The normally reliable Laura Tingle wrote:
It would be nice to write about something more edifying than the Labor mambo this week, but it utterly consumes Canberra, and the government.No, it doesn't.
This week saw the government introduce more policy with no opposition to speak of:
- The haemmorrhage of $billions subsidising private health insurance has been curbed.
- It appears that tax reform is further advanced than it was thanks to a deal of which Rob Oakeshott seemed keen to take ownership.
Here's what happens when the processes of government are 'utterly consumed' by the sort of shite we have seen this week:
- The Health Minister, a member of the left faction, would have be effectively countermanded by some idle musings by Rudd or one of his supporters; to get her proposals up she'd have to pick a side and even then some good policy might get lost in the tumult.
- Oakeshott would have acted all weary and called for "leadership" on tax reform without specifying anyone or anything in particular, trying to rise above the fray like Cheryl Kernot did during her Democrat phase, and ultimately getting nowhere.
When personality conflicts crush policy, then - and only then - leadership becomes a story rather than marginal scuttlebutt.
In all this, timing is everything.Yes it is, and when you're raking over a two-year-old story you look stupid and irrelevant.
Journalists spend hours trying to determine whether Gillard personally showed polling to colleagues against Rudd in 2010 (very little evidence), or was it just her lieutenants showing or spruiking them, and/or did the lieutenants just tell some MPs about it?Why? Sack them all, every one. The next editor, journalist or apologist for same who wrings their hands at the expense of investigative journalism should consider how much it costs to have hundreds of press gallery journos chasing this non-story of who said what to whom two years ago.
Gillard strode into the first parliamentary fortnight, staring down all the speculation of her imminent demise, beating the opposition in Parliament, yet ending up back in the poop all because of a bad decision on giving an interview.Now consider that Rudd would have been one of those "blithering wrecks" and the story becomes clear. Since when do journalists criticise pollies for giving interviews?
Whatever is said about the Prime Minister’s political management capabilities, it is doubtful we have ever seen quite such a tough operator in our lifetimes.
She has grimly stood through relentless pressure for almost two years that would have left many of her colleagues blithering wrecks.
The main problem we have here is that the two camps seem to be working on plans that rely on the other camp making a mistake, rather than any actual plan to resolve things.That's why it's a stand-off. Day 605 of Rudd-Gillard tensions, no news to report - well no news worth reporting, which isn't quite the same thing.
Rudd’s people, meantime, are trying to force caucus to confront the damage done to its primary vote – and their career prospects – since they deposed their leader, and persuade them to put it right.Here's Rudd's central problem. He has to promise that he will restore Labor's popularity to where it was in 2007-09, and keep it there, and never ever return to the kind of death-spiral since 2010. At the same time, he also has to demonstrate that he's completely changed the way that he works with people, an manages the Labor machine, to the satisfaction of those who have worked with him closely over many years. On top of that, he actually has to show that he follows through once he announces things. Only Darren Cheeseman appears to have signed up to that: good luck.
Rudd has made no impact in the Queensland election. If Labor gets the drubbing that is widely predicted, will his involvement make him any more appealing to backbenchers? If he trails off toward the end of that campaign, distancing himself from sinking Bligh, will that improve his standing in the eyes of those who turned on him (or who never liked him) in 2010?
The fact that there will be no challenge is given here: because the tectonics within the ALP forbid it, so the wittering to the contrary by frightened backbenchers that Peter Hartcher places so much faith in is so insubstantial it has to be discounted - particularly by anyone who got sucked in to the Costello-Howard thing.
... in NSW notably, Labor has learnt the error of its ways. Sussex Street, the central nexus of Labor's Right faction power, has discovered that its practice of ruthlessly beheading leaders as a substitute for fixing anything did not, in the end, fix anything.Gullibility can be cute sometimes. It's cute that Sam Dastyari can actually be taken at face value. The NSW ALP has become some sort of consultancy where people can form their own opinions ... or it has been so smashed that it no longer plays a role in national politics. There was a time when Peter Hartcher would actually pursue this as a story, if not write a book about it; the idea that he or this gaggle would accept such a development at face value shows that currying favour with contacts obscures rather than facilitates the process by which journalists tell us what's going on.
The general secretary of NSW Labor, Sam Dastyari, set out his position to the Herald yesterday: "As far as I'm concerned, there isn't a ballot for the leadership and there isn't a need for one. If one were to arise, I would rigidly stick to my view that it is the role of the party machine to support the leader and bring stability to party leadership. That is a case I would make on behalf of party members to all NSW Labor MPs."
The second half of Dastyari's position, put privately to the 20 NSW Labor members of the federal caucus, is that the old days of fear and loathing are gone. "Our MPs and senators are not messenger boys for Sussex Street. What makes head office right about everything? We have to trust the judgment of our MPs. Threatening people's preselections is deplorable."
There is no evidence that Rudd would or could break the press gallery's strike on reporting what the government actually does. No evidence that Abbott would or could do so either: according to the press gallery, he's be constantly looking over his shoulder at Hockey, Turnbull or whomever else.
Abbott was so rattled by week's end that his Chief of Staff had lost faith in his ability to defend her and he rounded on asylum seekers yet again, rather than on 'entitlements' for those who ought not be entitled to them. He's not waiting for government to fall into his lap because if he did, it would be there by now. He's stalled, he's stuck and he can't ask for help.
Gillard takes the press gallery strike as given and gets things done anyway: this is a state of affairs that would mortify any of the other politicians named in this paragraph. That's why Gillard is still PM and is still the best bet to remain in the position that the others covet, and it doesn't matter if the polls say otherwise.
The press gallery strike on giving the government the "oxygen" of publicity must be broken. It is the central fact of our politico-media environment and all other interpersonal impasses in the preceding paragraph, real or imagined, pale by contrast. I think the best/only way to do that is to abolish the press gallery, but it will be interesting to see what happens after the Gillard government is re-elected next year (oh yes).