CANBERRA OBSERVED: News Weekly
Beazley - federal Labor's last best hope?
, April 1, 2006
Mr Beazley may not be the ideal candidate, but a switch to Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard at this juncture would be disastrous for Labor.Being Opposition leader in Australian politics tends to reveal all the worst traits in a politician, while giving little credit for the good ones.
Such is the predicament of long-time Labor leader Kim Beazley - a man who should have been made Prime Minister in 1995 - but who now looks to be facing certain defeat at his third attempt to win office.
Mr Beazley's standing in the polls has plummetted over recent weeks due in part to the spate of internal fighting and venomous factionalism which has beset Federal Labor.
It is also due to Mr Beazley's poor response to that same problem. Rather than tackle the problem head on, Mr Beazley's defects of character - being conflict-averse and indecisive - were once again exposed.
At his last test - the 2001 election - the Liberal Party and John Howard in particular ruthlessly homed in on Beazley's faults, based on private polling in which people considered Mr Beazley's worst trait was his softness.Nemesis
The "ticker" question was Mr Beazley's nemesis. The truth about Kim Beazley is that he is one of the few decent politicians in the federal arena, and a man who would rise to the job of Prime Minister.
How good a PM he could be is another question; but Mr Beazley certainly has the experience, breadth of knowledge and some of the characteristics necessary for the job.
He has a vast knowledge of international affairs and defence and has extensive contacts with the highest officials and politicians overseas, including the United States, Britain and Israel. He also has extensive experience in government and at the Cabinet table.
True, he made big mistakes as a minister: the "dud subs" and the budget blow-out which occurred at the end of the Keating period. Both happened on his watch.
But John Howard as Treasurer also made big mistakes, presiding over a similar budget black hole and failing to stand up to political pressure over several key economic decisions.
But, as Prime Minister, Mr Howard has grown in the job and learnt the lessons of his previous time in government, and has gone on to be a strong and determined national leader who has surprised almost everyone by his steady and consistent performance.
Unfortunately, Mr Beazley is unlikely ever to be able to prove the doubters wrong, because the times are not suiting him and his parliamentary colleagues are doing their best to handicap him further.
Mr Beazley's good traits - his avuncular temperament, self-deprecating sense of humour, humility, conservatism and prudence are not being shown in their best light.
So will the pretenders be any better? The only person who appears to be in striking distance of Mr Beazley is Queenslander Kevin Rudd, while ambitious Victorian Julia Gillard is attempting to smash the factional system to increase her chances.
Both Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard have been among Labor's best performers, but their deficiencies would become pronounced very early in the Opposition Leader's job.Short-term
Both have been in Parliament for just eight years - as opposed to Mr Beazley's 26 years.
The Liberals would pounce on the fact that neither has had any ministerial experience - although both were senior advisers to the Queensland Goss and Victorian Kirner Governments respectively.
Their portfolio knowledge is also narrow, with Ms Gillard having no economics credentials and Mr Rudd typecast as a foreign affairs boffin.
As leaders they would have to quickly cement relationships with business and media groups, and a vast array of important people from churchmen to heads of professional organisations.
Their every move and word and past history would begin to be analysed by the media. And beyond that they would have to produce a policy blueprint and outline their plan for the future of Australia.
In short, it is a tough job being Opposition leader.
Mr Beazley may not be the ideal candidate and has to lift his game over the coming months to have any chance of turning history on its head.
However, a switch to Ms Gillard or Mr Rudd at this juncture would be even more disastrous for Labor.
Mr Beazley remains Labor's best bet - even if it is a 100-1 long shot.