Can Labor afford another leadership stoush?

Can Labor afford another leadership stoush?

Like so many of Kevin Rudd’s other hare-brained initiatives, this one must have been a good idea at the time.

The thinking may well have been that by changing the rules for electing the parliamentary leader to incorporate the popular vote from party members, Rudd could capitalise on his broader public support in the face of any future caucus antipathy.

The move was audacious at the time of announcement: in a single move the re-invented Prime Minister bolstered Fortress Rudd while giving disaffected Labor Party members and wavering supporters a reason to stay.

Much was made of Rudd’s democratisation of the party but – in perhaps the strongest sign that Kevin truly believed he would win the election and a leadership vote would be redundant – it seems little thought was given to how it would work in practice. The warm inner glow generated by the reform has dissipated in the dark days since the poll.

Now the party’s National Executive appears to be making up the rules as it goes along.

Click here to visit the King’s Tribune and keep reading…

To be (negative) or not to be – that is the question

Here’s the last of my 2013 election campaign weekly columns for ABC’s The Drum.

Once Labor gathers together the detritus of its parliamentary wing following the federal election and selects a new leader, it will need to decide what kind of Federal Opposition it is going to be.

For even though Tony Abbott’s Coalition can be considered a successful opposition – in that it won the election – it was also the most negative in Australia’s modern political history.

The consequences of those four years of sustained political warfare, initiated when Abbott first became Leader of the Opposition, remain with us today. Most notably, it has set the tone for much of our nation’s political discourse, be it on social media, talkback radio or television talking head panels, in newspaper headlines or at political rallies.

The ‘Ditch the Witch’ and ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’ placards, for example, held aloft at the infamous anti-carbon tax rally would have been considered more shocking and perhaps been more widely condemned if the broader community hadn’t already become desensitised to epithets being hurled at Julia Gillard as a matter of course during the daily political debate.

That’s not to say there isn’t a place for vigorous exchanges within Australia’s political conversation, but this type of brutal discourse has moved from being the exception to the rule. As a result, those in the Australian community who are interested and engaged in politics now seem to approach any related discussion from a state of constant combat-readiness instead of a willingness to listen and explore other perspectives.

It may not have occurred yet to the new Labor Federal Opposition, but it has an opportunity to change the tone of our national political conversation to something that is, dare I say, kinder and gentler. Labor knows Australian voters are tired of negativity but the party may well be tempted to adopt an approach similar to Abbott’s uber-opposition as an easy way of scoring early points against the new Government.

While it is clearly legitimate for an Opposition to “oppose” the Government and hold it to account, this does not necessarily require the transformation of parliament into a combat zone. Previous Leaders of the Opposition, namely John Howard, Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd, all took a more positive approach that welcomed sensible policy initiatives from the Government while emphasising the key points of differentiation. The benefit of this approach was that it not only helped position the Opposition as a scrutineer of the Government but also as a credible and viable alternative.

Undoubtedly, the new Labor Opposition has a great deal to work through in the coming weeks and months. Not only does it have to convince one of its young and talented remaining parliamentarians to take on the leadership, which traditionally is a poisoned chalice after a government-changing election loss, but it also has to work out what to do about Kevin as he lurks like Banquo’s ghost on the parliamentary backbench.

Nevertheless, there is one more difficult question that Labor should tackle, for the good of the party as well as the nation.

To be (negative) or not to be – that is the question.

Like a criminal in the dock, Hockey insults our intelligence

Like a criminal in the dock, Hockey insults our intelligence

Like a criminal in the dock: there’s no other way to describe how Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey appeared at his press conference today, delivering the Coalition’s long-awaited policy costings.

The man most likely to be in charge of the country’s finances next week showed all the telltale signs of a guilty party: sweating profusely, covering his mouth and constantly dropping his gaze to the floor as he devised his answers.

In a world where perception is fact, and appearance guides perception – particularly during an election when this is exponentially the case – Hockey epitomised the complete opposite of the economic competence he was trying to convey. And on which much of the Coalition’s campaign has been built.

Yet there was little wonder why Hockey looked guilty and ashamed, for he had just produced a mere eight pages of costings for the Coalition’s sixty policies and the means by which they would pay for them.

Eight pages.

What a slap in the face for the (admittedly small in number) Australian voters who are genuinely interested in what a policy might cost and how that cost would be offset elsewhere. I’m accustomed to voters being treated like ignorant fools by politicians, their staff and their campaign teams, but this tactic is one of the greatest insults to our intelligence that I can recall.

I’m not suggesting the Coalition’s costings are material to the election outcome. Voters have pretty much decided to choose the Liberal brand and at this stage it would require something like Abbott being caught with the proverbial goat for them to be persuaded otherwise.

I’m not even particularly fazed by the last minute release of the costings, considering the tactic has been employed by Opposition Leaders from both sides for at least the past four federal elections.

No, what gets MY goat is the contemptuous lack of anything that appears to be detail in the costings document – there’s not even a superficial attempt to satisfy those of us who want more than lowest common denominator information.

I wasn’t expecting the Coalition to produce an alternate version of the Federal Budget Papers, but I did expect a greater breakdown of the spending initiatives and the savings. How hard can it be to slap all the policies together in one publication accompanied by their costings? (That’s a rhetorical question – I know it’s not that hard).

The Coalition missed an opportunity today to shake the cynicism of a few doubting Thomases. A professional-looking publication showing a costings breakdown for every policy and the accompanying savings would have set the tone for the first week of a new Abbott Government, conveying: they’re professional and they’re competent.

Today’s exposition by Joe Hockey from the witness box has done just the opposite, conveying: they’re shonky and they’re hiding something.