Some thoughts about last night, which I will add to as they come to me in the next hours and days.
Luke Foley was elected by the Lindt Cafe siege, and the coincidence that Robbo had spoken up for Man Monis, a constituent. This was a few days before Christmas. Had Luke arrived in August, there would have been time for us to have got to know him, and to have been attracted by his incisive and plausible way of speaking in rivetting, cogent sentences persuasively.
Why Labor stuck so long with Robbo baffles me. Why they elected Robbo astounds me. He both looks and sounds like a small-time gangster.
On top of this Luke lost a week of his mere twelve weeks as Leader to the dual distractions of Malcolm Fraser and another weird air crash, and it was the last week of the campaign. It was the week when Baird’s connection to a crooked Chinese company should have been the big recurring headline, or his friend Abbott’s theft of billions from New South Wales which he gave to Western Australia.
Stategically, Labor erred in following the focus groups and asserting, like them, that Baird was a ‘good bloke’. He could have been portrayed as a lethal incompetent whose goons shot Katrina Dawson thirty-two times, a bumbling klutz who wouldn’t let Man Monis talk to the Prime Minister, and come out, sated, with his hands up. They could have emphasised his opposition to gay marriage, his years as an inflamed fundamentalist preacher in America, his obliteration of TAFE and his lame pathetic echoing, in all things but border protection, of the punishing policies of his constituent, friend, fellow Christian and fellow Manly beach-jogging fascist athlete, Abbott.
They erred in not using the true argument against privatisation, which is that you pay your electricity bill, and the money comes back to you, in nurses and schoolteachers and ambulance drivers and firemen. Your money comes back to you. But if you privatise the electricity your money goes to China, and you never see it again. They could have said simply also, ‘In the next ninety-nine years, the poles and wires would have earned a hundred and twenty billion dollars. And these dumb clucks are leasing them for twenty.’
They could have answered the ‘L-plate Luke’ charge — that he was inexperienced in government — with the simple answer, ‘So was Barry O’Farrell’. Or ‘So was Nick Greiner.’ Or ‘So, when he became Treasurer, was Mike Baird.’
It wasn’t all their fault, of course. Luke was deliberately sabotaged by the ABC, who lit him like Vincent Price in The House of Wax in the crucial encounter in the parliamentary library (Why the parliamentary library? Why not a studio?) and by Chris Uhlmann who kept interrupting him. On the day before the election, he was shot side on and given two minutes, and Baird was shot front on, and given four. You could not see Luke’s eyes, a classic trick of diminishment known to every film school student. You saw Baird’s eyes, his best feature, very prominently.
The assault on him by the Murdoch papers needs no reiteration. At one point he was pictured greenface in a koala suit, and Baird in a racing driver’s glamorous costume, for the day when it was proposed he would bid for the Grand Prix, before it was discovered he couldn’t. At all times by all the media Labor’s anti-privatisation reasoning was denounced as ‘the biggest scare campaign in Australia’s history’. So the fairly mild-mannered statement, ‘If you vote Liberal, your electricity prices go up’, outclassed and outweighed, apparently, ‘the downward thrust of China’ and ‘Russia’s finger on the nuclear button.’
Labor is currently seven seats away from government, if you assume the Greens and the Independents would come in with them, and of course they would. They will pick up two more on the pre-polls, East Hills and Monaro. That will leave them five seats away.
They could have got these five seats, probably, had they heeded some of the ideas I sent to them. Foley’s office assured me were being passed on, but they probably weren’t.
One was a TAFE lottery; easy enough to understand. It would have awarded a half-million dollar first prize now and then, and banked ten million that funded new TAFE courses and kept the fees low.
One was putting back the Casino-to-Murwillumbah rail line. This would have won Tweed Heads.
One was putting a dining car on each of two trains from Katoomba to Central, one on each of two trains from Wollongong to Central, and one on each of two trains from Newcastle to Central, and charging ten percent more for the tickets in those trains. This would have taken hundreds of commuter cars off the road, and with ‘Breakfast Special’ and ‘Cocktail Hour Special’ and ‘Late Supper Special’ journeys brought more people back to public transport.
Another was threatening to pass a law that would bring down all rents on all small businesses by one third; ten percent this year, ten percent next year, ten percent the year after. This would be favoured by ninety-eight percent of the voters, and release tens of billions into other parts of the economy, employing more young people and keeping more small businesses open, like the shoe shop in Avalon that was being charged, before it closed, three thousand dollars a week.
Another was adding Verity Firth, not yet in parliament, to the Shadow Ministry, as Jodie McKay was, and Luke Foley. This would have won Balmain.
Would these ideas have won five more seats in the commuter suburbs and the Far North Coast? Of course they would.
The difficulty with Labor is, as always, limited ambition, hypochondria, and stinginess. Government is always four years away, and we shouldn’t rush, and we shouldn’t spend too much on advertising lest we waste it. Five hundred dollars more would have kept Verity Firth in Balmain in 2011, and we lost Balmain. But hell, we saved five hundred dollars.It’s a two term strategy, comrade. Best wait a bit. Best wait a bit.
How did we get here from there? Most of the blame lies with the Obeid-Tripodi-Roozendahl faction, who sacked Rees when Labor was on 45 percent and made sure that, under Keneally, we lost with 36 percent. A fair bit lies with Martin Ferguson, who, like Obeid, Tripodi and Roozendahl should now be expelled and shamed. He was in a Liberal Party ad, for fuck’s sake, and was a lobbyist for coal seam gas. He has no place in the Labor Party, any more.
Some of the blame lies with Rees, who could have displaced Robbo in the last year and, as a former Premier and a cleanskin, cut Baird to ribbons after ten of his MPs resigned under clouds of corruption. He could like Foley have found another seat, and returned to power universally applauded.
And a lot lies, of course, with Kevin Rudd. Had he merely consulted, and not been a self-embellishing twerp, and let the factions choose, in the Labor Party way, who would be in the ministry, and had he taken advice from some Labor Party seniors and grandees — McMullan, Debus, Faulkner, Kerr, Carr, Beattie, Wran, Keating, Whitlam — and some of the bright new ministers and parliamentary secretaries — Combet, Roxon, Plibersek, Shorten, Clare — he would now be in his ninth year of power. He chose instead to act like a frivolous, sneering tyrant, and here we are.
And so it goes.
And here we are.