Canberra Observed: Simon Crean faces a horrible year aheadby News WeeklyNews Weekly
, February 9, 2002
Simon Crean’s team must be dreading the opening of the 40th Federal Parliament at the beginning of a year which promises to be an annus horribilis for the struggling Opposition Labor Party.
But facing the jibes and taunts of triumphant Coalition Ministers during the first week of Question Time will be a minor irritation compared with the enormous and urgent task of remaking and remoulding the party over the coming year.
The official post mortems have already begun with Neville Wran and Bob Hawke doing a major report into the reasons for Labor’s loss.
However, after the monumental failure of Kim Beazley’s policy development and its political strategy to win office, Labor needs to overhaul every policy area, while at the same time avoiding flagging its best ideas to the Coalition.Unpopular image
Simon Crean, who is universally acknowledged as an unpopular politician, has to inspire his MPs and the public imagination, and to outmanoeuvre an emboldened John Howard who is likely to continue the "cautious adventurism" which has characterised his first two terms.
The former child of the ACTU also has to show he is no mere servant of his friends in the increasingly irrelevent union movement, and he has to be prepared for the inevitable search for an "alternative leader".
It is no small task.
No alternative leader is immediately apparent although names likely to be soon put forward will include everyone from Jenny Macklin, Wayne Swan and Mark Latham federally, to Bob Carr and Peter Beattie in the state arena.
Adding to Crean’s woes is the prospect that Howard will start to use the Menziean ploy of picking the eyes out of Labor’s best policies.
For example, Howard has embraced the idea of early childhood intervention, to help pre-school children who are in strife to save enormous money and heartache later in life.
This policy, developed successfully overseas, was introduced by Labor’s Wayne Swan two years ago.
And new Education Minister Dr Brendan Nelson has declared he sees nothing intrinsically wrong with "Knowledge Nation" which he says was a good idea, but just badly marketed.
For the first two terms of the Howard Government Labor was psychologically in a land somewhere between denial and delusion.
Denial about the end of the great Keating era, which they thought had simply been temporarily derailed, and deluded about the unpopularity of the Howard Government and its policies.
After the 2001 election there should be no illusions about being government in exile - by the end of this term Labor will have been out of office almost 10 years.Federal rejection
While Labor Governments continue to dominate in the states, federally it has been thrice rejected by the people and the party has to look hard at itself to find the reasons why the people have no desire to place them on the Treasury benches.
Despite all the claims and counter claims about Tampa
, the fact is Labor basically tried to sneak into government - even adopting the exact same policies as Howard on illegal refugees.
The people saw through Labor’s line on refugees and the same "me-too policy" alienated much of the Labor left who drifted toward the Greens and Democrats.
Worse still, it has left Labor little room to move post the election.
Any Crean U-turn on border control now would be a repudiation of Kim Beazley and confirm that Labor’s pre-election promises were a charade, and made simply for crass political opportunism.
The "popular" Beazley route to power was timid, soft and unimaginitive.
The "unpopular" Crean has to be the opposite, but he has to move quickly because his time at the top may be short-lived.