They are from New South Wales! There is a price to be paid by political leaders when they reserve for themselves the power of patronage. Those passed over for ministerial office by a Prime Minister can become quite disruptive as Julia Gillard discovered again last night when Joel Fitzgibbon took to the ABC’s television talks show Q&A. 

Now I know the government whip, who thinks he should be a government minister, was only stating the obvious with his comments about the eventual fate of leaders that the opinion polls show will lead their party to defeat. That’s not the point. Players in this game are skilled at avoiding the obvious when that is in their interest and just as skilled as adopting an aura of innocence as they stir up trouble by giving an honest answer.

Having said last night that “populism matters in politics, and no matter what political party you’re talking about, if leaders remain unpopular long enough they’ll inevitably stop leading the party”, this morning Mr Fitzgibbon was acting as if he could not understand what all the headlines were about. He was just speaking the truth and stating the obvious

“People aren’t mugs. It’s a historical fact that political leaders who poll badly long enough don’t remain political leaders.

“The Prime Minister has plenty of time between now and the next election and there’s no reason to think she can’t improve those polling numbers.”

No indeed, we are not mugs and can spot the preludes to an attempted coup when we see and hear one.

Mr Fitzgibbon’s NSW Labor parliamentary colleague Robert McClelland pointed us in that direction when he chose to resurrect with a parliamentary speech the involvement years ago of Miss Gillard with a trade union official accused of financial impropriety that was followed up on Saturday by The Weekend Australian.

That incident is a none too subtle reminder that there is a price to be paid when you dismiss an Attorney-General from your Cabinet.

Kevin Rudd, the heir apparent waiting quietly while the experts in dismissing leaders with their NSW heritage in such matters do their stuff, appreciates the point. He has promised in the event of a comeback to change the system he introduced whereby the leader selects the ministry and return to the long Labor tradition of letting the Caucus members vote.

Lest we forget – not everything changes. Not that a Kevin Rudd return would see everything change as Mark Latham so acerbically reminds us in the latest issue of The Spectator Australia. Inspired by the comments of Therese Rein that her husband Kevin would only return as Labor leader “on the proviso that it was completely about the country, the national good, Australia’s place in the world” that other former party leader had this to say:

How one forgets. It has never been about Kevin. The vindictive leaks during the last campaign, the destabilisation of every leader under whom he has served, the non-stop networking of Australia’s business and trade union elites, the thousands of Press Gallery briefings, the six bids for the Labor leadership – it was all about the country, the national good, Australia’s place in the world.

And the expert view of Rudd’s colleagues that he is a ‘psychopath’ and a ‘complete and utter fraud’? According to Rein, ‘that’s actually not about Kevin. It’s about the people who are calling him names.’ Nothing, it seems, is about Kevin, the selfless one.

As Talleyrand said of another pretentious family, forever conniving to fulfil its born-to-rule self image, the Rudds have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

Car sales trend is up. The morning news from Ford about 440 job losses might suggest otherwise but the figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that sales of new vehicles are healthy enough.

Peter Fray

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