Spring is in the air in Canberra and the corridors of Parliament House are full of Bogong moths lost on their annual migration.

In
the Members Hall, the pictures of former Prime Ministers, Speakers and
Presidents of the Senate have been taken down – but the real concern is
over the moth-eaten Leader of the Opposition.

Big Kim has not been travelling well in the polls,
despite the Telstra barneys (geddit?!?). The Government’s industrial
relations package creates an infinitely greater challenge for the Labor
leader.

The cause of Labor is the cause of labour. The Labor
Party is the political wing of the trade union movement. They,
obviously, have certain expectations of their parliamentary
representatives. But whose representatives are the unions? Hardly
anyone outside the public sector bothers to be on the books any more.

It’s
a terrible conundrum for the ALP. How does it please its core
constituency – and voters? The two should be interrelated, but the
union movement has alienated itself from what we must refer to as
“mainstream” Australia.

The Government’s IR proposals might –
might – provide a shot in the arm to the union movement. The current
ACTU advertising campaign should be seen in this light – as much ads
for the union movement itself, reminding potential members of what it’s
supposed to do, as a gesture of opposition to the new laws. That
doesn’t directly help Kim Beazley now, though.

Much is riding
on the outcome of the IR legislation for both leaders. If Howard gets
his bills through, his place in history is absolutely secure. No-one
will worry about the finer points
of whether the PM has stuck to his original vision. It will be
portrayed as the final chapter in a thirty year war for reform. The
leadership will either be his to keep or give away.

At the
moment, it looks as if the legislation will get through. That means, at
best, all Kim Beazley can hope for is defeat with honour.

This
issue is his party’s raison d’etre. The parliamentary debates will be
emotional and acrimonious. Beazley has to ensure that his troops manage
to make the Government look like the ideologues, that the Labor party
can do what the labour movement has failed to do and act as the
representatives of ordinary Australians. If he can’t, Labor will need a
new leader.

The wannabes’ favourite lobbyist, Glenn Milne,
gives Mr Rudd a very nice run today. And it’s interesting to note that
the issue Krudd’s campaigning on is international, not domestic,
entanglements.

Peter Fray

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