06/05/2003 - 22:00

Who loves ya, baby?

06/05/2003 - 22:00


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JUST as former Labor premier Brian Burke vacated the media spotlight over lobbying, his long-time party pal Kim Beazley came into its beam. State Scene certainly never expected to be re-focusing on Mr Beazley so soon

Who loves ya, baby?

JUST as former Labor premier Brian Burke vacated the media spotlight over lobbying, his long-time party pal Kim Beazley came into its beam.

State Scene certainly never expected to be re-focusing on Mr Beazley so soon, having recently foreshadowed his resurrection as leader.

Regular readers may recall State Scene’s March 13 edition – two days before the Ides of March, no less – headlined, ‘Beazley bides his time’.

“The thinking seemed to be that Labor would opt for a clean break if the Crean experiment failed, so no return to a tried, but twice defeated, leader from the 1990s,” it says.

“However, since Christmas some have begun reassessing.

“Mr Beazley is again coming to be seen as a possibility, even if still an outside one.

“Now, this doesn’t mean he, currently a backbencher, is about to start plotting against Simon Crean.

“Far from it.  Mr Beazley is far wiser and far shrewder than that.

“And as we all know, Canberra plots inevitably find their way into the media.

“To be seen as disloyal means paying a high price not only much later, but also on the day of a leadership change.

“Far better to be well placed so one can be called upon by one’s colleagues if needed.

“What Mr Beazley must therefore do, and appears to be currently doing precisely that, is positioning himself in case Labor powerbrokers see an exulted role for him during the next 18 or so eventful months.

 “If Mr Crean’s ratings don’t markedly improve a new leadership will be sought for the next election.”

Much of the above eventuated.

That said, two questions still need consideration.

Firstly, what was anticipated in March was that as the luckless Mr Crean’s electoral backing kept sliding, Mr Beazley would continue slowly manoeuvring himself into being drafted as leader.

 Under such circumstances political bloodletting would be limited.

Beazley-led Labor could then move to drafting a non-leftist or middle-of-the-road electoral strategy.

But that’s precisely what didn’t happen.

Clearly Mr Crean’s neck was far more sensitive than realised, so he felt Mr Beazley’s breath and opted to make a public hullabaloo over the word ‘respect’, which Mr Beazley had uttered during a free Sydney lunch with a reporter, thereby sparking the unexpected leadership brawl.

That’s precisely what Mr Beazley wished to avoid.

So we now have a Mexican standoff until showdown time later this year, which will further electorally damage Labor, with recrimination continuing into 2004.

Something else that attracted negligible attention during the Crean-sparked imbroglio – probably because Canberra’s Sydney-Melbourne-oriented press gallery saw it as too parochial – still requires canvassing.

And it’s the state of play within WA Federal Labor’s 11-strong Canberra contingent.

This group splits evenly, with Beazley backers including two senators, Mark Bishop and Peter Cook, and three MHRs, Graham Edwards (Cowan), Stephen Smith (Perth), and Kim Wilkie (Swan).

Labor’s two other senators, Chris Evans and Ruth Webber, back Mr Crean, as do three MHRs – all women – Carmen Lawrence (Fremantle), Jan McFarlane (Stirling) and Sharryn Jackson (Hasluck).

Only after Mr Beazley is added does he get the majority.

It should be noted that Mr Crean holds Labor’s leadership largely because of strong left-of-centre backing located primarily on his home state of Victoria. This is also home to most of Labor’s anti-Americans, whose stand on Saddam Hussein, for those who hadn’t realised it, contributed significantly to Mr Crean’s voter approval slide, thereby boosting Mr Beazley’s, even though he’s just a backbencher.

It is doubtful a Crean leadership will help Labor’s Federal electoral standing in WA, whereas under Mr Beazley prospects here would hold and could improve.

The upshot is that the most marginal of WA’s four marginal federal seats, Canning, currently just held by Liberal Don Randall, is set to become far safer for the Liberals.

As for the other three – Swan, Stirling and Hasluck – all Labor’s, they’re now in danger of falling to the Liberals.

Doubters should note that six Liberals have already nominated for Swan’s pre-selection, several of them potentially solid candidates, whereas for the last election the Liberals groped to find an early solid challenger.

Rank-and-file Liberals, therefore, sense a swing while Mr Crean leads.

Mrs McFarlane and Mrs Jackson could note this since neither holds a safe seat, whereas Mr Wilkie knows who is best for him.

Such considerations don’t impact on senators as Labor is assured of winning two senate spots while Dr Lawrence, having now embraced a leftist-pacifist stance under any circumstance, actually boosts her chances of gaining Greens leftist-pacifist preferences in trendy Freo.

Mrs McFarlane and Mrs Jackson, over the coming weeks of the Crean-Beazley tussle, need to carefully weigh up if they’d prefer being ‘true believers’ or long-term MHRs.

Perhaps they’ll be able to be both.

That’s something they should assess with or without assistance from factional advisers.


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