So today is Brendan Nelson’s last Question Time as Leader.
Parliament doesn’t sit for two months after this week, and it’s hard to see that he’ll take the Leader of the Opposition’s seat when we return on 26 August. Only a miraculous outcome in Gippsland (which, of course, cannot be mentioned without demanding the retention of the icon that is the Traralgon Post Office) and a sustained turnaround in the polls will keep him there.
Liberals have been saying that, both for reasons of giving Nelson a fair crack, and because no one else wants to put their hand up currently, he’ll hang on until next year. But the most likely story over the long winter recess, with no Parliament to even up the sides, and the coming emphasis on climate change, is a steady drip of poor polling.
Tis a pity, for any number of reasons. Nelson is decent, intelligent and genuinely wants to make a difference to Australia, but like Kim Beazley he lacks the ego and laser-like focus of genuine Prime Ministerial contenders. But that’s politics, like it or not. And the Emo Man routine isn’t confected. I’ve concluded Nelson is genuine when he starts ranting, bobbing and weaving about Taragos with twelve kids and Davros in the back, and that makes it even more entertaining.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
His replacement, Malcolm Turnbull, is said to want Alexander Downer as his Treasurer (Turnbull has been planning his frontbench since he lost the leadership contest in November), but Downer will presumably let him down and use the winter recess to resign and join Ian Smith and Nick Bolkus’s Bespoke Approach Consulting, which officially starts next week. There’s also the Cyprus gig for Lord Downer, but that’s still wending its way through the tortuous bureaucracy of the UN. Sadly, we can’t farewell Downer today, because he’s off with Costello, Vaile, Andrew Robb, Julia Gillard and others at the Australia-US Leadership Dialogue.
We did however farewell the Democrats yesterday, with valedictories by Natasha Stott Despoja, Lyn Allison and Andrew Bartlett. For once the Senate Press Gallery was filled; even Wayne Swan came over to watch Stott Despoja, an old friend, take her leave, along with Kate Ellis and WA newcomer Melissa Parke, who is a fan of Stott-Despoja.
The death of the Democrats — and that is what it is — is testimony to just how important getting the right leader can be. There are number of factors behind the Democrats’ demise — Cheryl Kernot’s defection way back when; their idiotic failure to get behind the leadership of Stott Despoja, who was their only chance to avoid electoral oblivion; the irrelevance inflicted by Liberal control of the Senate for the last three years. But the one person, more than anyone else, who killed the Democrats was Meg Lees.
Australia’s Schoolmarm, with her determination to both pass the GST and yet make it more inefficient, removed what for many voters was the point of the Democrats, to strike a balance between the major parties. That footage of Lees appearing to join Howard and Costello in celebrating the striking of a deal to pass the GST was deadly, and generated genuine anger toward a party that most Australians — even if they didn’t vote for them — regarded with some fondness.
That Lees later ran off and failed miserably to start her own party revealed just how badly out of touch she was.
Yesterday Stott Despoja was predicting that the new Senate will be very unstable. I suspect she’s right. How many issues will the Greens, Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon agree on? And how will the Greens adapt to party status? It’ll be a very different political world when we reassemble in late August.