Canberra Observed: WhatÂ’s behind the Carr for Canberra push?by News WeeklyNews Weekly
, August 12, 2000
On the surface the recent speculation that New South Wales Premier Bob Carr may move to Canberra was an exercise in mischief-making designed to continue the unsettling of Kim Beazley.
Barring the unlikely but not impossible scenario of Beazley throwing in the towel himself, there is virtually no prospect of the ALP dumping him before the next election.
Beazley is seen as the partyâ€™s best chance of winning government in the poll due late next year. Loyalty counts in the Labor Party â€” often against its own best interests. Many Labor MPs are entertained long past their use-by date â€” Senator Mal Colston, Carmen Lawrence and Andrew Theophanous are just a few recent names who spring to mind.Ruthlessness
The ruthlessness of the Liberal Party in disposing of failed leaders is not a characteristic of the ALP which tends to err in the opposite direction â€” loyalty above and beyond common sense.
Evatt, Calwell and Whitlam were all entertained as leaders in Opposition well after it became apparent to everyone but themselves that their political stars had faded.
Political observers often cite the chilling changeover of Hayden to Hawke just before the 1983 election to show how the ALP of the modern era is prepared to put pragmatism ahead of sentimentality.
But Hawke was unique as the most popular politician of his time, and despite having fought off Hawke in a previous leadership ballot, Hayden actually agreed to step aside for the â€śdroverâ€™s dogâ€ť to allow a smooth and bloodless transition.
So far there are not even rumblings of a similar turnover of leaders in Canberra. Despite its misjudgement over the GST, the Opposition is performing well in the polls and the frustration with the leadership team is coming from outside the parliamentary party â€” namely from the NSW right.
Even the most likely immediate contender, Simon Crean, publicly and privately admits Beazley has the better chance of capturing government.
Despite his apparent shortcomings, Beazley is electorally popular, and well-liked because of his ordinariness and because he fits the mould of the â€śanti-politicianâ€ť.
Beazley is also liked because he is so dissimilar to his predecessor Paul Keating, and despite regular attempts, the Coalition has failed to link the former PM and Deputy in peoplesâ€™ minds.
But with the electorate never more finely balanced none of these qualities will guarantee victory for the Labor Party, and Beazley could well go down in history as the â€śnice blokeâ€ť who did not quite make it.
Australians do not throw out their national governments lightly, and providing the economy holds up, the Coalition may yet win a third term.
And this is where the Carr-for-Canberra speculation becomes more than mischievousness and idle media speculation in the dead Canberra winter.
If Beazley does go down next year he would immediately quit politics. Simon Crean has been blessed by Beazley as the heir apparent, but there would be huge pressure after three election losses for the party to roll out a new generation and make a complete break with the Keating era.
Crean might make a stop-gap leader, but he would soon be challenged by the up-and-comers including Lindsay Tanner, Mark Latham, and possibly Michael Lee.
Other ambitious but doubtful MPs who would see themselves as potential leaders might include Cheryl Kernot (if she survives the next election), Queenslander Wayne Swan and Victoriaâ€™s Jenny Macklin.Maverick
None of the above would be likely to have the electoral appeal to win government. Latham has built himself a high profile as a maverick MP and a policy trailblazer, but has made too many enemies in the party to be considered a leadership prospect this soon in his political career.
The equally talented Tanner has taken a more conventional career path on the frontbench, but has opted for the opposite route of keeping a low profile.
Tanner also comes from the left of the ALP where he still has plenty of enemies who would be pleased to block his path. Furthermore, a man whose first utterance to the Federal Parliament: â€śI am a socialistâ€ť, will make him a doubtful prospect with mainstream Australia.
In short, post-Beazley there would be a massive vacuum in the party with no one in Canberra able to step into the breach.
This leaves Bob Carr who would presumably be dragged kicking and screaming to Canberra to save the party and perhaps overturn the history of failed state premiers who have moved to the federal arena.