06/05/2013 - 06:57

No easy choices for Labor

06/05/2013 - 06:57

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Investigations by Victoria’s Fraud Squad may put even further pressure on the prime minister’s position.

Like many commentators on federal affairs I wouldn’t be surprised if detectives from Victoria’s Fraud Squad interviewed the prime minister during investigations into the so-called Australian Workers Union ‘slush fund’.

What no-one knows, however, is when that’s likely to occur – before or after the coming federal election.

Ms Gillard is presently in a truly unenviable position.

Ralph Blewitt, a colleague of her former client and partner, one-time AWU official Bruce Wilson, has made two sworn statements to Victoria Police about large sums of money having been secured from big construction firms.

This issue, including Ms Gillard’s denials of any wrongdoing, has been canvassed by some media outlets over the past year or so.

But information has now leaked that the slush fund affair is under investigation by Victoria’s Fraud Squad, with people other than Mr Blewitt being interviewed.

There’s no reason why Ms Gillard shouldn’t be similarly treated.

That naturally casts a dark shadow over the election campaign, which still has about 17 weeks to run.

Could Labor go into an election behind a leader who’s been interviewed by a fraud squad team, even if innocent of any wrongdoing as she’s publicly claimed?

Not an easy question to answer since, to my knowledge, nothing like this has ever happened.

That being so, there’s certainly a possibility that Labor’s caucus could decide the best option is a belated leadership change.

Ever since June 2010 when Ms Gillard toppled her leader, Kevin Rudd, all eyes and polling have been firmly focused on his return to the leadership.

Not only has that failed to eventuate, but his last near-challenge, arranged by one-time Labor leader Simon Crean, was an utter fizzer.

Mr Rudd was simply too fearful to proceed, since no-one could guarantee that he’d have the numbers.

During a recent interview Mr Crean quite understandably had damning words for Mr Rudd, one of which was “spineless”.

And when the interviewer interjected, by saying “delusional?”, Mr Crean’s reply not only again damned Mr Rudd but also Ms Gillard.

“In many ways both of them are, for different reasons,” Mr Crean said.

Clearly, not all’s ship shape aboard the good vessel SS-Labor.

So if neither Ms Gillard nor Mr Rudd could credibly lead, who could?

Not Treasurer Wayne Swan, surely, since he’s been involved in virtually every Labor mishap since December 2007.

There was a time when some press gallery journalists floated the names Greg Combet and Bill Shorten; that’s no longer the case.

Is there perhaps someone outstanding who hasn’t yet been named, someone akin to, say, the late John Gorton, who after the drowning of the late Liberal prime minister Harold Holt emerged from the Senate in January 1968 to defeat the logical prime ministerial successor, Western Australia’s Paul Hasluck?

If there’s someone like that in today’s Senate, who is it?

Moderately high-profile Penny Wong, perhaps, and if not her what about Stephen Conroy?

Neither they nor any other Labor senator in that august chamber has the wherewithal to lead their party.

So, it’s back to the House of Representatives.

In my dilly bag of predictions there’s only one man with the required gravitas to credibly take Labor into September’s election.

It’s Simon Crean, with fellow downed minister, Martin Ferguson, standing at his side as deputy.

There’s little doubt Mr Crean would feel honour bound to accept the unenviable task of leading Labor into an election it stands little chance of winning.

There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, he led Labor from November 2001 to November 2003, so knows the ropes.

True, the electorate never warmed to him over those 24-months, but since then he’s shown qualities that would clearly hold him in good stead during a tough election campaign.

He’s shown his willingness to move for a leadership spill for the good of his party, even at the cost of his ministerial job.

Secondly, when Mr Crean confronted Mr Rudd with the news that he’d laid the basis for a leadership spill he insisted on a spot on the ticket as deputy leader.

The reason for that wise condition was to ensure the leadership team did not fall victim again to the dysfunctional and idiosyncratic ways of Mr Rudd.

Another reason was that Mr Crean would have had a say in who’d be in cabinet.

As leader and with Martin Ferguson as his deputy, however, Labor would be led by two experienced ministers from its impressive Hawke years.

Neither Mr Rudd nor Ms Gillard had had ministerial experience before they took over governing Australia in December 2007, and that as much as their quirky ways of dealing with taxpayers’ money helps explain their disastrous and costly records.

 

 

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