29 November 2007

Mister In-Between

You've got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don't mess with Mister In-Between

By voting for Brendan Nelson, the Liberal Party has demonstrated that it is staggering from the wreckage of the Howard government. To embrace Abbott would be to embrace his denial that Howard had contributed anything to his defeat. To embrace Turnbull would have been too much, too soon.

Whichever PR dolly told Nelson that his flat, dull monotone is the way to go when speaking have done him a disservice. He's a shallow man and his ministerial service demonstrates just how much the Liberals have sold themselves short. I hated his creepy and macabre Anzac Day address at Gallipoli last year. The ministry will line up to bag him in Parliament over his ALP past and his sloppy administrative performance and Nelson will just sit there like a shop-window dummy.

He's not quick on his feet and Rudd and Swan will do him. Swan will have to dodge Turnbull, and won't always succeed.

Nelson will pay for his denial that an apology is due to Aborigines. He has a real track record in helping Aborigines when he was a medico - much more than Rudd or any member of his Cabinet, including Garrett - and any goodwill that might have come from that has just gone. Still, at least he's shored up a base in WA, that's the main thing for now. Nelson is every bit the duffer that Hewson was, without the policy depth.

As to putting Bishop against Gillard, that's just unfair. Gillard will eat Bishop. Instead of Bishop seeking funds from WA mining magnates, they'll get her to run for state politics once Nelson proves himself to be a wood duck. Even Omodei wouldn't give Julie Bishop a right cross when she comes to tap him on the shoulder.

To indicate just how unready the Liberal Party is for profound re-examination, see this. It's trying to have it both ways - we've got to do things differently, without repudiating anything we may have done. It's a crock, the work of a man with less grey matter in his head than I have under any of my toenails. It demonstrates no ability to pre-empt Rudd's shortcomings or to help the Liberals back into office any time soon. It's the happy-talk of a slave traumatised by the sheer scope of his newfound freedom.

As to the ministry, there are gaping vulnerabilities that a sober Liberal Party could push through to government:

  • It's one thing to have Joel Fitzgibbon as Shadow Defence Minister, but actually having him as minister is taking the piss. This is the man to oversee the withdrawal from Iraq? What if there's a crisis? This is a minister who'll be outshone by his parly secs.

  • Kate Ellis in Youth and Sport is an expression of contempt for these areas of policy.

  • Tony Burke in Agriculture is like Billy McMahon or Simon Crean in that portfolio: it'll make him or break him.

  • Stephen Conroy and Kim Carr are disasters waiting to happen.

  • I suspect that McClelland will be out of his depth as Attorney General.

  • Julia Gillard has taken on too much - workplace relations will take up the first part of her term and education the second. She needs some assistant ministers. The Liberals should disrupt that, but they won't.

  • Smith will be stiff and unimaginative, like Robert Hill.

Tanner and Albanese could well be brilliant in their respective portfolios. Some dopey member of the Coalition will launch a frontal assault on Penny Wong and she'll demolish them.

Still, Rudd and Nelson each have to make the best of what the factions and the voters have sent him: better to do that in office with public goodwill behind you.

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