CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Gillard re-election strategy turns to mud
, February 16, 2013
Julia Gillard has had an unfortunate propensity of making grandiose gestures intended to galvanise and inspire her party, but which get rapidly overtaken and diminished by subsequent events.
And so her latest September 14 election announcement, the centrepiece of her 2013 re-election strategy, which was intended to break the downward spiral of her popularity with voters and lock in her team behind her, appears to have turned to mud.
While Ms Gillard’s media cheer-squad hailed the surprise move as inspired and clever, it quickly became apparent that it was neither.
Similarly, her “captain’s pick” to shoehorn Olympian Nova Peris into the Senate to represent the Labor Party as its first indigenous member, has alienated practically the entire branch in the Northern Territory.
Nova Peris was not even a member of the party prior to being picked by the PM; no locals were consulted, including the person to be sacrificed, NT Senator Trish Crossin, or the Member for Lingiari, Warren Snowdon.
Far from being wrong-footed by the September 14 election date, Tony Abbott welcomed the announcement and started running in the marathon-style campaign he is actually suited to.
Ms Gillard’s tactic was to have her “governing” and Mr Abbott merely “campaigning”, thus enhancing her perception with voters.
But had the election started or not?
Commercial radio outlets were forced to investigate whether they are now obliged by their charter to give opposition spokespeople the same airtime as government ministers for the next seven months.
It has subsequently been confirmed that the government is not in caretaker mode.
Two senior ministers have quit, including the Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, whose outrageous anti-discrimination laws have been gutted, and the Leader in the Senate, Chris Evans, who was not even given the courtesy of being consulted on the election date.
According to insiders, Ms Gillard consulted only the independents, the Greens, Anthony Albanese and Wayne Swan — the inner circle of the government.
Finally, the (former) Labor Member for Dobell, Craig Thomson, an MP defended and defended for months, was charged with 150 counts of fraud.
Senior people in the Labor Party were aware the Thomson charges were imminent, but still Ms Gillard went ahead with the election announcement.
Again, it is Ms Gillard’s political judgment and quick fixes that are being questioned.
As an internal political circuit-breaker, it has proved disastrous. Rather than outflank the Rudd supporters, they have been emboldened and there is speculation that up to a dozen MPs have defected from Ms Gillard since the previous ballot early last year.
Overhanging the federal sphere of politics are the startling revelations at the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), and of the wheeling and dealing of NSW Right powerbroker and kingmaker, Eddie Obeid, as a parliamentarian.
Mr Obeid’s business dealings as a minister have been laid bare, and it has been alleged at the ICAC hearings that he was involved in a criminal conspiracy with another Labor minister, Ian Macdonald, that benefited him and his family to the tune of tens of millions of dollars in lucrative property windfalls and mining pay-dirt.
The once mighty NSW Right machine, which used to dominate the Labor Party and was its moral and ideological compass, has been revealed to be rotten to the core.
But Obeid was no bad egg in a nest of good eggs.
In evidence he boasted of deciding the fate of NSW premiers and picking Cabinet line-ups, of being regularly consulted by a Labor premier at 2am in the morning, and of having leading lights of the NSW Right stay at his ski lodge as a gift.
His colleagues in the NSW Right tolerated, defended and protected him for years.
Belatedly, federal Labor ministers Tony Burke (NSW) and Senator Stephen Conroy (Victoria) and former Senator Mark Arbib (NSW) have been forced to declare the gifts of luxury snow-resort holidays.
No charges have been laid as a result of the ICAC hearings, and Mr Obeid has declared he has done “nothing wrong”.
However, the political damage to the Labor brand, particularly in New South Wales, will be profound.
The venalities of politicians are not uncommon. Trivial dishonesty and rorting are probably as common in politics and the public service as they are in other professions.
However, what is being alleged in NSW amounts to deep-seated corruption and theft of mining property rights and benefits, which properly belong to the people of NSW.
They will not forgive such behaviour lightly.
Maybe Ms Gillard has a plan to extricate herself from the perfect storm that appears to be brewing, but the omens of the first few weeks of an election year are not good.