Labor lost in a darker room

Labor lost in a darker room

As absurd as it is, the Taliban and the US are working out their differences, but it appears that, domestically, Rudd and Gillard cannot. Afghanistan was once referred to as the forgotten war. The Australian Labor Party resembles the war that will never end.

With merely one week to go in this Parliament, a party based on politicians from the school of union organisation cannot organise the numbers either to effect a change in leadership or to dispel the prospect of one. In the final fortnight we have had a rolling Labor soap opera, which will do little to endear Australia to the party's management potential.

<i>llustration: Rocco Fazzari</i>

llustration: Rocco Fazzari

It is as if the Labor Party has frozen in the headlights of the nation's gaze, unable to extricate itself from either the Gillard-inspired coup or the relentless Rudd retaliation. The result is a bitter, personal feud that has festered into a full-blown brawl.

Apparently, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (the ''Shoppies''), and the Australian Workers Union are coming to Canberra to sort everything out, just like they did three years ago.


Isn't that wonderful, children? You may have your doubts about the fact that someone you've never met, nor voted for, nor probably heard of can change the prime minister, but you must realise they only have your best interests at heart.

It is not that unusual across the world today that democracy, in the countries where it exists, is really ''guided'' by the more enlightened in the darker room.

Three years ago Paul Howes, the head of the Australian Workers Union, decided that he was ''the Australian voting public'' and he went out and unelected the elected Prime Minister on Lateline. A few months later he said ''it was probably an error''. Just then, Paul ''The Australian Voting Public'' Howes popped up on Sky News to tell the Australian people that his Prime Minister must stay there.

I have come to the conclusion that instead of voting for the Prime Minister, I should be voting for whatever office Paul Howes occupies. The problem I have got is that this ballot is stacked. Now this is starting to sound like a Joseph Conrad novel; it's certainly not the Australia that Mum and Dad told me about.

It was strictly black tie on Wednesday night at the Mid-Winter Ball, and the Prime Minister has made all political participants very conscious of what coloured tie they are wearing. Blue has overtaken red as the colour of rebellion. The former prime minister - and current aspirant - has defiantly put on such a blue tie, in full view of the cameras, to show that he is a man of strength, a man of vision, willing to smash down the social silos and wear a blue tie.

It is giants such as these, individuals who are willing to be social iconoclasts, who have the obvious virtues to run the country. This statement on wardrobe is an achievement that should be built on; we need to judge other parts of the office worker ensemble, socks being the obvious next choice.

This week brings the shortest day of the year for the lowest ebb in our Parliament, and from here we head to spring, where we'll see a new Parliament, new members, regrets and recriminations. The batting order is going to change and the tenants of the parliamentary offices will be shuffled and dealt. The next week is going to be crucial for Labor.

It will be certain political decimation to stay the course and the reality of the Queensland and NSW elections will be the fate of federal Labor if they cannot break out into adulthood in the next month. If you grasp for the bitter end, it is bitter; sympathy does not vote these days. It is like expecting greater attention from students five minutes before the end of school.

For my part I have my valedictory speech in the Senate around 5pm on Wednesday and you are all welcome to attend and make sure that I am definitely going from the Senate so you are no longer persecuted by ambit ravings, as no doubt the Greens would describe it!

Yes, I feel the pressure, too, after putting my hand up for what will be a monumental political fight in New England; but one must not comment on others' commitment if you, when tested, lack it yourself.

Barnaby Joyce is the Nationals' Senate leader and the opposition spokesman for regional development, local government and water.

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