likely to end in tears, bitter recriminations, and crushing defeat.

Is There One More Crack At Leadership Change Left For ALP?

WITH THE ELECTION now less than four months away — and the start of the “formal” campaign in nine weeks — the mutterers are again muttering; they haven’t stopped since Julia Gillard skewered Kevin Rudd in June 2010. But could Labor change again now, and what impact would such a change have?

I have stated, many times now, that a cornered Labor Party is a dangerous beast indeed; with its back to the wall it tends to do something, and right now the ALP is both cornered and faced with an existential threat, in the immediate electoral sense and in terms of its future viability.

Coalition frontbencher (and chief Parliamentary tactician) Christopher Pyne attracted the ridicule of some in Labor’s ranks last week when he claimed he had “reliable information” from within the ALP that one final challenge to Gillard’s leadership would occur “either on 3 June, or in the week of 3 June.”

Labor types would rubbish such a claim of course, true or not.

But I said after the non-coup the ALP indulged itself with in March that I felt the party probably had one more attempt at a move over its leadership before the approaching election; for it to happen it would need to happen very soon now, so at the very least Pyne’s timing is spot on — even if his “information” proves unreliable after all.

And it’s not as if Labor hasn’t been trying to “do something” for some time.

In the last seven months we’ve had Gillard’s “misogyny” stunt; superannuation “reforms” designed to curry favour with lower-income earners; the NDIS, despite the fact there’s not enough money for it; Gonski, which is almost completely unfunded (and which carries an attempt to cut increases to funding for non-government schools — a barb which has done no good against the Coalition, and may well backfire badly); and this month’s budget, which talks the talk but, typically, fails utterly to walk the walk as an economic management instrument and as a politically adroit statement.

None of it has ultimately worked; William Bowe, who authors psephological analysis column The Poll Bludger for Crikey, finds a small increase in Labor’s two-party average across the polls in the past fortnight.

But Bowe’s analysis still puts the Labor vote at 45.9%, which also just happens to be virtually identical to the figure I came up with in calculating an average polling result for Labor since the 2010 election.

It is well known — and has been widely reported for a long time — that Gillard remains “confident” of Labor’s electoral prospects in the face of published polling and despite every political indicator suggesting otherwise.

Since the budget, however, and increasing number of Labor MPs — from Gillard down — have been opining that they are “certain” the ALP will win this year’s election; ordinarily such sentiments expressed publicly would betray a dangerous hubris, but this is no ordinary election cycle for the Labor Party.

The direct consequence of Gillard’s “assassin at midnight” replacement of Rudd as Prime Minister has been the incessant leadership speculation that has bedevilled the ALP; thus far there has been one crushingly unsuccessful challenge from Rudd, and another abandoned when the party’s number crunchers found Rudd would fall several votes short despite a clear movement of MPs in his favour.

I tend to think that anyone in the ALP who is “certain” of an election win is delusional, or sitting on inside knowledge of a filthy political plot to undo Abbott so greasy and sensational as to be virtually unprecedented.

My inclination is to the former; even if Labor has something it could use, it has shown itself so spectacularly inept at political strategy and tactics that its execution of such a stunt would probably add votes to the Liberal tally rather than its own.

So it is safe to say — everything of the past three years considered — that if things remain as they are, the Gillard government is cruising downhill toward defeat.

I think if Gillard makes it to 14 September unchallenged, it will be purely because the number crunchers find a shortage of votes for a challenger, and will have nothing to do with solidarity with or any real faith in Gillard as a leader.

And Labor — under Gillard — will be electorally butchered.

In this context, Kevin Rudd’s recent (and highly public) conversion to the cause of gay marriage is significant; at face value he may very well have arrived at his new position on the basis of the purity of thought he claims.

But a more cynical reading of his conversion says that faced with the recognition a significant slice of the electorate also favours legalising the measure, Rudd’s switch is more about product differentiation in a leadership sense.

Similarly — in a direct play to the ALP caucus — Rudd has thrown his support behind a move to restore the selection of ministries within Labor to a vote of the party room, removing the right of the leader to select whomever he or she wishes.

It was Rudd who claimed the right to select his ministry in the first place in the wake of his election win in 2007, a practice continued under Gillard.

But there seems little doubt the measure — widely backed by Rudd’s supporters — is aimed at clipping Gillard’s wings in the unlikely event she survives the looming election.

This article — from yesterday’s Daily Telegraph in Sydney — also makes a reasonable case of the notion that Rudd and his backers are, at the minimum, tilling the ground for one last tilt at restoring the former PM as their leader.

But were Labor to change, would it necessarily be to Rudd?

Certainly, with an election this close, the damage from a mass resignation of ministers from Cabinet or MPs from Parliament would be reduced, but not altogether averted; aside from the dreadful imagery such a walkout would gift the Coalition and the adverse reporting it would attract, the primary risk from such a debacle would be a shortage of Parliamentary votes to stave off a no-confidence motion that the Liberals would almost certainly move.

If Rudd were to reclaim the leadership — and quickly — I would expect the 14 September election date would be dispensed with in favour of the earliest constitutionally allowable option of a House plus half-Senate poll on 3 August.

