Labor Bill Shorten national conference

In the wake of the Super Saturday byelections, and the entirely unsurprising result — seats did not swing towards the government, and the Liberal v minor party contest in Mayo went exactly as polled — there has been a bit of open season, from the left, or from the Labor Left, anyway, about any sort of speculation about leadership, internal party movements, etc, etc.

The attacks on News Corp are fair enough — the attacks on News Corp are always fair enough — because the coverage was as mendacious as usual, tying the particular contests to the very abstract “most preferred PM” rating, and suggesting an apocalypse was innocent. But several news outlets made the trek to Longman and Braddon and found the same thing: the major parties were on the nose, the same rank dissatisfaction spreading through the country and the Western world.

That failed to materialise in Longman because Ms Reliable, Pauline Hanson, stuffed it again: taking the Norse heritage discovery cruise she’d promised herself before the small inconvenience of a byelection in the heartland of her heartland was called. The 100 cardboard cutouts, reminding everyone of the insult? That has to be an Ashby masterstroke, Australia’s campaigning anti-genius strikes again.

The minor party prospect were shown by Craig Garland in Braddon, basically the western half of Tasmania. Garland, a fisherman, ran to raise awareness of the depredation happening in western Tasmania — from forest lockouts for private contractors, residual logging of old growth in the Tarkine, and the despoliation of harbours (and native fishing) by quick-bucks salmon farming — but decided not to campaign, beyond Facebook and media (“I’d feel like a goose”, he said when I contacted to see if he might be doing some doorknocking). Well fair enough. You do what you’re capable of. Word was that Garland was wilting late in the day, due to publicity around a small altercation decades ago, with a cop who happened to be a policewoman. “He’s down to 5%,” they said. In fact he got 13%. With a full campaign, a local hero of such type could get above 20%; in the manner of Clive Palmer in Fairfax, they could split others’ preferences and win the seat from third spot.

So plenty to think about. Plenty to think about inside the major parties, too. Speculation that presumed Labor was in trouble is propaganda. Speculation that games out various scenarios is perfectly legitimate. Some of us are now being slated for asking what a bad result for Labor would have meant for Shorten’s leadership; the suggestion that Anthony Albanese might be stroking his field-marshal’s baton was held to be utterly out of bounds (in the same way that multiply-sourced stories about the possibility that Emma Husar might be the Imelda Marcos of Labor were verboten).

Listen. No one is saying that Albo is “white-anting” Shorten in the way that Abbott is Turnbull. But you’d have to still have the lens cap on, to not see that Labor’s factions have been moving across the battlefield for a good 18 months. As this correspondent has noted, the whole thing appears to have started with a split in the Shorten-Conroy right-side alliance, the willingness of Conroy’s remnant force to ally with the official Left, and the split away of an Industrial Left, to partner with — and support — Billy Bob Shorten’s leadership.

Is Albo running? Hoh yes, he’s running. Which matters for the form Labor might take and the policies it might take — even in these ideologically denuded times. And it is right and proper for us to write about the possibilities of it, in the context of a set of elections which could have gone any which way. That’s politics, that’s commentary, and we’re going to keep doing it honestly, even if others do it otherwise, and major party results turn out as expected, and a fly ma’am holds Mayo.