19/08/2010 - 00:00

Time of reckoning looms for Canberra elite

19/08/2010 - 00:00


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Whichever party loses the August 21 poll, one thing is certain – there’s going to be retribution from within.

Time of reckoning looms for Canberra elite

BOTH Liberal and Labor parties agree the August 21 poll will be a knife-edge affair.

For my part, I’ve been asked many times who’ll win, especially since Labor’s paramount oligarch, Kevin Rudd, was toppled by his number two, Julia Gillard,

My answer has been two-pronged.

Firstly, I say I’ve adopted the approach of looking back at what polls showed six months out from elections and predicting that the party leading then will win.

Six months back from August 21 2010, so February, Newspoll’s two-party preferred standings were: Labor, 58 per cent; Coalition 42 per cent.

Normally I’d now be confidently predicting Labor winning since my rough rule of thumb is so often spot-on.

Secondly, election 2010 is unusual since Mr Rudd was replaced by Ms Gillard, who is equally culpable for Labor’s mounting self-inflicted pre- and post-budget woes.

Crucially, Labor’s so-called ‘kitchen cabinet’ – Mr Rudd, Wayne Swan, Lindsay Tanner and Ms Gillard – with Treasury Secretary Ken Henry’s help, dreamed up the 40 per cent over-the-bond-rate tax on Australia’s pivotally important mining sector that would impact upon hundreds of big employing and planned foreign exchange earning projects.

No amount of shuffling kitchen cabinet chairs changes that.

So the oligarchs’ super mining tax, the party’s changing of leaders, failed or costly programs (roof insulation, BER) and an inability administer immigration make State Scene’s election rule of thumb unusable in 2010.

Where now?

Rather than guessing on the uncertainties, it’s worthwhile considering the fate of the loser.

Now, when we learn who that is we’ll also know the side that will have to endure one almighty bollocking, firstly from many of its loyal supporters, followed by senior party officials, major donors, favoured lobbyists, and finally, from bitterly disappointed backbenchers.

All will demand answers to why their side lost.

Let’s consider separately what’s likely to happen on each side if it’s the loser.

Firstly, Labor.

Because this election is being universally predicted to be close, State Scene suspects we’ll be waiting until about Wednesday before we know who the loser is.

If it’s Labor, Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd will immediately come under the hammer.

Both can forget ever leading Labor again.

Mr Rudd may quickly announce his retirement from politics.

Ms Gillard may stay on as caretaker leader for a few months then move on.

Labor’s deputy and treasurer, Wayne Swan, can also say goodbye to ever being trusted in a senior parliamentary post, and may also promptly retire.

Labor factional chiefs will thus be quickly well placed to look across their ranks for a crop of new talent to rebuild the presumably shattered and bitterly divided party, with onetime Australian Workers Union boss Bill Shorten and former ACTU chief Greg Combet likely to emerge as the major power brokers around whom this evolves.

Both are known to consider the kitchen cabinet that’s been directing their 110-year-old party since 2007 as being rather whacky.

Such a clean break with 2007-10 would certainly put Labor into the running for the 2013 election.

Nothing short of a complete purging at the top – removal of all remnants of the whacky Rudd-Gillard years – is needed, otherwise Labor would face what could become a second Howard-style era with Tony Abbott as prime minister until about 2022.

But what if the Abbott-led coalition loses?

An in-the-know Liberal insider assures State Scene that Mr Abbott will remain leader despite the known burning ambitions of predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, to regain the job.

Mr Abbott single-handedly forced Labor to drop, even if only until 2012, its energy usage carbon taxing plan, contributed significantly to the removal of Mr Rudd, and helped pressure Labor to mellow its super tax on mining.

But Liberal deputy Julie Bishop’s aspirations aren’t as assured.

She not only backed Mr Turnbull’s ardent support for the Rudd-Gillard tax on energy usage, but actually voted against Mr Abbott when he successfully challenged Mr Turnbull and moved to oppose that energy tax.

Many within coalition ranks view her as having too willingly and unthinkingly gone along with Mr Turnbull’s decision to transform the 66-year-old Liberal Party into a Labor appendage.

Senior Liberal Party officials and many Liberal MPs are likely to want a wide-ranging inquiry to determine precisely why they’d lost an unlosable election.

Understandably so.

After all, Labor had hardly a program it could name as successful. It belatedly dumped its leader, sought to impose a huge new tax on mining and another on energy usage, and buckled to an advertising campaign run by three foreign dominated and led multinationals – BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto and Xstrata.

Hardly a record to write home about.

Not only had Labor’s kitchen cabinet threatened to permanently debilitate Australia’s crucially important, world-class mining industry forever, it favoured taxing energy usage and remains ready to implement that in 2012.

If the Liberals couldn’t win under such odds when will they win? Or, more pertinently, will they ever win?

If their inquiry concludes they’re unlikely to ever do so it’s probably time their party was either wound up – as happened to its predecessor, the United Australia Party, in 1943-4 – or it is subjected to an almighty shake-up.

Such an ordeal would mean asking a whole series of subsidiary questions, including why its leadership during the Rudd-Gillard era was so fifth rate, and why so many Liberal MPs backed that leadership so doggedly for so long.

Why were there only three stand-out MPs – South Australia’s Senator Cory Bernardi, and Western Australians Dennis Jensen and Wilson Tuckey – who so wisely rejected the Rudd-Gillard energy usage tax, which Labor belatedly dropped as the election approached?

Why didn’t more Liberal MPs get off their hands and touch base with Australia’s stand-out expert and scholarly fraternity, The Lavoisier Group, that’s so skilfully and intelligently exposed the global warming hoax that the Rudd-Gillard duo first ardently promoted then ran away from as election day neared?

Instead most, including Ms Bishop, backed Labor’s plan to massively tax energy usage.

Had Mr Turnbull not been ousted from the leadership, most of the 400,000 or so loyal party backers who telephoned, wrote to, or emailed, Liberal MPs urging they oppose Labor’s carbon tax would have deserted the Liberals for the Nationals.

Only since Mr Abbott’s ascendancy have most pro-Turnbull-Bishop Liberal MPs realised they came within a whisker of vaporising their party by backing the Turnbull-Bishop team, and that they were on the way to losing those thousands of Liberal backers.

And the inquiry should consider inviting John Howard to explain why he allowed the party to drift towards this path by giving two environment ministers – Western Australian Ian Campbell, and Mr Turnbull – so much power to lay the basis for Labor’s carbon pollution reduction scheme by having enacted the legislative basis for it before the 2007 election.

Yes, the origins of the Liberal Party’s demise preceded the Rudd-Gillard term by years.

One or other of Australia’s governing party blocs is in for a torrid soul searching ordeal before month’s end and beyond.



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