Rudd would thus calculate such a switch, and a snap election, would enable him to maximise the impact of any honeymoon effect emanating from his political resurrection. Crucially, however, it would also allow him to dispense with the final scheduled sitting weeks of Parliament next month before the election is held.

I tend to think that it is now too late for any ALP candidate other than Rudd to become Prime Minister this year, although it has to be noted that the desperate machinations of the ruthlessly power-hungry Labor machine can’t rule anything out conclusively.

Even so, Simon Crean probably had to become leader at the time of the March non-coup to have any real prospect of establishing himself in the role with credibility before an election, to give him time to prove to voters that his would indeed be a government changed.

The same can be said of Stephen Smith, who in any case is at real danger (depending on whose read of the polls you listen to) of losing his marginal seat of Perth at the election.

And Labor’s apparent leader-in-waiting — Bill Shorten — is unlikely to sign on for six to eight weeks as Prime Minister just to be permitted to lead the party to a bloodbath.

His ambitions in the longer run would be destroyed in the process, and even Shorten knows his interests are better served by waiting for the electoral cycle to turn again, even at the risk that the Coalition will remain in office longer than he does in Parliament before Labor eventually returns to government.

So I think any change will involve Rudd; not because he’s necessarily desirable or would lead a government any less odious or ramshackle than his first, but because a leadership change is the only card the ALP still holds, and Rudd is its only option in this regard.

Readers who follow Peter Brent’s Mumble column in The Australian will know that as much as he talks about the outcome of this year’s election, every article on the subject he publishes carries the clear disclaimer that were Rudd to return as Prime Minister, all bets would be off.

I’m prepared to go out on a limb and restate my view that even a switch to Rudd and a snap election will still see the ALP banished to opposition, and by a wide margin to boot.

The question, of course, is how wide.

Rudd, as a Queenslander, might — might — improve Labor’s dire prospects in Queensland to a marginal extent, no pun intended.

But even that is far from certain, and in the rest of the country I doubt it would make much difference to the election outcome at all — whenever he opted to hold it.

And Rudd remains at a very real risk of losing his supposedly safe seat of Griffith this year, Prime Minister or not; it was won by the Liberals in the landslides of 1966 and 1996, has been held by the Coalition for six of the 18 Parliamentary terms since 1966, and has a history of changing hands that dates back to its creation in 1934, so it is certainly possible that Rudd won’t even be in Parliament by Christmas.

Yet as I said at the outset — as I have many times this year — I still believe there is one attempt at a change of leadership left in the ALP.

The survival instinct of a dangerously cornered beast may well trump the visceral loathing many of Labor’s MPs bear, with absolute justification, toward Rudd; in the end, any challenge is likely to be successful, and will come down purely to a hard-headed calculation of just how many of their otherwise doomed electorates the change is realistically likely to salvage from the oncoming election debacle.

It would, however, send the clear signal of a party in turmoil, with four moves on its leadership in less than three years — something the Liberal Party will exploit with utter ruthlessness and, in all likelihood, to devastating effect.

If it doesn’t eventuate, take it as gospel the votes for a challenge are still simply not there, and that the party’s MPs are clinging to their leader like lemmings headed to the slaughter.

Which is what, as at today’s date, they are anyway.

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.

Labor Leadership: Kevin Rudd Is Not The Answer

AS reality belatedly dawns on the ALP caucus that Julia Gillard’s ongoing tenure as Prime Minister is unviable — with electoral annihilation looming — Labor MPs seem to be seriously reconsidering their party’s leadership. One candidate they should avoid at all costs is former PM Kevin Rudd.

If there’s one thing I should be clear about — wearing my hat as a conservative — it is that the best interests of the Liberal Party would be served in the continuation of Gillard in her present role until polling day in September; the electoral carnage would be unprecedented.

That said, I should be equally emphatic — if speaking objectively — that if the ALP seeks to record the unlikeliest of wins in September, or to narrow the margin of loss to position itself for a serious attempt to regain government in 2016, Rudd’s name should be the furthest from its deliberations.

Yet the “modern” Labor way is to respond to the prospect of heavy electoral defeat with a change in the parliamentary leadership; just look at its own NSW precedent, where no fewer than four Labor premiers held office in just six years.

And NSW Labor — unlike its federal counterparts — did not have the spectacle of a knifed first-term Prime Minister who had led the party to government after four terms in opposition to justify the revolving door mentality that marked its approach to its leadership.

It is certainly true that a leadership change can be an electoral panacea; Paul Keating and his win in 1993 are evidence of it; some would argue (I don’t, unless referring to a change that might have been made in early 2006) that Peter Costello and the absence of a change also illustrate the same point in relation to the previous Liberal administration.

There are many reasons why Kevin Rudd should not be restored to the Prime Ministership in advance of the looming federal election, and I will examine these in some detail; however, I would observe at the outset that in terms of political smarts as a strategist and tactician, he isn’t a patch on the likes of Paul Keating.

And he certainly isn’t the “messiah” he and supporters portray him as.

It has been argued — not least by those responsible for acting as executioners in the night against Rudd in June 2010 — that alleged acts of treachery, disloyalty and sabotage by the former PM (especially during the last election campaign) should not be rewarded with his restoration to the Labor leadership.

