Tony Burke doesn’t want the job. Neither does Chris Bowen. Tanya Plibersek has a three year-old (an apparent impediment according to Bob Hawke) and Anthony Albanese, better known as ‘Albo’ is mulling it over.
That leaves Bill Shorten (whose three year old is apparently not an impediment) as the man most likely to lead Labor during the wilderness years which lie ahead: the wilderness from which there may be no exit unless the ALP can get over the recent past – and soon.
UPDATE: Bill Shorten has this morning told the ABC that he will stand for the ALP party leadership. He is expected to announce his decision to the public today.
There are dozens of other challenges ahead for the defeated, demoralised ALP. How to claim its place in the history books as a reforming government? How to deal with an Abbott government as it begins to unravel Labor’s biggest reforms, chief amongst them the carbon tax?
But the most immediate challenge is deciding who will lead the ALP and how that person will be elected.
In the hugely diminished ALP caucus, there are those who favour throwing the decision over to the party’s rank and file and caucus under the new rules introduced by Kevin Rudd mark II. Others want to avoid what would undoubtedly turn into a long and perhaps acrimonious contest, in favour of caucus agreement on a consensus candidate – either Bill Shorten, the public face of the axing of not one, but two prime ministers, or “Albo” who hasn’t yet made up his mind.
There are positives to the anointment plan, to be sure. It would be fast. No consulting members across the country or pitting two or more frontbenchers in a contest, with the risk of more public scratching at recent wounds.
But Lord knows the Australian Labor Party desperately needs to show us that it is an open and democratic party in which the so called “faceless men” (who in reality are exhibitionists) don’t decide the leadership.
So, the ALP caucus meets on Friday to decide how to decide.
But will Shorten or Albo be able to stem the bloodletting if, as a swag of former cabinet members have put it, Kevin Rudd remains in the parliament?
A conga line of those who walked when Julia Gillard was dumped (and one who didn’t), think the only way the ALP can move forward is for Kevin Rudd, who allies say is not leaving politics, to exit stage left and now, even if this triggers a by-election in his seat of Griffith, which Labor would most likely lose.
That seems to be a risk the angry want their party to take.
There’s Brendan O’Connor, a glued on Gillard supporter who became the Skills and Employment Minister in the short-lived second Rudd government.
”I think that the spectre of a former prime minister in an opposition room is such that the perception will be at the very least that there’s a concern about what will happen for the leader,” he said.
That was the nicest form of words used this week by the anti-Ruddites.
Craig Emerson, a fiercely loyal Gillard supporter who chose to resign from politics when Rudd re-ascended, pulled no punches.
“Kevin Rudd should move on. He has proved himself to be a destabilising influence within the parliamentary Labor Party,” Dr Emerson told ABC TV 7.30.
“Kevin Rudd destabilised Laurie Brereton as shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, he destabilised Simon Crean as Opposition Leader, he destabilised Kim Beazley as Opposition Leader and he destabilised Julia Gillard as Prime Minister. The caucus needs to move on beyond Kevin Rudd. If he stays, he will destabilise. It’s in his nature.”
Former minister Greg Combet wasn’t quite as ferocious, but he was of the same view.
“I’m very strongly of the view and I know that other of my colleagues or former colleagues are of the same view that we’ve got to put that whole Rudd-Gillard instability and division behind us. And there’s gotta be a fresh start, gotta be unity behind a new leadership team and the new leader cannot be looking around and seeing over their shoulder the spectre of that division in the form of Kevin Rudd or anyone else.”
Stephen Smith, the former Defence Minister and possibly the most even-handed politician in the last parliament had this to say about the possibility of Kevin Rudd remaining as the member for Griffith:
“My own judgment remains that it’s in his interests and in our interest for him to not just do that, but to leave the Parliament at some early time. We have to put a line underneath the politics of personality and the politics of personal division.”
Even if Kevin Rudd sat as quiet as a church mouse on the backbench, looking after the interests of the “good burghers of Griffith”, never glancing towards the leaders chair, supporting every move and change made by whoever is crazy enough to take on the job, he will remain the man to watch.
And that’s what Labor doesn’t need and its elders don’t want, even if it costs them another seat.
The wilderness is a frightening place, especially when the only road out is perilous.
MORE ARTICLES BY MONICA ATTARD
*Monica Attard OAM is a five-time Walkley award-winning Australian journalist – including the Gold Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism 1991. She’s also the lucky recipient of an Order of Australia for services to journalism. Monica has hosted the ABC’s PM, the World Today and Media Watch as well as Sunday Profile. She spent 28 years at the ABC, during which time she was the corporation’s Russia correspondent reporting the collapse of communism. That experience led her to write a book, Russia: Which Way Paradise? which was published in 1997. You can follow her on Twitter: @attardmon.