A new, sharper Kim Beazley with a nasty jagged edge is cutting into the Government at the National Press Club as you read this – but there are already attempts to blunt his attack.

Labor puts Beazley on notice,” Dennis Shanahan’s headline reads in The Australian today. He claims: “Dissatisfaction and despair with the federal Labor Party and the Leader of the Opposition is now widespread among the labour movement and the state branches as contenders for his job jockey for position.”

Only yesterday we got what looked like the official story from the Bomber’s hanger in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Kim Beazley’s strategy for winning the next election includes remaking himself as well as remaking his party,” it said.

Beazley is playing the hard man – hence his Beaconsfield comments. As Malcolm Farr observes in the Telegraph today , “Who would have thought jolly Kim Beazley would be accused of knuckle-duster politics… Rarely has Beazley been accused of being a political hard man. Usually he’s laughed at for having no ticker.” Things are clearly changing. And there’s more. Farr also spells out the political logic and context of the Beaconsfield remarks:

In about three sentences to a May Day rally in Brisbane he said the union-provided training the miners received in occupational health and safety issues had helped them survive – and the skills rescuers had acquired over the years could help bring them to the surface.

“It is the sort of activity and action and this sort of understanding which the Howard Government wants to rip out of industrial relations,” Beazley said.

But help was on the way, he said, meaning the possible election of a Labor government late next year and the dismantling of the workplace laws.

Those comments were as appropriate and topical as they were brief. Safety issues are very much a part of the Beaconsfield debate and will remain so for months to come. Beazley was merely pointing to an area in which unions provide members with a benefit which might soon be denied under the new laws.

The Opposition Leader will soon have a whole lot more topical material to turn into debating points – a whole Budget’s worth.

He’s setting himself up as the new, hard man this week – and can set about firing off his new ammo next week in his Thursday Budget reply. Will he bring his targets down, wing them or miss? They’ll be watching closely – on both sides of politics.

Peter Fray

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