The imminent elevation of NSW Senator Mark Arbib to the post of parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as predicted in today’s Australian by Dennis Shanahan, turns him into the most influential non-minister in the Rudd Government.
He will become “The Gatekeeper” to Rudd and the Cabinet and the eyes and ears of the PM in the Caucus, the Labor Party, the public service and the business community.
His meteoric rise has occurred in just six months since he took his seat in the Senate.
As the former general secretary of the NSW Labor Party, Arbib has been written into the pages of ALP folk lore for crushing the premiership hopes of Carl Scully in 2005 and imposing the MP for Lakemba, Morris Iemma, and then participating in the ritual assassination of Kim Beazley in December 2006 and installing Kevin Rudd as the Labor leader.
Since transferring operations from Sydney to Canberra, Arbib has taken charge of the Centre Unity faction and established a formidable power network in federal parliament and in the Press Gallery where reporters hang on his every word.
His trusted lieutenant, Karl Bitar, who succeeded him as NSW ALP general secretary, was installed as national secretary of the party at the end of last year.
In Monday’s Australian, columnist Glenn Milne reproduced an unsourced email which outlined some of the strategies of the right in the federal ALP caucus. In essence, it shows that Arbib and assistant treasurer Chris Bowen are straining to become ministers. This requires the white-anting of two ministers from NSW – Attorney-General Robert McClelland (Barton) and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon (Hunter).
The email to Milne, whose authors remain unknown, reveals that there is a plan to discredit both senior ministers — Fitzgibbon as some kind of ally of the Victorian hard left and McClelland as being unhelpful as a member of the right and ready to jump ship for a diplomatic posting.
The sub-plot is to position Arbib to move into McClelland’s southern Sydney seat so that he can join the main game in the House of Representatives.
Such a move would provoke a pre-selection battle of epic, bitter and bloody proportions which Arbib would be hard-pressed to win.
To gain a toehold in the electorate, the ALP machine has promised Rockdale councillor Shaoquett Moselmane the next spot in the NSW Upper House if he delivers pre-selection votes from the Lebanese community to Arbib.
All this means that the epi-centre of the Rudd Government is swinging into the grip of the NSW right. The chronically insecure Rudd believes that he is threatened by his deputy Julia Gillard and he is allowing the Sussex Street identities to create a praetorian guard to protect him.
Rudd doesn’t seem to have worked out that his protectors have the potential to turn him into their political prisoner. They end up running the show and not him. And when they decide to dispense with him, they are ready to do a deal with the left’s Anthony Albanese – as happened in NSW on countless occasions – and Rudd will be a goner.