Illustration: Pat Campbell
And congratulations to - Bill Shorten. Come on down! It's terrific that Labor has actually managed to achieve the installation of a plausible prime ministerial candidate as the party's new leader. With the best will in the world, and although he received the overwhelming support of the membership, his rival just wasn't the right person to lead the party.
It may surprise, but I can still remember the evening I first met Anthony Albanese back in 1988. It wasn't so much his smouldering good looks as rather my surprise at meeting a walking, talking, compendium of political cliches. The trouble is, drinking with Albo became an exercise in listening to him recite party slogans from the 1920s.
''Lovely bloke,'' I remember thinking, ''it's just unfortunate he can't escape from the doctrinaire solutions prescribed by long-dead thinkers.''
Although he won the vote of the true believers, Albanese would have consigned the party to oblivion. It now needs to reach out and discover a new way forward, not retreat down the narrow pathways of the past.
The other person I met that night was Mark Latham. At the time they were both working in Sussex Street as, respectively, assistant secretaries for the left and right wings of the party. We'd retired to a pub in Macquarie Street - after all, they were paying, and it wasn't often that Labor was buying the drinks.
I remember having a lively and interesting discussion with Latham. Although it's become unfashionable to say so, he was (and is) clever. Interesting and thoughtful, he was prepared to challenge the old ways of doing things without being tied to prescriptive, doctrinaire solutions.
That's exactly what the party needs to do now. But when Latham eventually did become leader, the times didn't suit him. The nation wasn't ready for change. It didn't want any new ideas because the old ones seemed to be working just fine. That's why John Howard was able to outsmart him.
The decisive vote that installed Latham in that particular leadership contest turned out to be Robert McClelland's. This unlikely kingmaker later told the media that he made up his mind on the morning of the vote, while in the shower. A sudden epiphany had supposedly led him to realise that Latham had more vote-pulling appeal than Kim Beazley, and so the former became the leader.
Perhaps this really explains why the party decided it had to change its voting rules: after all, you wouldn't want the likes of McClelland being responsible for big decisions.
Personally, I don't really think it would have mattered who led the ALP in 2004, Howard was always going to win that election. Kevin Rudd trailed his coat as leader but it rapidly became obvious that if he'd stood his vote would have been in the single figures, if that. A couple of years later, after another election defeat and (finally) back under Beazley's leadership, a despairing party did turn to Rudd.
He'd been conniving to ensure he had the numbers; back then it was only Julia Gillard's support that ever made him a plausible candidate. By himself, Rudd would never have made it. The mistake Gillard made was thinking that because she'd made him the prime minister, she could unmake him as well. Her decision to knife Rudd ignored the role of the people in the whole process. That was a big mistake.
Quaint it may be, but everybody likes to feel they have some sort of personal relationship with the leader. Gillard forgot that.
Despite the hagiography that now surrounds her as our ''first female PM'' and leader of a government that passed a ''record amount'' of legislation, the government she led will go down in history as a disaster. At her only election she failed to achieve a majority. Perhaps it's true that she was never given clear air, but you reap what you sow. Unfortunately, that task proved to be beyond Gillard. Which leads us back to Rudd.
Changing the party's rules to allow the membership a say makes sense, but so does giving the parliamentary representatives the decisive role. The real question is, however, why Shorten wanted the position. He says he believes the party can win government at the next election. That's only previously been achieved once, in 1932. And the last time the first opposition leader after a defeat took their party to victory was Bob Menzies in 1949, but he had to create his own party to do so.
With the best will in the world, while being full of admiration at Shorten's enthusiasm, I find it extremely difficult to reconcile his words with reality. It might have been better, instead, to recognise that Labor needs to sort out its program. This is the first step to becoming electorally competitive again. At the moment the party's platform is in a mess. There's plenty of opportunity to adopt good policies, but doing so will require quite a bit of work.
On another issue, it's pleasing to note that the Governor-General offered her resignation to Tony Abbott. That was absolutely appropriate. Recognising that she will depart her office anyway in March, it's equally fitting for Abbott to have refused that offer. The key point is that both recognised (as this column pointed out at the time) that it would be unsupportable for the mother-in-law of the opposition leader to continue to hold that position.
Perhaps now even Abbott recognises this position is more than a mere cipher for the Queen.
Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.