Within minutes of the revelation that former Queensland premier Peter Beattie would be standing for Labor in the seat of Forde at the federal election, some of his many quotes on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd were circulating on social media. Not long after, the Coalition was packaging them up and distributing them. As a prominent relevance-deprivation syndrome sufferer, Beattie has been a regular source of commentary on politics since returning from the United States (where he was Queensland’s Los Angeles-based trade and investment commissioner).
That won’t fuss Labor much. What better way to illustrate Rudd’s confected “new politics” than an erstwhile critic like Beattie agreeing to be part of his team? Nor will the Coalition line that Beattie is a potential challenger to Rudd, given the new Labor leadership rules. And, in any event, if Rudd manages to pull off what still remains an improbable win, the issue of replacing him is unlikely to trouble MPs who until June were staring political oblivion in the face.
Beattie is likely to win Forde, despite it being historically more a conservative than a Labor seat. Bert Van Manen, a Family First-turned-Liberal National Party candidate, who took the seat off Labor in 2010, has failed to trouble the scorers since then. And plainly Beattie is not returning to politics to spend years in opposition; his entry is a statement of intent by both himself and by Labor that they can win the election, even if they have to turf out candidates like Des Hardman, who beat out the former MP who lost to Van Manen, Brett Raguse, for preselection.
Beattie offers more to Labor than adding Forde to the Labor column. If re-elected, Labor will have a serious shortage of ministerial experience with the post-Gillard exodus. This is a party, after all, that now has Jacinta Collins in cabinet. Beattie will bring political smarts, cynical opportunism and leadership experience to the frontbench, as well as boosting the quality of Queensland’s representation — there are currently no other Queenslanders in Rudd’s cabinet than himself. It also means it’s less likely Rudd will dominate cabinet like he did during his first prime ministership, when he didn’t have two long-serving Labor premiers at the table.
And in the likely event that Labor loses, it will have two men who’ve won from opposition in its ranks even if Rudd departs. Both Bob Carr and Beattie built premierships on crushing their conservative opponents, the sort of ruthless mentality that has been sorely lacking from federal Labor since 2009.
All that’s still far off, and a Labor victory remains unlikely. But Queensland is Labor’s launching pad for a surprise win, and Beattie improves its chances, however many old quotes circulate.