22 January 2011

The Famous Five go to Canberra

Here is the latest PvO where Canberra hype is utterly disconnected from any grounding in actual votes cast or other manifestations of political reality.

The NSW Labor Right was formed to assert the idea that the ALP need not be beholden to communists. It also formed a nexus of anti-Lang activity, so long as that was a problem, and provided a more consensual back-room relationship with the Catholic Church than was apparently possible in other states. The structural basis for the Labor Right has pretty much gone today.

What has taken its place? Nothing. There was a bit of a sugar-rush of money and bullshit over the past decade under Eric Roozendaal, but that's pretty much gone now. None of the guys (and the fact that they're all guys is worth investigating) PvO is following around like some besotted puppy can raise any serious money, or do much else for Labor in 2013:

  • Tony Burke lives or dies on the success or failure of a comprehensive plan for the Murray-Darling basin. It might be too soon to write him off but it is definitely too soon to wreath him with garlands for doing a mighty job.

  • Chris Bowen has two options as Immigration Minister: micro (improve facilities at detention centres and generally make the system work more efficiently) or macro (change the debate so that Labor doesn't get caned, no matter what it does, for being "too soft"). He's done neither.

  • Mark Arbib advised Rudd to do nothing on the big issues, then dumped Rudd because he was a do-nothing on the big issues. No other individual is more responsible for the predicament in NSW than he (with the possible exception of Roozendaal). As Sports Minister, he's made Kate Ellis look good - Ellis started as a ditz (didn't understand the difference between rugby league and rugby union!) and ended up holding her own, while Arbib was employment minister who didn't know the unemployment rate. Everything Arbib has touched - FIFA World Cup for one - has turned to dross. That guy is going to raise no money, and can call in no favours. Stick a fork in him, he's done.

  • Jason Clare has to get some wins in Defence procurement, especially with a Budget under pressure from Brisbane and a commitment to a 2012-13 surplus. Again, too soon to write him off, too soon for the hype.

  • Karl Bitar: dead man walking.

After the inevitable happens in March these guys are going to have to show their faces in Sydney and ask, with a straight face, for money to donate to Labor. Raising money and deploying it is how you get and maintain power. Right now, and after March, the people with power are the people who will tell these guys where to go and suffer what consequences as these guys can conjure up.

It just won't happen. Any money from Sydney for federal Labor in 2013 will have to be sought by someone from outside Sydney.

PvO invokes the Carr-Keating-Richardson-McLeay-Brereton thing, a phenomenon which began to fall apart as soon as it was identified (Carr's rise saw the other four out of office. Richardson and Keating fell out, McLeay was a modest talent at best, and Brereton made a career of biting off more than he could chew). Mind you, it may be a parallel, but not one that flatters the younger generation.

While the professionalism of the Labor machine in NSW successfully sandbagged seats at the federal election, residual anger at state maladministration was everywhere.

Any successes can be attributed entirely to Liberal screw-ups, like Banks and Robertson, rather than any genius on the part of Labor generally or these jokers in particular. Arbib and Bitar made the NSW state government what it is, and are threatening to do the same to the federal government unless Gillard gets up on her hind legs and gets rid of them. After March, she will be able to do this without penalty, provided she promotes Labor Right figures from states other than NSW.

The question now is: are they assets or liabilities?

The stench of NSW Labor is potent, and the opposition will use this year to remind voters that it continues to waft through the federal party.

This is weak analysis. NSW Labor Right government has been shown to be poor government, and so the PvO Five are obliged to show how they are completely different from those who have proven failures. For Arbib and Bitar, they are the same Arbib and Bitar who contributed so much to the debacle, and they will have to prove that they are now born-again in terms of political effectiveness.

Then, there's this rather bizarre sequence:
But during that time voters increasingly began to question whether the NSW government was better at spin in order to stay in power, rather than policy achievements that earn a right to re-election.

And that is the question being asked about Gillard's government now (although frankly it needs to work on the quality of its spin as well as the quality of its policy development).

Aside from the perception difficulties Gillard will need to overcome in the short term because of having such senior former members of NSW Labor in her ranks, at a personal level the capacity for each of them individually to achieve their own ambitions in the years ahead with the state histories they are saddled with is also an issue.

Having raised the issue of policy substance parenthetically, he then returns to "perception difficulties", like a dog to his vomit. All of those guys except Bitar have huge policy responsibilities that will make or break them (Bitar and Arbib, I'd argue, are broken already). PvO owed us in-depth examinations of their tribulations and whether each really has it in them to overcome the policy challenges they face today. Gillard is under no obligation to give these suckers an even break.

