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Federal Politics

Liberals can walk policy tightrope while Labor circus is in town

Political Opinion
Date
Category
Opinion
Phillip Coorey

Australian Financial Review chief political correspondent

View more articles from Phillip Coorey

As a follower of Irish politics, the Liberal Party's federal director, Brian Loughnane, is a fan of the acronym GUBU.

Wheeled out in Ireland on occasions of scandal and disrepute, GUBU stands for ''grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre, unprecedented''.

Should Labor ever get its act together and rally behind Gillard, the Coalition could as easily implode. 

Last Monday night, after Julia Gillard saw off Kevin Rudd in the leadership ballot and then Mark Arbib quit the Senate, Loughnane thought GUBU an apt term to apply to the state of the Labor government. And that was before events turned really strange on Tuesday, when the Herald online exposed the attempt to lure Bob Carr to Canberra as foreign affairs minister and silliness ensued before Gillard salvaged the situation on Thursday.

It will be days, if not weeks, before the impact of the events of the past fortnight filters through in the opinion polls. Despite a few brainless attempts to impute otherwise, Rudd had nothing to do with the on-again,off-again, on-again Carr saga. Consequently, his followers felt smug vindication as it dogged the government. More SNAFU than GUBU, they reasoned. And while, superficially, the Carr coup looks a winner, it and the whole cabinet reshuffle have caused internal consternation.

To her credit, Gillard strove to minimise discontent. Of the five ministers who backed Rudd, only one, Robert McClelland, was given the heave-ho.

As well, she had wanted to punt Kim Carr from the junior ministry. Colleagues on both sides of the leadership war pleaded that she spare him. After all, he was a good minister and, as one MP drily noted, ''we only have about three people in the Senate who can read and write, and he is one of them''.

The NSW MP Joel Fitzgibbon had been earmarked for a return to a ministry after standing down in 2009 amid allegations of misconduct. Fitzgibbon missed out on Friday. It is now known Gillard offered him a job as parliamentary secretary, a lesser job than his current role as chief government Whip.

Fitzgibbon, a player in the NSW Right who has been riding shotgun for Gillard since she became leader, was so unhappy at the offer that he rejected it.

He probably missed out because Bob Carr and David Bradbury, another to be promoted on Friday, are both from the NSW Right and there was no room for another. But such is the level of mistrust in the ALP that some in NSW blame the Victorians for Fitzgibbon missing out, believing they advised Gillard his return would expose her to more claims of flawed judgment.

To what level others are aggrieved - such as Stephen Smith, who seems to be the biggest loser from the Bob Carr coup - remains to be seen.

As this column stated in December, reshuffles are dangerous because they only ever create enemies; those promoted never give thanks.

This is why Tony Abbott will not shake up his frontbench, even though he should.

Gillard's December reshuffle was one of the pivotal events that led to the leadership challenge just over two months later because of the enemies it made, especially Kim Carr. Now she has been forced into another - and, again, people are irate.

Those in the opposition are watching with a mixture of glee and caution. Should Labor ever get its act together and rally behind Gillard, the Coalition could as easily implode.

''Never underestimate our ability to turn on ourselves,'' a senior Liberal MP said. Another said, ''We are getting away with murder'', in relation to some of the policies already in the mix.

There are stoushes brewing between the economic Dries and the protectionists inside the Coalition over policy proposals to regulate the market power of the supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths, and to place stricter controls over foreign investment in agriculture.

Last week's party-room skirmish over Abbott's $3.3-billion-a-year paid parental leave scheme highlighted a policy that has little support in either Coalition camp for a variety of reasons.

The Nationals dislike it because their traditional constituency includes stay-at-home mothers who will not benefit from the scheme. Traditional Liberals dislike it because it will be funded by a tax increase on business and with a top-up from a deficit-ridden federal budget.

Political pragmatists feel Labor's taxpayer-funded scheme is proving adequate and has taken the political heat out of the issue.

Abbott has made this policy his own - and to roll it would be to roll him - but that won't stop people griping about it.

But so long as the circus is in town, who is going to notice?

Phillip Coorey is the Sydney Morning Herald chief political correspondent.

