While Opposition Leader Tony Abbott demands Prime Minister Kevin Rudd muscle up and name an election day, Capital Hill insiders are hanging on announcements of their own: the fingering of Rudd’s incoming chief-of-staff and the potential anointment of Matt Thistlethwaite’s successor in the Senate.
One well-placed source has insisted to Crikey that long-time Senate hopeful and current Bob Carr senior adviser Graeme Wedderburn, a masterful interpreter of the intersection of politics and government, would soon emerge triumphant in the CoS race, as has been widely speculated since last Wednesday night’s caucus showdown.
However, when Crikey called Carr’s office, legendary media adviser Patrick Low said he had checked with Wedderburn and “refused to rule the suggestion in or out on the grounds that I cannot confirm or deny it”. Earlier, when Crikey called the PMO, a staffer said a message would be forwarded on to Wedderburn even though, as yet, he “wasn’t on the list”.
But this week another intriguing possibility has emerged.
Wedderburn was famously lured back from the private sector to helm Nathan Rees’ office in 2009 with the apparent cast-iron guarantee of the 2010 No. 2 New South Wales Senate spot, which ended up going to Thistlethwaite after Rees was knifed as NSW premier. When Mark Arbib stood down from the Senate last year, he was replaced by Carr, and Wedderburn joined his old boss’ office. Now Thistlethwaite has announced he is running for preselection in Peter Garrett’s seat of Kingsford Smith and, if successful, will need to resign his Senate spot, creating a casual vacancy.
Wedderburn could well join the Senate in Thistlethwaite’s position, taking up the seat on the day after the election. The other name mentioned in relation to that vacancy, NSW general secretary Sam Dastyari (who succeeded Thistlethwaite at Sussex St), has ruled himself out of contention, telling Crikey he had “dismissed it repeatedly”. The prized gig stretches until June 30, 2017.
Last year, Labor speechwriter Bob Ellis called Wedderburn “the best backroomer since, probably, Bobby Kennedy”.
The other senior PMO appointment mooted in recent days has been that of Don Russell, the former Paul Keating adviser turned Washington ambassador turned Innovation Department secretary, mentioned in the Fairfax Sundays as being pushed by Rudd for a “senior role”. However, sources said that might be rejected given the senior public servant could well find himself out of a job in three months if Labor loses the election.
Both Russell and Wedderburn are considered “greybeards”, the type of wizened adviser Rudd conceded he should have employed after his previous Alister Jordan-led youth policy attracted media criticism. Fellow greybeard Bruce Hawker is already advising on political strategy.
One insider described a chaotic atmosphere inside Julia Gillard’s former office as new roles were bedded down. “There’s too many chiefs and not enough Indians,” one well-placed former PMOer said.
Curios continue to arise amid the maelstrom — the author of Monday’s list of Rudd ministerial appointments was Anthony Albanese CoS Michael Choueifate. Choueifate is heading up the staffing committee to select mid-level and junior PMO employees.
In other adviser moves, former Rudd electorate officer turned media adviser Fiona Sugden has returned (and will presumably be commuting from Brisbane), with other media types — like former Mr Reba Meagher, Tim Gleason and ex-Kim Carr spinner Fiona Scott — also seen lurking around the ministerial wing. Jenny Macklin chief-of-staff and former Rudd adviser Corri McKenzie is expected to soon return to her former PM digs.
Around a third to half of all former staffers from the 50-strong Gillard office are expected to retain their positions. Deputy media chief and dark-arts specialist Eamonn Fitzpatrick is staying put, while crossbench liaison star, Marrickville councillor and ex-Sydney Uni student union president Jo Haylen will return to Deputy Prime Minister Albo’s office as a senior adviser.
Former communications chief John McTernan is now penning opinion pieces for the UK Telegraph, while ex-CoS Ben Hubbard and deputy CoS Tom Bentley have also left the building (Hubbard will spend time with his family). Policy expert Ryan Batchelor has left the PMO but will soon take on another senior adviser role in government — a senior Rudd staffer told Crikey to “watch this space” when inquiring into his likely desk location.