06/02/2008 - 22:00

Labor owes Bomber, big time

06/02/2008 - 22:00


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State Scene recently met a Western Australian federal MP who gives considerable thought to precisely what’s happening at senior political ranks.

Labor owes Bomber, big time

State Scene recently met a Western Australian federal MP who gives considerable thought to precisely what’s happening at senior political ranks.

Eventually we canvassed the fact that long-time Liberal deputy, Peter Costello, had balked at becoming Liberal leader.

I said the Liberals were lucky he’d cleared the party’s deck sooner rather than later.

Not so, according to the MP.

He claimed Mr Costello did a disservice to his party and himself.

His reasoning was that Costello’s cop-out created an immediate problem for the party, since the close contest between Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull had left the Liberals looking divided.

He said Mr Costello should have opted for a caretaker’s role, during which much constructive work could have been done.

And a year, or perhaps two, later, he could have considered standing aside if a deputy or other front bencher had distinguished themselves to be a credible replacement.

Instead, Mr Costello went off claiming he’d seek a high finance job, and even hinted he’ll vacate his seat of Higgins, thereby sparking an unwelcome and costly by-election the Liberals may lose.

To drive the point home that all this disadvantaged the Liberals, the MP said one only needed to look at what one-time Labor leader, Kim Beazley, did in 1996, when Labor was confronted with a virtually identical situation.

He was then deputy to outgoing prime minister Paul Keating.

The John Howard-led Liberal Part had convincingly beaten Labor and two terms in opposition were confidently predicted.

But rather than leaving his post, Mr Beazley took up the challenge and pressed on under bleak conditions.

Moreover, he came close, very close, to returning Labor to power in 1998.

Put differently, Mr Beazley was no shirker. Quite the contrary.

When Labor was rudderless, he accepted the challenge, and although losing the 1998 and 2001 elections, he at least filled a leadership gap.

Let’s also not forget that, although falling seven seats short of government at the 1998 election, Labor polled 51 per cent of the nationwide vote; 2 per cent more than the Howard-led Coalition.

Only after his 2001 loss did Mr Beazley stand aside to make way for the soon-to-be luckless Simon Crean.

That’s as far as one needs go with the Beazley-Costello comparison, which to me certainly made the point that the two have responded quite differently to similar circumstances.

The MP then went further, claiming Labor never reciprocated towards Mr Beazley. Labor, in fact, snubbed him not once, nor twice, but three times, during all this.

The MP pointed out that even though Mr Beazley had twice – in 1996 and in 2005 – taken on the party’s leadership under uncontested circumstances, each time he had sought it under contested circumstances, he lost.

The first of the contested bids was in 2003 when his successor, Mr Crean, was looking distinctly shaky in the polls.

So, in June 2003, there was a leadership contest between Messrs Beazley and Crean, and the latter won, 58 votes to 34.

The next time came in December 2003, when Mr Crean chose to stand aside. That resulted in a Beazley-Mark Latham clash, with the latter winning 47 votes to 45.

Then, in December 2006, while Mr Beazley was again leader, having taken on the challenge after the now famous 2004 Latham implosion, there was another vote, which Mr Beazley lost to Kevin Rudd.

Every time Mr Beazley sought the leadership at a vote he was toppled, despite having filled the role credibly for Labor when no one wanted to be leader.

That must certainly be some sort of record.

Despite all that, State Scene suspects this is still not the end of the public life line for Mr Beazley.

The fact of the matter is that he’s always come to the party’s aid when needed, and surely that’s worth something.

Although presently a professor of political science and international affairs at his alma mater – the University of Western Australia – it’s highly likely that Rudd-led Labor will turn to him in some way in the foreseeable future.

Two positions that have been suggested are that of governor-general, and as Australia’s ambassador to Washington.

State Scene highlighted both these options during 2007 and still believes that the ambassadorship is likely.

His appointment as governor-general was never a goer because, as State Scene has written several times, that has in all likelihood been earmarked for another Western Australian, Sir Rod Eddington, who was big business affairs adviser to Mr Rudd at the last election.

That said, it’s certainly interesting to see how, while Western Australia has been unable since 1945 to produce anyone to follow in the proud footsteps of wartime prime minister, John Curtin, the state has performed quite credibly in the governor-generalship stakes.

Of the 14 governors-general we’ve had since World War II, four were British – the Duke of Gloucester (1945-47); Sir William Slim (1953-60); Viscount Dunrossil (1960-61); and Viscount D’Isle (1961-65).

Of the remaining 10 Australians, NSW and Victoria boasts three each, leaving four among the remaining four states.

NSW’s were: Sir William McKell (1947-53); Sir John Kerr (1974-77); and Sir Willliam Deane (1996-2001). Victoria’s were: Richard Casey (1965-69); Sir Zelman Cowan (1977-82); and Sir Ninian Stephen.

Since Tasmania and South Australia miss out, WA and Queensland share the last four with two each.

The two Queenslanders were William Hayden (1989-96), and Dr Peter Hollingworth (2001-03), while the Western Australians were Sir Paul Hasluck (1969-74), and the incumbent, Major General Michael Jeffery (2003-to the present).

Sir Rod, like Mr Beazley, is a Rhodes Scholar. Sir Rod has links to the Labor Party, via his advisory work during the election to Mr Rudd. And Sir Rod has that knighthood and close links to British Labour.

Only time will tell if State Scene’s long-standing prediction that Sir Rod will displace Major General Michael Jeffery is correct.

All this is, of course, predicated on the assumption that the next governor-general is a male.

Labor’s cabinet has a sizeable number of strident women, so it’s likely that when the vacancy arises they’ll eyeball Mr Rudd to break with the past and finally appoint a woman to the role.

Their strongest argument will be: ‘Why have all 24 governors-general been males? Surely it’s time for a woman.’

That’ll be a hard one to answer by anyone wanting the 25th to be a male.

If it comes to that we’re bound to again hear the names of two WA identities – Janet Holmes a Court, who has impeccable left-wing credentials, and Professor Fiona Stanley.

That said, the crucial point is that Mr Beazley’s record of not walking away from the Labor Party whenever it was in need shouldn’t be overlooked when other jobs are on offer.

That, however, is something that’s unlikely to ever be said of Mr Costello.

He spent 11 years looking after Australia’s tax dollars and seems destined to be involved in money matters until he finally bows out.


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