by News WeeklyNews Weekly
Canberra Observed: ALP heads back to the future
, September 23, 2000
The resurrection of Carmen Lawrence to the Opposition frontbench, and more significantly to the important industry portfolio, is a long overdue appointment, according to Kim Beazley.
But what appears perfectly logical to members of the Federal Labor Party these days can often defy belief in the rest of the community.
Beazley's faith in Carmen is shared by many in the blood-loyal Labor Party who believe she is one of Australia's most hard done-by politicians.
In feminist circles, Carmen Lawrence is a kind of Western Australian Joan of Arc who was but singed at the stake by Richard Court and her Liberal Party tormentors.
Her fans extend to the media. Prominent Sydney Morning Herald political commentator, Alan Ramsay, recently reported, without hint of irony, that it was “near criminal” that Lawrence was still languishing on the backbench.injustices
The truth is, for Beazley and the Labor Party, Lawrence’s re-appointment is more about righting injustices inflicted by her political opponents than any considered political judgement, renewing the frontbench, or getting the right team in place for government.
Lawrence’s comeback is the final triumph of Labor in a battle which goes back to Prime Minister Paul Keating’s insolent defiance of all pressure to make Lawrence stand aside during the Penny Easton affair, despite the extraordinary damage it was doing to his Government.
Of course, no one in the Labor Party was reminding Beazley that while a State minister, Carmen Lawrence became the mother of mandatory sentencing in Australia — that now most despised form of injustice in the Australian legal system.
Or that she was the only prominent Labor Party figure in Western Australia who refused to be a character witness for former Premier Brian Burke, who was facing a jail cell at the time.
Or that she went from a non-aligned MP to join the Socialist Left faction of the ALP to advance her political career.
Or that she was at best an average Federal Health Minister.
Lawrence’s problems are that she has a number of ghosts in her cupboard not just her well-documented memory shortcomings. It is possible that she will, by sheer force of her acclaimed intellect and “talent” overcome her past and prove to be an effective performer.
The task should not be hard. The gigantic Industry portfolio is a basket case for the Liberal Government, including falling investment, a black hole in research and development, a hands-off approach to the decline in Australian manufacturing, at the same time overseas companies are supported with Australian taxpayers’ money.
Lawrence’s opponent, Senator Nick Minchin, is a smart political strategist, a conservative, and one of the hard men of the Liberal Party, but he needs to bring more direction to his portfolio.
The Government’s Resources policy (which is now under the umbrella of Industry) is non-existent and has been inexplicably delayed for something like two years — virtually without comment from the Opposition.
So there is scope for constructive criticism from the new Opposition industry spokeswoman.
The real problem with Carmen Lawrence is that she brings back all the worst memories of the Keating Government. At the very moment Beazley is under pressure for lacking the direction and the ideas of a future Prime Minister, Lawrence appears to be a case of back to the future.