On one level I tend to agree, but on another altogether, could anyone blame Rudd if he really was guilty of all he was accused of doing to derail Gillard’s election campaign?

After all, the accusations against him are hypocritical at best, given the brutal nature of his ousting in a snap coup; in any case, it takes two to tango, not that two wrongs make a right.

But now he’s gone, and — irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the matter — it’s best Labor’s arrangements remain that way; I have said before that the best thing Rudd can do for his party is to leave Parliament; whether the ALP wins or loses, it’s better off without him.

And if it loses — and loses badly — under Gillard, can anybody seriously envisage Rudd as opposition leader for two to three terms, waiting to lead Labor back to office? Such a prospect simply beggars belief.

The first really big strike against a Rudd return now, though, is Rudd himself, and the history of the government he led; shambolic at best and downright incompetent at worst, the Rudd government was no template for efficient, effective governance, nor for any degree of soundness in public administration.

To some extent, Rudd was Labor’s earliest perpetrator of the “say anything to get elected, then do the opposite” disease that has so cruelled Gillard’s Prime Ministership; for example, the solemn hand-on-heart pledges in opposition to be “a fiscal conservative,” when the reality manifested in the worst forms of unreconstructed Keynesianism.

It’s universally accepted that Rudd’s work habits were difficult for his colleagues and staff to tolerate, to say the least; stories of the obsessive, workaholic PM abound of him routinely turning in 20 hour days, phoning up cabinet ministers and advisers at all hours of the night, and insisting they keep to his manic and incomprehensible schedule.

(He is also reputed to be an arrogant bully with an apocalyptic temper, a short fuse, a long memory, and an unrivalled capacity to both hold and follow through on grudges…I digress).

In the shadow of all this “work” and incinerated midnight oil, there isn’t too much to show for the Prime Ministership of Kevin Rudd; the tidal wave of human tragedy that is the asylum seeker/people smuggler issue resumed on his watch, of course, and  economic stimulus action in the face of the so-called GFC resulted in tens of billions of borrowed taxpayer dollars pissed liberally up against a post — to say nothing of structural revenue problems the continuing government has nary a clue how to fix.

Let’s not forget that both the mining tax and the carbon tax — in different formats perhaps, but still essentially the same policies — were both original sins of Kevin.

I could continue with a great long list, but the ultimate question is a very simple one: who would back up for more of the same under a resuscitated Rudd?

To anyone who wants to rattle on about Rudd’s great and enduring popularity, or point to opinion polls showing him overwhelmingly preferred as Labor leader instead of Gillard, I have but two words.

Spare me!

I have opined repeatedly over the past year about the dangers of allegedly indicative polls showing a hypothetical replacement for a party leader being x more popular/preferred/likely to win an election than the existing one.

Such polls have two main flaws: one, they don’t reflect reality, which means respondents can literally say whatever they like; and two, there’s no guarantee the hypothetical replacement would perform satisfactorily if given the leadership — even if, as in Rudd’s case, they had held the position previously.

The example I have used from time to time is that of Andrew Peacock and the Liberal leadership feud with John Howard in the 1980s; Peacock was well-liked but an ineffectual opposition leader, who scored some kudos by winning back half a dozen seats against Bob Hawke in 1984 when conventional wisdom suggested the Coalition would be slaughtered.

Peacock lost his leadership to Howard in unusual circumstances the following year and, almost instantly, the whispering against Howard began.

Ultimately, in a snap coup in May 1989, Peacock reclaimed the Liberal leadership. But it was Howard (once dubbed “Mr 18%”, a reference to his approval rating) who ultimately triumphed, becoming a long-serving and well-respected Prime Minister, whilst Peacock went on to lose an unloseable election to Hawke in 1990 that finished him politically.

The point? Almost from the minute Howard replaced Peacock in 1985, polls very similar to those purporting to show Rudd preferred over Gillard by a 2:1 margin began to appear; by the time Peacock finally returned in 1989, their message was irresistible to Liberal MPs.

But Peacock went into the booth on polling day with an approval rating of 21%, a preferred PM rating even lower, trailing Hawke in the polls, and weighed down by the residual baggage of his coup plotters’ appearance on the ABC’s Four Corners program, four days after knifing Howard, to brag about their exploits.

Make no mistake: a restored Rudd would also carry baggage — most likely in the shape of recriminations against those with their fingerprints all over his demise as Prime Minister three years ago.

Rudd is a fractious and vindictive character; just ask any civil servant in Queensland who fell out with him in the 1990s, when he effectively ran the public service under former Premier Wayne Goss.

It’s one of the reasons so many serving ministers have made it known they would refuse to serve again under him; Nicola Roxon has already (and thankfully) removed herself from Cabinet, but a raft of others — Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy, Tanya Plibersek and more — have made it abundantly clear that working with Kevin Rudd is not going to happen.

Indeed — among the wider ALP caucus — many would prefer to risk the loss of their seats and/or opposition than again serve Kevin Rudd.

