Peter Beattie’s announcement at the weekend State Labor conference that he will contemplate retiring in twelve months should come as no great surprise. There’s no doubt that Beattie has been shaken by the recent Merri Rose bribery affair, but also no doubt that he realises his time in the sun is coming to an end.
The last state election was one Labor should have lost, with a superb campaign and an opposition incompetent beyond belief allowed Labor to hold most of its impressive majority. But it was very clear during the campaign that Beattie’s reactive style of politics and his two step dance of apologising for major stuff ups and taking charge personally had almost worn out their welcome with voters.
By leaving before the end of the parliamentary term, Beattie will enable Labor to revitalise itself under Anna Bligh before the 2009 election.
Claims that Transport Minister Paul Lucas and Industrial Relations Minister John Mickel might seek to supplant Bligh are red herrings. Both are probably manoeuvring for the Deputy’s gig. Despite her factional base in the left, Bligh is Beattie’s most plausible successor by a country mile.
The fact that AWU supremo Bill Ludwig claimed that Beattie probably wouldn’t leave is pure wishful thinking and reveals only the continuing loss of influence of the AWU, a development Kevin Rudd wouldn’t at all be displeased by.
It’s too early to assess Beattie’s policy legacy yet, as he still needs to deliver on water infrastructure before he goes. But the politics of Beattie’s announcement probably help Rudd in his home state – Rudd’s distancing of himself from Beattie’s unpopular plan for amalgamating rural and regional local councils shows he’s sniffed which way the wind is blowing. Beattie’s impending departure will soften a lot of gripes voters have with his long term government, and thus reduce the baggage Federal Labor takes into the election.
Beattie knows this as well, as his pointed comments about not wanting to emulate John Howard in overstaying his welcome indicate.
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