They will be going up against the likes of Bill Shorten from Victoria when the time for a leadership transition happens.

But Shorten doesn't have anywhere near the baggage of the other three because of their state political backgrounds.

While Shorten did suffer in the perception stakes for his role in ousting Rudd last year, he emerged much less damaged than someone such as Arbib did. Rather than having a CV that includes a track record in a state government loathed by the public, Shorten was a senior union official urging Labor not to support Mark Latham into the leadership because he didn't believe the now disgraced former leader was up to the job.

People in Sydney will line up to give money - and with it, power - to Shorten ahead of the five clowns to whom PvO has set his cap. Shorten took an obscure portfolio (Disability Services) and reinvented it. He took Bowen's old portfolio and explained complex issues in superannuation in a simple way, achieving in months what Mr Fuel Watch failed to do over the entire last term of parliament.

Shorten's successor at the AWU also publicly participated in the downfall of a Labor leader, but hasn't learned that it is sometimes better to keep your head down and learn some lessons rather than strut about like some slow-moving target and acting all hurt when people don't clamour for you to lead them.

Labor can claw back ten seats before it even touches NSW, and in doing so it need not feel beholden to the PvO Five in any way. The Left are the key to winning seats like Bennelong and retaining Sydney, Grayndler and Banks. Any other successes for Labor will depend on Tony Abbott tripping over himself, which he will.

If federal Labor is to be successful it needs strong players out of the NSW Right to take a lead role.

Rubbish. None of the PvO Five can be regarded as indispensable, and as explained earlier the Cold War - and with it, the central role for the NSW Labor Right - is over.

It is nonsense to talk about "ideological muscle" - what ideology will fix the Murray-Darling basin, the gap between sport at the community level and the elite, or take the heat out of immigration? Richardson and McLeay didn't get where they got on ideology; sheer simple spite sufficed. There nearest thing any of the PvO Five have shown to ideological commitment is Burke's campaign against euthanasia before entering parliament.

PvO assumes that "political realities" start within Canberra and are then projected onto the country, when it is the other way around. The NSW Labor Right is facing annihilation and cannot survive anywhere - Macquarie Street, Canberra, wherever - once its ideological, voter and financial support collapses. The Democrats collapsed in the community, then their votes collapsed and all that activity by Lyn Allison and whoever else came to nothing; so it is with the NSW Labor Right. I don't care whose feet these clowns have sat at, the question is who can reinvent the principles of a bygone era to the challenges of today and tomorrow? None of them have or can, and because this includes PvO then may we soon see his "analysis" fail so completely that he is simply never heard from again.


  1. My thoughts on the matter from back in September 2010:

  2. I love the line "Arbib has confirmed his powerbroker credentials by orchestrating the dumping of Kevin Rudd." or more to the point, i like the idea that PvO, having identified Arbib in 2009 as, presumably, an up and coming powerbroker, is now willing to graduate the pup to the big leagues.

    I am a little worried however that, should Gillard do the right thing to Arbib, there might be enough zombies in Arbib's camp to send Gillard the way of Rees. I'm not worried here for the Labor party or any particular players, just that they might do it while Abbott is still opposition leader in a parliament that doesn't need an election to swap government.

  3. Thanks Victoria, here's mine from June.

    TWM, imagine Arbib making a threat, veiled or otherwise. Now imagine the target of said threat replying: "Or what, Mark?". This is what I'm getting to. If Gillard goes it will take more than Arbib to do it: I think the Victorian Right in particular have more to gain by sticking with Gillard than their comrades from Sussex Street. The budget will be key.

  4. Ken Coghill24/1/11 5:51 am

    All this makes even more sense when read with Rodney Cavalier's "Power Crisis"

  5. Well we've been waiting long enough for someone in the ALP to tell Arbib to go jump and i would've thought it could've happened a lot sooner than this so you'll have to excuse me if i don't hold my breath. I agree the conditions are right, but we're still reliant on Gillard and others having the sense to try and save their situation rather than keep digging deeper.

  6. First, Arbib's power base has to die, and to be seen to have died. Why the rush? You move too early, there's a vacuum. You move at just the right time and it's like putting the bins at the kerb.

  7. Surely the fantasy that grounded the June 2010 move against Rudd was well and truly wrecked by the election? How can Arbib and co have any creditability with party official or potential sources of funding after the disastrous outcome? Even a hardened conservative knew Abbott was unelectable and yet these geniuses almost put him into the top job.

  8. That election was a bit of a curate's egg, but it's increasingly clear that the Vics are calling the shots in the ALP. They came out of their election with credit, which is more than can be said for NSW. Arbib is holding the parcel once the music stops, won't be pretty.