Three MPs caused a stir last year when it was revealed they had threatened to immediately quit Parliament, causing by-elections, were Rudd to be restored; Victorian Darren Cheeseman in Corangamite (Labor’s most marginal seat) and Queenslander Graham Perrett in Moreton (another knife-edge marginal) were identified as two of the three; the third was never conclusively identified but has been widely speculated to be the Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

Such a move — likely, in my view — would immediately plunge a restored Rudd government into even more turmoil than currently afflicts the ALP; even if one accepts Rudd is legitimately popular in an electoral sense — and I don’t — it must be remembered that Australians have had a gutful of turmoil and instability and crisis in government.

So reviled is Rudd, in other words, that the government is likely to simply disintegrate around him; and far from an immediate election to capitalise on his “popularity” being a masterstroke, it’s more likely to exacerbate the defeat, given Australians have for decades punished institutionalised disunity in political parties at the ballot box.

It brings me to another risk Rudd would face if restored to the Prime Ministership: the “Queensland factor.”

Something many of us on the conservative side of politics remain incensed about — six years on — was the failure of sections of the press to apply the blowtorch to Rudd on the basis of his time running the public service in Queensland: so keen were they to finally be rid of the detested Howard, many journalists were only too pleased to allow Rudd an easy passage through 2007 to the election and the Prime Ministership.

I discussed this with a very senior Liberal frontbencher some months before the 2007 election; it was a source of great frustration to us both. “There’s a rich seam of shit on Rudd (in Queensland) to mine,” were my exact words. “We can’t. Nobody is interested in publishing any of it. We’ve been trying for months,” came the response.

I tend to think the left-leaning press pack — far more loyal to Gillard than they ever were to Rudd — would have a great deal of trouble motivating themselves to repeat the favour.

And Rudd, despite the persona portrayed in public, isn’t a very nice fellow, to put it mildly — a reality all too well-known by his parliamentary colleagues.

For any reader digesting that statement in disbelief — just like the millions of ordinary folk who only know of politics what they see on the news — I can only suggest you do a little further digging if you don’t believe it.

Or ring the offices of some of Julia Gillard’s staunchest adherents, who’ll no doubt fill in the blanks for you (their public character assessments of Rudd, ironically, are one instance in which every word uttered should not only be believed, but be regarded as a colossal understatement of the facts of the matter).

In summary, Rudd’s popularity — if it even exists in a form to generate votes at a polling booth rather than a hypothetical opinion poll — is illusory, and unlikely to last.

Certainly, Rudd wouldn’t make it as far as September without Tony Abbott tearing him apart: the Coalition might not have bested Rudd in the polls by the time he was deposed, but after six months in the Liberal leadership at the time Abbott had destroyed the huge ALP poll lead, Rudd’s approval rating, was closing in as preferred PM, and had all the momentum.

And were Rudd to bolt to an immediate election for the House of Representatives only, necessitating an expensive and unwanted half-Senate election before July 2014, the Coalition campaign against the tactic would be savage enough (and rightly so) to ensure a sizeable Labor defeat.

It brings me to a few other reasons Rudd isn’t a feasible choice to replace Gillard.

For one thing, he’s insecurely seated; his seat of Griffith might look safe enough with an 8.5% margin, but it has been won by the Liberal Party (often for multiple terms) whenever a big conservative election win occurs — most recently in 1996, when Rudd was beaten by former Brisbane City Councillor Graeme McDougall, and in 1966, when prominent Liberal Don Cameron held it for 11 years.

There were plenty of earlier occasions.

The anecdotal evidence suggests Queensland voters are smart enough to see through the ruse of Labor’s attempt to portray Campbell Newman as a reason to vote Labor federally; there appears to be a further substantial swing against the ALP brewing in Queensland to build on the one recorded last time, and if that happens, Rudd could be gone anyway.

And for another, it’s a little rich to even expect Rudd to accept the leadership in the circumstances. If readers accept my arguments, Labor will lose anyway, and lose badly; having been torn down by Gillard in the first place, I would expect that even his (colossal) ego would be insufficient to stop him recognising that fundamental political reality.

Why would he let her off the hook for her own share of the blame for the loss?

Then again, it is Kevin Rudd we’re talking about here, after all.

Yet if Rudd were to regain the Labor leadership, somehow hold the party together, fight an election campaign of at least five weeks and ultimately win re-election, nobody — nobody — could have the slightest confidence that having used and exploited Rudd, his party wouldn’t simply discard him a second time and replace him with another candidate beholden to its union base: probably Bill Shorten.

Of course, the entire discussion could be academic: it is likely that the electorate has had a gutful of the Labor Party, and of this government especially; that its exit papers really are already stamped — and that it won’t matter a can of beans who leads it to the slaughter in September, or at some point sooner which it believes offers a better prospect of winning.

But when the ALP is cornered, it tries something; it might not work, but it tries. And right now, Labor is cornered.

It’s one more reason the ALP — if it knifes Gillard — should opt for a candidate other than Rudd; if the decimation is going to occur anyway, choosing a leader at such risk of losing his seat would be the cherry on top of the icing on the cake for Tony Abbott and the Liberals.

Just ask John Howard.

