For the ALP, there does seem to be a recognition that you can’t blame it all on the refugees. The loss wasn’t all that big, despite the lowest primary vote for the party in centuries and the embarrassing necessity to run all those last minute ads to say what one stood for.
A worse possibility might have been winning – and then having to govern out of a fairly bare cupboard of ideas while it was the Liberals who picked up all the benefits tied up in the new buzzword of generational change.
As it is, the boot is now rather on the other foot. It is Field Marshal Howard who is governing without much in the way of a program, all the while looking over his shoulder in fear of what stunt the next generation might pull in the party room.
He may, indeed, have every faith in the patience and loyalty of the anointed one. But, even if the anointed one keeps the faith, Howard faces governing over the constant clamour of Abbott and Costello reruns in the media.
Not that life is going to be easy for Simon Crean, former unionist, factional heavyweight and noted question time gnasher, sneerer and snarler. According to the polls, Crean was the least liked of all the major party leaders and deputies, so much so that some wits suggested the Liberals wasted money and effort on an expensive
campaign when all they really needed to do was flash up frequent pictures of Simon Crean.
Senior columnist for The Australian Mike Steketee says Crean is quite personable. He needs to be quite personable in public quite soon to dint all those perceptions of gnashing, sneering and snarling. Quite possibly, he also needs to hug an Afghan that isn’t also a hound and issue an invitation to Tuvaluans to come here when their
islands sink, whether due to greenhouse or the added weight of refugees.
A combination of Crean, shock and necessity seems to have prevailed on an impressive array of Labor’s old guard and non-performing frontbench stock to step aside. They include Senator Bolkus, shadow environment minister who had nary a question of the minister for periods approaching a year in duration and Queensland’s Con
Sciacca and (reluctantly and with quite a shove) Arch Bevis.
And an undoubtedly personable and, unlike Crean, indisputably new generation talent Jenny Macklin, has been shooed in as deputy despite her not being a member of the NSW or any other right faction. Indeed, the formerly dominant NSW right have done very poorly out of the new arrangements. From it being said of well compensated
parliamentary cyclist Leo Macleay that he was the only member of the NSW right to ever break his own arm, a number of the faction seem to have followed the hint that the interests of the party require them to fall on their own swords. Not only that, but some have gone on to do the same favour for factional colleague and beleaguered NSW
premier Bob Carr.
A gender equity or affirmative action question would seem to remain however. The party which has for years proclaimed a 35 percent target female representation seems to be heading for a 10 percent in the ministry achievement. The available talent argument would seem to favour the femmes – indicating that while Labor keeps missing
its target by a mile in the preselection front, Simon Crean should be seeking more than 35 percent in cabinet. It would seem that some of the old boys team has been replaced by a factionally nominated young boys team.
Queensland’s senior front bencher is likely to be machine man Wayne Swan, who counselled both Goss and Beazley to govern or oppose in such a way as to not frighten the horses. In retrospect, the advice seems to have been disastrous on both counts - when Labor sounds nearly as conservative as the conservatives, swingers tend to
take the message to heart and vote conservative. The record suggests that Simon Crean might most usefully look elsewhere for strategic and tactical advice and give Wayne something relatively unadventurous.
So far, not a bad start. But it is wise to remember that it was fairly easy for the old and tired guard to step aside when the spoils of office tend to the hypothetical and the theoretical. It would be well to seek a written guarantee or two that the factional heavyweights won’t seek to reinstate themselves in the ministerial
leather if and when circumstances change.
Some of course might choose to seek greener quangos and boards before then, creating useful vacancies to bring new talent into the party by way of reasonably sure bet byelections. Here Labor’s ascendancy in most States will help. State governments could offer a few suitable positions to ease bums off seats, and State organizations
could fast track the new talent through the preselections.
The danger, possibly again most pronounced in Queensland, is that the only superficially reformed State organizations might seize the opportunity to fast track the party hacks into the safe seats and Senate berths. If this is allowed to happen, the sheen will soon come off the new generation.
It is a troubled world, Simon old son. Indications are that we need to go a bit deeper than slogan level, trial some new and innovative notions, opt for what works rather than what is merely politic and give up affirming old faiths. This is going to take a bit of courage and a fair bit of explaining to the electorate, the media and
the big end of town.
But take your new generation down that track and in three years time there will be no need for a panicky campaign to explain what you stand for. And minimal options for Prime Minister Costello to pursue what is likely to be his best bet – a flanking maneuver from the left.