COVER STORY: News Weekly
Kim Beazley - Labor's only hope?
, February 12, 2005
Kim Beazley appears to have slipped back easily into the role he is very familiar with as his exhausted federal Labor Party colleagues take a rest from the acrimonious infighting and character assassination that has marred the party since the election.
Already he has articulated a different position from Mark Latham on the Iraq question, including his call to urgently attend to the protection of Australian diplomats and to help the US devise a suitable exit strategy.
Whether such a policy is adequate, in light of the need to defend a democratically-elected parliament, is arguable.
Mr Beazley is on sure-footing when it comes to foreign policy, and while there will be gaffes and long-winded answers he will not implode like Mark Latham.
However, the diabolical trouble the Labor Party finds itself in will not be solved merely by installing a safe pair of hands.Common sense and decency
Mr Beazley offers the party experience, intelligence, common sense and decency; but not the killer instinct or ruthless ambition, nor any desire to tip the ALP on its head.
But he has time on his side and, depending on health considerations and some sanity arriving inside Labor ranks, Mr Beazley certainly has at least one more shot, possibly two, at becoming Prime Minister.
Despite the declarations of leadership ambition by foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd and health spokewoman Julia Gillard, their thwarted bids were nothing more than that - smoke signals that they intended to seriously challenged at some point in the future.
In that way, Mr Rudd has raised himself above his colleague and rival Queenslander Wayne Swan and Stephen Smith, and Ms Gillard above other left-wing wannabes like Lindsay Tanner and Anthony Albanese for a future leadership position.
So the party decided without too much difficulty to give Mr Beazley the top job back on a plate, basically to do with what he wants and in the sure knowledge that whatever happens he won't do any worse than Mark Latham.
This means he will be able to virtually junk the Medicare Gold and insane forests policies without a fight as well as lay the groundwork for a shake-up of Labor policy across the board.
He will be given considerable latitude to put his own stamp on the party, even though the left are demanding that he be an "inclusive style'' leader.
On the other hand, key Labor insiders will be keeping a close eye on the staff Mr Beazley chooses and the inner sanctum of political advisers, with many senior Labor people blaming poor staff judgements for his previous failure in the job.
Mr Beazley has also taken the job with typical Beazley caution, declaring the entire front bench safe - a politically acceptable but unfortunate decision.
The other early move has been to set up an east-coast base in Sydney to enable him to traverse the Sydney-Melbourne-Canberra-Brisbane corridor more easily than from his Perth electorate.Health problems
The punishing trans-continental flights are not good for Mr Beazley who was hit with the rare brain illness, Schaltenbrand's Syndrome last year.
About one in 50,000 people has Schaltenbrand's syndrome, in which fluid from the brain leaks into the spine, causing severe and sustained headaches.
And, like Mr Latham's pancreatitis, there is never any certainty that it has gone away completely.
So Mr Beazley returns to his old job, a job he held from 1996 to 2001.
He leads a party which is just as demoralised, if not more so, than it was when he first took over in 1996.
And he leads a party which has very little prospect of gaining the public's confidence to give it the chance of running government.
In short, Mr Beazley has been asked to undertake a herculean task and deserves a good deal of latitude, loyalty and discipline from his troops.
Mr Beazley doesn't offer much hope, but is certainly Labor's only hope.