On A Hiding To Nothing: Labor Sinks Deeper In Polls

The first post-budget opinion poll — a Nielsen survey, its first since March — has been published today; it finds the Coalition’s lead growing to 58-42, after preferences. Clearly, the budget — Labor’s last big chance to turn momentum — has been a colossal political failure.

Nielsen finds primary support for Labor up a point to 28% — but this likely comes directly from the Greens, who are down a point to 12%; the Coalition is up two points to 49%, with “Others” on 12%.

Using my “underlying primary” calculation (Green preferences flowing 75/25 to Labor) those figures become Coalition 52%, ALP 37% — and those sorts of numbers spell electoral doom for the ALP.

This poll follows the final pre-budget poll on Monday — an Essential Research survey — which also showed a one-point increase in the Coalition vote after preferences to 58-42.

There are a number of eyebrow-raising aspects of the rest of the Nielsen numbers; the most obvious of these are Tony Abbott’s personal ratings.

Approval of the opposition leader rises in this survey by five points, to 44%, with his disapproval figure falling by four points to 52%. By contrast, Gillard’s approval drops a point to 35%, with her disapproval numbers increasing by the same degree to 60%.

It remains to be seen whether the other major polls corroborate the movement, but it seems highly possible that Abbott’s personal numbers are beginning to right themselves; whilst his disapproval in this survey continues to outweigh his approval rating, the gap has narrowed to just eight points, as opposed to 17 points in the March survey.

Gillard’s net approval rating is now -25 points, a level at about which she seems stuck in all of the reputable polling.

And Nielsen finds Abbott consolidating his lead on the “preferred PM” measure, rising two points to 50%, whereas Gillard declines by three points to 42%.

Clearly, these numbers will add fuel to the rumblings and mutterings going on behind closed doors in the ALP over Gillard’s leadership; not least after it has delivered a budget that was intended to provide a reset for Labor’s political fortunes, but which instead appears to confirm the continuation of its inexorable march into oblivion.

This tends to underline the complete lack of public traction with which Treasurer Wayne Swan finds himself saddled; and it sends a message that if voters won’t buy this type of message from Labor now, then they certainly won’t be swayed in twelve months’ time, when the federal budget is separated from election day by a matter of about ten weeks at the most.

Clearly, the disconnect between Labor and the electorate — and the continuing consequences of the breach of faith born of Gillard’s repeated broken promises, dishonesty and deception — is proving far more deep-seated and enduring than ALP hardheads had hoped.

Nielsen provides other figures; firstly, it breaks its findings down on a state-by-state basis. These are highly illuminating.

It finds that in Victoria, Labor retains a lead after preferences, 54% to 46%; it also finds Julia Gillard solidly preferred as Prime Minister in Victoria, and registering her best approve/disapprove ratings — 44% to 51% respectively.

This may or may not have something to do with Victoria being Gillard’s home state (which I don’t place much credence on); it may or may not have something to do with the perception of teething problems that continues to dog the state Liberal government of Ted Baillieu. Either way, the ALP would be unwise to take any comfort from its Victorian numbers.

Across the other four mainland states and the NT, the Coalition’s two-party figure averages close to 62.5% — and this is enough to deliver government to Abbott and the Liberal Party in an absolute shellacking, irrespective of whether the ALP holds its ground in Victoria or not.

Unsurprisingly, Nielsen’s breakdown of voting intention by age finds that the older the age group, the stronger the vote for the Coalition; what is interesting is that in the 18-24 age bracket — traditionally a bedrock of support for the Left generally — Labor trails the Coalition on primary support, 33% to 34%, with the Greens accounting for 20% of the vote in this demographic.

In other words, the Greens command close to 40% of the left-of-centre primary vote support in this bracket; what this shows is that whilst the Greens overall may be rating little better than the 11% they scored at the 2010 election, they are on the march in Labor’s strongest demographic, a trend which if continued over time would see the centre left vote splintered, and compromise ALP prospects of forming majority government at future elections.

Meanwhile, Galaxy has also published findings today on voter responses to Wayne Swan’s budget, and these portend additional electoral difficulties for the ALP.

On the question of whether compensation measures for the carbon tax are adequate, 17% of Galaxy respondents said yes, and 62% said no; asked whether the budget would leave respondents better or worse off, the results were 23% yes and 46% no.

These — like the Nielsen voting figures — are early, in that other polls such as Newspoll are yet to publish post-budget findings (and, presumably, Galaxy is compiling voting intention figures of its own).

But considering the vast sums of money Labor has thrown at voters in its budget in the form of bribes and attempted payoffs, these figures are extremely ominous for the government.

It tends to suggest that it really doesn’t matter at all now what Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan try; the electorate seems to have switched off completely, and the continuing Coalition leads at almost record levels underscore that point.

Interestingly, when asked whether the Coalition would have delivered a better budget in the circumstances, Galaxy found 29% said yes and 43% said no. It’s difficult to draw too many conclusions from this, given the Coalition has not held office for some years now, and the economic team of Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb remains untested at a ministerial level in their financial portfolio areas. It is, however, suggestive that in the current economic climate, voters are sceptical of the ability of politicians generally to craft effective responses to the times at hand.

