Anthony Albanese Labor leadership 2019 federal election
(Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

Don’t assume that Labor’s discipline of the last six years — a stunning turnaround from the garbage of 2010-13 — is going to last. The ascendancy of a leader from the Left (albeit what passes for the Left in the NSW branch) and the general despair occasioned by losing an unloseable election may yet unleash a lot of pent-up anger and factional manoeuvring put on hold for the sake of securing power.

Compare the Liberals after 1993. Having studiously avoided the internecine wars of the 1980s, they briefly kept faith with Hewson, between 1990 and 1993, then flicked him for Boy Mulcaster, before returning to John Howard. That ended happily, of course. As did Morrison’s ousting of Malcolm Turnbull. Voters seem to care far less about internal disunity than they tell pollsters.

At the moment within Labor, it’s the Right causing difficulties, doubtless out of angst that the Left now has the leadership. That the Labor Right in states outside NSW couldn’t find a deputy better than Richard Marles — exemplar of the truism that a mediocre man is always at his best — augurs poorly for Labor in terms of both talent and stability. That South Australian right-winger Don Farrell will continue, as seems likely, as deputy Senate leader defies explanation.

Farrell has contributed virtually nothing to public life in his times in the Senate beyond counting numbers (the reason why he will likely keep his spot). His crowning political achievement was to help roll Kevin Rudd in 2010. As shadow special minister of state, Farrell was in a position to lead the charge against a government that has been the most openly corrupt and anti-transparency outfit of recent generations, and few outside the press gallery would be able to even identify him. The Liberals would surely be delighted if Farrell retained that portfolio for three more years, rather than seeing it used by someone who might effectively pursue a government devoted to cover-ups and dodgy deals with mates.

Meantime, Kristina Keneally is suffering the unusual fate of having her hard work to get Bill Shorten elected used against her, with Labor Right MPs leaking against her to Nine journalists that she’s too ambitious (no other Labor MPs are ambitious, and certainly not any male MPs). In one of the single dumbest things I have seen in 40 years of watching politics, Keneally was attacked for changing her Twitter background picture from her with then-leader Shorten to one of her with new leader Albo, with that touted as evidence of why she shouldn’t be promoted — and the claim reported completely straight by the journalist concerned. This is politics in 2019.

Scott Morrison, at least — reflecting the dearth of female MPs he has to work with — has happily implemented Jane Caro’s argument that women should be allowed to be every bit as mediocre as men, and promoted dud choices like Linda Reynolds and retained the likes of Melissa Price. Labor appears on the verge of promoting and retaining mediocre men at the expense of women, undoing its consistent work of recent parliamentary terms of promoting high-quality women in a way that shamed its conservative counterparts.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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