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Day of reckoning nears for Labor leader

WHATEVER date Prime Minister John Howard makes election day, for Labor leader Kim Beazley it’s crunch time.

He’s on borrowed time since Labor, generally quite an unforgiving party, handed him one more chance to bundle out the tax restructuring-obsessed conserv-atives.

It came only because at the 1998 election he almost toppled Mr Howard.

Although the difference was a dozen seats – a seemingly high figure – Beazley-led Labor scored 51.2 per cent of the vote, so it was a good performance.

But if he fails again he’ll be pressured into moving aside for one of those already in the wings, with most tipping Simon Crean, son of former Whitlam Government Treasurer Frank Crean, to become Labor’s new leader.

Labor has been both good and bad to Mr Beazley, also son of a former Whitlam Government Minister, Kim senior.

Good in that it let him enter federal parliamentary ranks moderately easily and at a time when WA Labor was still markedly more leftist than today.

Both Kims are middle-of-the-road social democrats on most issues, so are ideologically somewhat divorced from those who once reigned supreme in the branch.

WA Labor, which for so long was controlled by ardent Arthur Scargill-style leftists, Joe Chamberlain and his many paladins, nevertheless succeeded in making Mr Beazley’s political life somewhat uncomfortable, primarily through seat allocation.

In 1977 he was denied his father’s safe Fremantle seat, something he’d yearned to get.

But he fought back and, in 1980, gained pre-selection for Swan, which had a record of swinging between Liberal and Labor.

Hardly a sign of gratitude to the son of someone who had served loyally since winning Fremantle for Labor in 1945, upon the death of the party’s most exalted hero, Prime Minister John Curtin.

Mr Beazley last contested Swan in 1993 and almost lost.

During his often-torrid Swan years he endured half a dozen campaigns and watched the seat steadily becoming too close for comfort.

Little wonder in 1996 he opted for the more traditional Labor-looking patch of Brand – suburbs near Kwinana’s industrial strip – despite living in flash South Perth.

Even at that contest – during which time Mr Beazley was deputy Prime Minister in the Paul Keating-led Government – he just fell over the line against a stolid campaign by Liberal unknown Penny Hearne.

But WA Labor’s factional and other woes never followed him to Canberra, which he reached in the same year as former West Aussie, Bob Hawke, with whom he had much in common, including a Rhodes Scholarship from the University of WA.

Both being from Canberra’s Labor class of 1980, they naturally got to know each other well.

Some even suspect earlier family links dating back to Bob’s dad, a Perth Baptist minister, and Kim Sr, who strongly backed the now forgotten Moral Rearmament Movement of the 1950s, and their common concerns during that perilous Cold War decades of active pro-Moscow fellow travelling.

When Mr Hawke so convincingly thrashed Mr Howard’s Canberra patron, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, in 1983, the way was opened for Mr Beazley’s rise. And he hasn’t looked back.

Firstly it was the Aviation Ministry and Assistant Defence Minister. A year later it was Defence Minister and Special Minister of State, capped off soon after by Government Leader in the House.

In 1990 he took over the Transport and Communications portfolios then, briefly, Finance, followed by Employment, Education and Training, Finance again, and deputy Prime Ministership.

With that load of experience on top of being raised on politics while eating at the Beazley family’s breakfast table, and entering Parliament through the often tempestuous and at times hard left WA Labor branch, one would think he was a far more certain MP. But no.

Strangely he’s being perceived by voters, Liberal pundits claim, as uncertain, prevaricating, not confident of his positions and stands.

“At the last election Kim had the good guy image, now he can be criticised by simply asking voters what his policies are,” a Perth polling insider said.

“He keeps swapping and changing.”

This may well be his prime campaign liability, with Howard strategists and minders portraying Labor’s prime ministerial hopeful as someone without the needed clarity of vision.

Mr Beazley is fortunate Brand is probably at minimum 55 per cent pro-Labor. Even so, Brand’s campaign promises to see him targeted by One Nation plus the Liberals.

And other political groups beyond Liberals for Forests are considering jumping in, in the same way Mr Howard’s deputy, John Anderson, will be targeted by former electronics super-retailer, hi-tech adventurer, and now patriotic advertising supremo, Dick Smith.

The intention, ostensibly, is to topple Mr Beazley, otherwise to keep him worried and so campaigning longer and harder in his backyard.

Will Mr Beazley have the nerve to ignore such challenges after having deserted Swan and only just beaten Penny Hearne?

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