Backlash awaits party that ‘saves the furniture’


17 June 2013

Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard (AAP: Dan Peled/Paul Miller)

Backlash awaits party that ‘saves the furniture’


Mary Delahunty

Mary Delahunty

What if the herd does stampede this last parliamentary sitting fortnight and Labor MPs move on the Prime Minister? There will be a swingeing backlash and there will be palpable anger in the party, writes Mary Delahunty.

So it’s all about Saving The Furniture! This little homily rolls around the political echo chamber as the press gallery parrots the mantra and Caucus members supposedly hover in the shadows of doubt.

STF actually means hanging on to enough seats in the right places so a few factional warlords can control the party from opposition.

It certainly doesn’t mean an electoral win and typically presages a loss of soul, just as the Beazley-led Labor Party in trying to Save The Furniture in the Tampa election 12 years ago opened a vein of votes bleeding to the Greens from which the ALP has never recovered.

The other furphy doing the rounds is that Rudd is now not ‘destabilising’ or ‘stealing’ the Government’s oxygen. Oh really. So who is this indulgent backbencher cavorting in front of the camera, “Look at me, look at Me” like a spoilt kid at a school fete. The confected glee of some of the crowd ignores the reality of Rudd as a weak PM unable or unwilling to make hard policy decisions or even front up for a leadership ballot he had contrived his acolytes to engineer.

And his “I’m Kevin and I’m here to help” routine certainly distracted from Julia Gillard’s victory in manoeuvring Tony Abbott into a corner where he committed to not doing a deal with DLP senator John Madigan on abortion to get key legislation, such as the repeal of the carbon tax, through the Senate, should Abbott become prime minister and Madigan hold the balance of power.

This is really Saving the Furniture, the policy furniture. Just as the Prime Minister is relentless in getting her education reform through the Parliament and progressively signing up the states to a national school improvement plan and needs based funding. Julia Gillard signed South Australia up to Gonski this week but it hardly rated a mention in a feverish week where governing and politics seemed to be in parallel universes.

What if the herd does stampede this last parliamentary sitting fortnight and, as the boosters hope, they move on the PM?

There will be a swingeing backlash.

Thousands of decent Australian will be sickened by the indulgence of the political class. If they were bewildered in 2010 with the ALP leadership change, the February 2012 decisive 40-vote margin Caucus decision for Gillard, then the bizarre spill-call in March, Rudd no-show and ministers peeling off the front bench, they will be disgusted with another leadership merry-go-round.

There will be palpable anger in the party.

Women and men will baulk at staffing the booths. Many will refuse to hand out How to Vote cards with Rudd’s face on them.

Decent party members will struggle with the direction of their vote, The Greens will reap a harvest of Labor refuseniks in the senate.

Tony Abbott and the LNP will launch a blitzkrieg of anti-Rudd ads featuring his own ministers skewering the man and his dysfunctional time in office. And don’t think the clip of a furious and swearing Rudd won’t get re-run on a loop throughout the campaign. These images will stand in coarse contrast to the jolly mate on the hustings today where he seems moved to almost concede that ‘his government’, not him, made a few mistakes.

Present ministers will resign. New/old ministers and parliamentary secretaries will be recycled. Toxic recriminations will leach out onto a public despairing.

Labor’s tatty façade will be rent and the whole show will fall apart.

Of course the echo chamber assumes that a crescendo of crisis polling will stampede MPs from a Prime Minister who has resolutely delivered on milestone policy such as national disability insurance, paid parental leave and a strikingly strong economy into the arms of a narcissist who offered the great symbolic value of The Apology but not much more.

MPs in risky seats like Gary Gray in Western Australia are not lemming-like rushing to Rudd, instead Gray is calling for calm and the end to instability. The worst of the noise is coming from NSW.

NSW, that bellowing branch of the Labor party which fostered a hardy and virulent form of political corruption, the branch that pioneered the revolving leadership syndrome and that held at its bosom the likes of Eddie Obeid and Ian MacDonald. And this discredited branch now dares to try and call the shots in a dispirited caucus.

Meanwhile the Liberal National coalition can’t believe their luck. They are coasting towards the green leather seats of government unobserved, unscrutinised, untested. And if they get there they will certainly bulldoze the furniture.

Mary Delahunty is a Gold Walkley award-winning journalist, former minister in the Victorian Labor government and the author of Public life: Private Grief. View her full profile here.

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