Watching Mark Arbib’s resignation press conference yesterday, it seemed pretty clear that he was absolutely genuine about his desire to spend more time with his family and help heal the wounds from Labor’s appallingly messy 18-month assassination job on Kevin Rudd.
Given that his wife, former Michael Costa chief-of-staff Kelli Field, is making plenty as an associate director at Macquarie Bank, Arbib can probably afford to take some time out.
Then again, if Arbib wants to cash in like his predecessor Karl Bitar, he’d better be quick because the most likely scenario is that in 18 months, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill will be the highest ranking Labor politician on government benches across the country.
Arbib, a former Sizzler dishwasher and TWU organiser with a masters in politics, confounded journalists and politicians across the board yesterday and it has been hard to find anyone who agrees with his analysis about reconciliation.
Given that Arbib was the national convener of the ALP Right in the federal Parliament and the person who Julia Gillard spoke to before deciding to break her agreement not to challenge Rudd on the evening of June 23, 2010, of course he is a hugely controversial source of anger and resentment.
While it was Paul Howes who copped the grief for going on Lateline to explain the coup, the ambush execution of Rudd simply would never have happened if Arbib had not given the green light.
Similarly, there is no way Rudd would have knocked off Kim Beazley in 2006 if Arbib had not broken away from the anti-Rudd forces associated with Wayne Swan and the AWU in Queensland.
Given that Arbib and Gillard are the two individuals who were most associated with the making and breaking of Kevin Rudd, Arbib’s logic makes plenty of sense if genuine reconciliation is to be achieved.
Bizarrely, not a single major Labor figure has agreed with the prognosis of the master strategist, probably because most of them are self-interested in wanting to avoid their own sacrificial gestures.
For instance, Gillard is over-reaching by insisting she retain exclusive power to hand-pick her cabinet. Surely the biggest lesson of Rudd’s time at The Lodge was that caucus should have never ceded this power.
Gillard botched her last cabinet reshuffle and she should not be able to arrogantly dismiss calls to avoid revenge, as she did on AM today. Given Gillard’s failure to offer this gesture against PMO dominance of cabinet, caucus should insist there be no revenge.
Shaun Carney was absolutely right in the Fairfax broadsheets today when he identified Treasurer Wayne Swan as being “a poor communicator, to the government’s enduring cost”.
Swan’s most effective piece of communicating was his ridiculous statement last Thursday night savaging Kevin Rudd. Unlike people such as Craig Emerson, Stephen Conroy, Simon Crean and Tony Burke, this was not something that just happened during the cut and thrust of a live television or radio interview.
Over time, Gillard will have to come clean on whether she personally vetted and authorised this statement before it was sent out by her loyal and stodgy deputy.
Now that Rudd has committed to contesting the next election and, effectively, the next leadership ballot after Gillard resigns, the best thing Swan could do is negotiate a suicide pact with his old Nambour High schoolmate.
First, Swan should voluntarily exit the Treasury portfolio and allow a decent communicator — Chris Bowen or Bill Shorten — to be Treasurer.
Secondly, he should attempt to negotiate an agreement with Rudd that they both exit Parliament at the next election. If not, federal Labor’s Queensland stocks will be poisoned by their hatred into the future. Every preselection will swing on whether candidates are loyal to Swan or Rudd.
Swan might lose his seat in 2013 anyway, especially after his crazy commitment to a 2012-13 surplus — foolishly repeated again by Gillard on AM this morning — inevitably blows up in the government’s face.
After more than four years as Treasurer, Swan has been the weakest feature of the Rudd and Gillard governments.
He’s now also the leading light in the most self-indulgent political assassination in Australian history. It’s time for Swan to listen carefully to Mark Arbib’s advice and resign as Treasurer, for the good of the party and the government