Finally, looking back to Nielsen again, questions were asked about the preferred leadership of the ALP; in a two-horse race Gillard’s support dropped four points to 30%, with Rudd increasing by the same amount to 62%.

In a wider field, the numbers were even worse for Gillard on 19%; in this field, Rudd scored 42%, with Stephen Smith on 12%, Simon Crean 9%, Bill Shorten 8%, and Greg Combet 4%.

If these figures are corroborated by the other polling organisations — and there is no reason to believe they won’t be — then the Labor Party has a massive problem on its hands.

Clearly, Gillard is not supported in the electorate, and that much is certain; I would use the word “reviled” as a better descriptive, once the opinions of the dwindling band of diehard, rusted-on ALP loyalists are excluded.

So what to do? A return to Kevin Rudd — quaintly described in the media these days as “the people’s choice” — would seem a recipe for a return to autocratic, unruly and emptily grandiose government — if the rash of resignations from the ministry and from Parliament that would ensue doesn’t first bring down the government.

Or does Labor switch to a third candidate? Stephen Smith remains the most credible of these, but with just 12% support in Nielsen’s survey — a figure mirrored in recent findings by the other polling companies — he can hardly be viewed as automatic salvation, and a Smith prime ministership would run the very real risk of alienating Labor voters even further if Rudd is overlooked.

It is obvious the ALP has to get rid of Gillard to have even the slightest prospect of avoiding sheer annihilation at the coming election, but the route to her replacement would appear fraught — to say the least.

At the risk of a truism, I’d be far happier in Abbott’s shoes today than I would be in Gillard’s. Or Rudd’s and the rest of Labor’s MPs too, for that matter.

As I have said, these are simply the first post-budget findings, but their message is very, very ominous for the ALP.

We will see additional findings from other quarters over the next week, beginning with Newspoll late on Monday night; I will of course analyse these as they come to hand, but my sense is that they are not going to paint a pretty picture for the government.

Indeed, Labor’s figures are more likely to resemble a plane crash.

Labor Leadership Shenanigans: Here We Go Again

Perhaps it’s only natural that an electorally terminal government such as Julia Gillard’s — mired in scandals of every hue, and anathema to the mainstream — is so hellbent on signing its own death warrant that mere weeks after the last leadership stoush, the rumblings have begun again.

More than a generation ago now, Labor’s most electorally successful Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, won one and probably two elections — in 1987 and 1990 — by campaigning in part on the slogan “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.”

His reference point, of course, was the simmering hostility and bitter rivalry between Andrew Peacock and John Howard, which characterised Liberal Party politics for much of the decade following the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983, with the lunacy of the “Joh for PM” putsch of 1987 thrown into the mix for good measure.

History shows that the Liberal Party eventually learnt its lesson; largely unified under a restored Howard leadership from January 1995 until the defeat of November 2007, the Liberals governed Australia for nearly twelve years, winning four elections, falling only to the “It’s Time” factor compounded by a single overreach on policy during the final term of the Howard government — WorkChoices.

And having found the balance in its leadership in Opposition on the third attempt, it appears almost certain that the Liberal and National Parties will reclaim government within 18 months under the stable leadership of their most successful performer since Howard’s departure in Tony Abbott.

History also shows that since the defeat of the Hawke-Keating government in 1996 — and especially since Kim Beazley’s second defeat at the Tampa/September 11 election of 2001 — the ALP has forgotten the wisdom of Hawke.

Since 2001, the ALP has been led by Beazley; Simon Crean (2002-03); Mark Latham (2003-05); Beazley again (2005-06); Kevin Rudd (2006-10); and Julia Gillard (2010 – present).

In addition to six leaders in eight years, we have also witnessed unsuccessful leadership challenges by Beazley to Crean in 2003, and by Rudd to Gillard in 2012.

Clearly, changing leaders in the federal ALP is becoming something of an annual event, on average; it comes as little surprise when weighed against the track record of Labor’s NSW division, and when it is remembered the Sussex Street headquarters of NSW Labor has a large hand in the conduct of the federal parliamentary ALP these days.

And in fact, Rudd’s challenge earlier this year — brilliantly timed, as it was — not only saw him humiliated to the point where future rehabilitation into the leadership should be impossible, but also cast a dreadful pall over the Queensland ALP’s doomed re-election campaign and probably magnified the cataclysmic nature of the defeat suffered by Anna Bligh.

So it was with some disbelief — albeit with no surprise — that I noticed the trickle of well-backgrounded articles canvassing the next Labor leadership challenge begin to appear in the Murdoch press this week.

It’s almost inarguable now that the ALP is headed for certain oblivion at the next election under Julia Gillard; she is despised by the electorate at large, widely distrusted and viewed as a liar, perceived as manipulative, underhanded and treacherous, and has allowed the view to take hold that she will say or do anything to preserve what’s left of her tenuous hold on government — irrespective of the consequences, and irrespective of the best interests of the country.

Gillard has been a failure as Prime Minister; I have said many times that she is simply the wrong person for the job and the consequences of that stark reality are becoming clear.

But would a leadership change really help the ALP’s prospects?