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86 comments

  • Now Gillard has established her authority as the Prime Minister, she has to be on her front foot in her stride to explain all the good legislations that she has passed to the public and has a good story to tell.

    Abbott should be next in her sight. He has been hiding behind the Carbon Tax scare campaign, unwilling to reveal all his policies that are under wrap and $70 billion reasons for him to explain how he is going to finance his ditching of all her policies. Time to flush Abbott out from his comfort zone like the former American president, George Bush used say smoke his opponent out of his hole. Abbott has been trying to sneak in to power without proper media scrutiny of his policies.

    Commenter
    Kattooparambil
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    March 05, 2012, 6:48AM
    • You write about this as if it is "comic book politics". Batman and Robin saving Gotham when the reality is it is a Tom and Jerry or Road runner and Wylie Coyote cartoon.....complete comedy!!!

      Commenter
      blizzard
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 10:47AM
    • Stevek: Gillard is positively machiavellian. Of course Howard lied - that is why I detested him, too. I looked for something better in Rudd's Labor. Then I got her...

      Commenter
      EBAB
      Location
      St Lucia
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 1:11PM
    • Hi EBAB,

      Why is Gillard changing her mind on Carbon tax a hanging crime? Isn't it sexism that our first female Prime Minister can't change her mind? Howard did umpteen times- WMD in Iraq, Children were thrown overboard of their rickety and leaky boats by the asylum seekers and the pre-election ironclad promises metamorphosis into core and noncore after winning the election. Howard's was an acceptable behaviour because he is man. Why didn't the people bray for his blood like they are braying for Gillard's? It is the nature of the political beast to change his or her minds.

      Commenter
      Kattooparambil
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 2:52PM
    • Not sure if this article is firmly tongue in cheek or a serious piece, it sadly (for Coorey) seems to be the later.
      Here we have a journo who can't admit that most of his 'super exclusive' was wrong, and is back peddling furiously to try and salvage some credibility.....sorry fail.
      Then we have the rationale for Abbott not reshuffling because it's meant to reduce is enemies in the party room....wrong.....He's got the best possible talent he could scrape up as his shadow ministry.....there is no better talent for a reshuffle. Who in their right mind would allocate portfolios to Hockey, Robb,and Bishop if there was talent to spare?
      Diverted a bit there, but the final bit of squirming from Coorey, was his desire to turn a positive in terms of new talent into a negative, focusing on the apparent newly determined force being in Melbourne's West, and suggesting that the NSW part of the party was dirty on Gillard......last week it was the NSW 'faceless men' running the show now it's the Melbourne Westies....make up your mind son!!

      Commenter
      Jim
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 3:31PM
    • Kattooparambil: Your post is full of 'Julia-speak', She lies - pure and simple - apparently to everyone...

      Commenter
      EBAB
      Location
      St Lucia
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 3:40PM
  • Never mind understanding Irish political speak most of us have trouble understanding exactly what our own Prime Minister Pinocchio really means. To help with this problem a few phrases are translated for ordinary Australians:

    When she says: 'I have no ambitions to be PM'.
    she means: 'I'm going knife Kevin in a fortnight'.

    When she says: 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead'.
    she means: 'Unless Bob Brown wants it'.

    When she says: 'I have full confidence in him'.
    she means:'I need his vote'.

    When she says: 'That story is completely untrue'.
    she means:'The appointment will be made on Friday'.

    Commenter
    SteveH.
    Location
    Date and time
    March 05, 2012, 7:10AM
    • You're getting less and less relevant to the facts and sounding shriller and shriller by the post, Steve. Time for a Bex, a cup of tea and a good lie down, I think.

      Commenter
      BillR
      Location
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 10:06AM
    • Unfortunately Bill you are sadly mistaken , what Steve says is very relevant. I don't detect anything " shrill" about his tone either. Perhaps you should take your own advice.

      Commenter
      tommy75
      Location
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 10:59AM
    • Its a good job you don't collect royalties from bloggers using the 'have a Bex and lie down' routine Bill, otherwise you might have to find out how to fill in a tax return like the rest of us.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Location
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 11:11AM

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