Perhaps we should call them the faction bosses you listen to when you pretend not to be influenced by the factions.
Prime Minister elect Kevin Rudd keeps asserting he chose his own ministerial team rather than having the selections of internal groups ratified by a token vote of the Parliamentary Labor Party.
There has, indeed, been a break with the Labor tradition but it is not nearly as major in practice as Mr Rudd suggests when selling the theory. Labor leaders, certainly from Bob Hawke onwards, have had the major say in who makes the ministry and who does not. There were always discussions between the leader and the leaders of the factions before the factions settled on their choices.
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I cannot think of one person who made the ministry in the Hawke and Keating years who did so against the will of the Prime Minister.
Paul Keating put it accurately in an interview the other day on the ABC when he said:
Choosing your own front bench, in the end they’re the same group. If caucus elect them or you appoint them, you might be three or four the difference, that’s all. People pick themselves.
It is only around the outer fringes that factional preferences might be different to those of the PM.
To keep him in touch with such preferences, Kevin Rudd has had his own version of factional bosses to advise him. His deputy, Julia Gillard, from the left, and the Treasurer-to-be Wayne Swan, from the right, have had input.
And operating in a more background way have been two faction bosses of years past – Senators John Faulkner and Robert Ray.
This pair have forged a perhaps unlikely alliance over the years that has overcome the difference in their factional backgrounds, with the old boss from the NSW left – Faulkner – travelling with Rudd throughout the campaign and getting regular advice from Ray – the former boss of the Victorian right.
Since Saturday, this quartet of colleagues have filled the role the factional bosses have played in the past but the outcome will be no different.
And when it comes to the Prime Minister claiming the right to fire, it was always thus whatever the Caucus rule book says.
In truth, the more things change the more they remain the same.