There is now just 14 months until an election must be called; thanks to Wayne Swan’s arbitrary deadline of the coming financial year for the Commonwealth budget to return to surplus, the election can’t and won’t be delayed by more than a couple of weeks beyond the three-year anniversary of the last election in late August.

Two things make that certain: the commencement of school holidays around the country in mid-September, and the fact the final budget figures for FY 2012-13 will be published in September next year.

No government is silly enough to campaign across school holidays; and Gillard’s will want to bolt off to the polls well in advance of the final outcome of its budget, lest the figures show that it, too, has remained in deficit.

So there is 14 months for Gillard — or someone else — to turn things around.

An article in today’s Herald-Sun canvasses the prospect of Kevin Rudd launching yet another challenge to Gillard, this time in August this year.

Rudd, very simply, will never be Prime Minister again; the emphatic margin of the defeat he suffered at his last attempt in February is the simple proof of that.

If Rudd — or forces loyal to him — believe otherwise, then it betrays rank political amateurism; anyone with a passing interest can see that Gillard’s win over Rudd was not an endorsement of her, but an overwhelming rejection of him by his colleagues.

And let’s not forget that were Rudd to somehow wrest back the leadership of his party, there remains three MPs who have pledged to immediately resign from Parliament in disgust, triggering by-elections in marginal seats Labor would be certain to lose, and lose badly.

There is also the small matter of at least a half-dozen senior cabinet ministers who would immediately resign and go to the backbench, thus gutting what is left of the government in the process.

The Herald-Sun article also raises the prospect of a ticket consisting of Defence minister Stephen Smith as Prime Minister, with Workplace Relations minister Bill Shorten as his deputy.

This would seem a better idea; it would replace the electorally toxic Gillard with a reasonably popular figure widely regarded as a safe pair of hands, and it would set the ALP up with some sort of succession plan (for once) in the event it still ended up back on the Opposition benches after the election.

But this plan, too, has its faults.

I’ve made it known that I hold Smith in some degree of personal regard; his problem is that he is insecurely seated on a margin of 5.3% in his seat of Perth, and given the West shows every sign of a further heavy swing against the federal ALP, that margin alone is enough to raise questions about his tenure heading into an election campaign.

Besides, irrespective of what positives Smith might bring to the Prime Ministership, he is no Paul Keating when it comes to fighting and surviving.

This is a very relevant consideration; I’ve spoken privately to quite a few people this week who are either sympathetic to Labor or actively involved in that party, and the “Keating comparison” is a source of great frustration to these people, away from the prying eyes of journalists and from the obligatory mantra necessitated by a television camera.

It’s true that on attaining the Prime Ministership in December 1991 — on his second attempt — Keating inherited Bob Hawke’s polling numbers which, if anything, were worse overall than Gillard’s are today.

But Keating had two very important advantages: one, he was a master political tactician and strategist, a creature born of the game, with an innate and overriding instinct for survival; and two, he was faced by perhaps the most politically inept leader  the Liberal Party has produced since Billy McMahon.

Nobody in the present ALP caucus can boast political skills that are a patch on Keating’s; indeed, the smartest operator in the game today, when it comes to strategy and tactics, is leading the Liberal Party.

And Labor knows it: it’s the reason why the attacks on Abbott are so incessant, so shrill, and so divorced from reality.

It’s clear that no matter who — if anyone — the Labor Party installs as leader to replace Gillard, they face a near-impossible task even to simply be competitive.

Yet still the rumblings come…

Another report this week — this time in The Australian — suggested that Bob Carr would be offered a House of Representatives seat and the Prime Ministership in a take-it-or-leave-it package deal.

That report at least acknowledged that Carr — 65 in August — might not have the “energy” required to do the job.

But there is more to it than that: to become Prime Minister, he would first need to win a by-election, and there aren’t many ALP-held electorates in Sydney that could be considered immune to a by-election backlash.

And even were that particular hurdle to be cleared, does anybody seriously believe Carr would be leading Labor to anything other than, at best, defeat on a somewhat smaller scale than it is presently headed towards?

However this plays out in the end, readers should not be remotely surprised that having had their go two months ago, the mutterers are again muttering.

This isn’t going to stop; it will keep going, and going, and going, until either Gillard cracks and quits, or until someone musters the numbers and manages to knock her off as leader.

In the meantime, the government will lurch from crisis to crisis; the scandals will continue, as will the cover-ups to keep the lid on as many of them as possible; and the country will suffer.

In the final analysis, this government has now become so self-obsessed that nothing — nothing — now matters to it other than its own internecine warfare, run and conducted by and on behalf of its own squirming bag of toxic, conceited egos and subterranean agendas.

All I can say is roll on a federal election; Australia deserves better than this from its government, and when safely ensconced in Opposition — which is where it surely now belongs — the Labor Party can tear itself to shreds over its leadership arrangements until the sun rises in the west as far as I am concerned.

Thoughts?

Unruly. Undisciplined. Fractious. Chaotic: Farcical Labor Antics Continue

Whilst I’ve been otherwise busy this week and haven’t posted, I’ve been watching the unedifying spectacle of the recruitment of former NSW Premier Bob Carr as Foreign Minister. And if anyone thinks Julia Gillard has gained anything from it, they should think again.

One might have thought this week would be a good one for Gillard, relatively speaking; instead, she heads into the new week with egg on her face, and with the questions of the past few months surrounding her authority undimmed.

Notwithstanding the fact I have said that Gillard’s thumping win in the ALP leadership  was not an emphatic endorsement of her, but an emphatic rejection of Kevin Rudd, I have to be fair and say — initially, at least — her idea to draft Bob Carr as foreign minister had some merit.

And let’s look at Bob Carr.

He ran a lacklustre ALP state government in NSW for ten years; it was the gift firstly of an unexpectedly close state election result in 1991 that left the then Greiner government dependent on Tony Windsor for support, and secondly of another close election in 1995 that delivered Labor a one-seat majority despite losing both the primary and two-party vote count across the state.

Carr was the inept leader of an inept government; indeed, on one occasion he described the position of Premier of New South Wales (or “New South Wiles,” as he pronounces it) as “an inherently stupid job.”

Yet he became the longest continuously serving Premier of NSW to date, in part by virtue of the fear campaign ratcheted up over the then Howard government’s pending introduction of a GST, and in part by virtue of the infighting that erupted within the NSW Liberal Party shortly after its loss of office in 1995.

There is considerable argument — which I do not intend to canvass tonight — which lends credence to the idea that NSW stagnated under the Carr government, and that many of the problems now faced by the O’Farrell government were continuously kicked down the road by Carr and his Labor successors.

It is, however, indisputable that much of the turmoil and chaos now evident in the federal ALP had its genesis in the NSW Party and the dubious methods employed by its Sussex Street headquarters in running, and misdirecting, their organisation.

On the other hand, Carr comes with some qualifications for the role of Foreign Minister: a studious, erudite and academic man, it is the realm of world affairs that is both Carr’s passion and the area in which he is most qualified in the formal sense. He does bring a dim shimmer of class to a federal government so lacking in that commodity, and so deficient in terms of political polish and professional political  presentation.

So with that in mind, it comes as some small surprise that having actually generated a tiny modicum of momentum this week, Julia Gillard and her colleagues have spent the ensuing five days assiduously squandering it, and validating every question mark that ever existed over their judgement, conduct, and suitability to hold office.

The handling of the offer of Mark Arbib’s vacant Senate seat to Bob Carr and with it, the Foreign ministry — and the fact such machinations were even underway at all being made public — are an indictment on the shambolic way in which the Labor Party operates these days, but typical of its ham-fisted approach to government.

Gillard’s denial that she had spoken to Carr about the proposed role was disingenuous; not least given Carr himself directly contradicted her one day later.

But it is telling that her denial — made outside Parliament, and subsequently publicly rescinded following the intervention of Carr — was one she refused to repeat in Parliament.

The risk of knowingly misleading Parliament under privilege is a dangerous risk indeed, as Gillard well knows — and one fraught with potentially fatal political repercussions.

And all of this neatly refocuses attention on the Prime Minister’s great weaknesses: that she is perceived as dishonest, or at best economical with the truth; manipulative, deceptive, and far less than trustworthy.

And this has been compounded with the leaks that were allowed to find their way into the press — namely, that ministerial colleagues (Stephen Smith and Simon Crean were named in papers across the country this week as having “blocked” Gillard’s attempt to recruit Carr) — feed further into the lack of legitimacy, the lack of credibility and the lack of authority the Prime Minister is widely regarded to have.

Of course, Gillard prevailed in the end, but only after a public circus that has inflicted far more damage on herself and on the government than will be outweighed by any positives from the recruitment of Bob Carr.

And speaking of Gillard’s reshuffle generally, she has done herself no favours here, either.

All the talk of “unity” and “healing” has been laid bare by the sheer vindictiveness with which the reshuffle was conducted.

Having contemplated sacking all five of the ministers who publicly supported Kevin Rudd in the leadership ballot, Gillard relented. Four of the five could stay.

And we know all of this because it was leaked.

In a sense, she had little choice; for example, Albanese is the government’s best option for his role as Leader of the House, and she would dismiss a senior heavyweight backed by union muscle like Martin Ferguson at her peril.

Yet it may have been cleaner (in every sense) to sack all five; the fact the process followed in undertaking the reshuffle has been made so visible underscores the general perception the government faces of being a credibility-free, dishonest and amoral  outfit.

And to single out Robert McClelland for the sack — on the specious pretext that he was more “activist” in his support of Rudd than the other four — is an odious little exercise in victimisation, and a half-arsed yet ominous warning to other potential detractors to boot.

So Gillard began the week with a solid, if shallowly grounded, win in the ALP leadership contest, and ends it with the Foreign minister she wanted, the reshuffle she broadly sought, and yet what little credibility or authority she may have had left kicked to pieces as a result of the sheer incompetence with which the whole charade was executed.

I have already foreshadowed the leadership ballot resolving nothing; I hadn’t expected evidence of that contention to materialise so quickly or so sharply.

Yet this has been the first week of the next 17 months, and — if the ALP’s antics this week are any indication — it’s going to be a long, long wait for the election, if it occurs as scheduled next August.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…