Friday 26 August 2011

Graham Richardson | point of view

Craig Thomson is the PM's ticking time bomb

110826 Kudelka
Source: The Australian

I turn 62 next month. For 45 of those years I have been a member of the ALP. The Labor Party has been very good to me. The party gave me opportunities that would never have come my way had I not been a member. It should therefore be understood how much of a dilemma I find myself in today with Labor polling 27 per cent primary vote and its future prospects looking bleak.

Some of my friends in the party are pleading with me to stop criticising them in whatever I write or say. The obvious difficulty with that is the 27 per cent figure, which is the lowest recorded by a main party since polls came into being. Lavishing praise on the party is impossible in these circumstances if I am to be left with a shred of credibility - and credibility is not a word too many would associate with this Labor government.

What really disappoints is Labor's apparent inability to talk to ordinary voters in a manner they understand. Talking to the far-flung suburbs of our great cities was easy for the likes of Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and, dare I say, Kevin Rudd (at least while he was campaigning to become prime minister).

There may well be a resources boom and, if you're lucky enough to be a part of it, it must be wonderful. Most punters in the real world, however, don't own thousands of shares in BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto. They don't work at a remote mine site for lots of money. The benefits of the boom just don't flow to most of us.

Surely the alarm bells would be ringing in Canberra after this week's announcement by BlueScope Steel that it will cut 1000 jobs. In Wollongong, where 800 of those jobs will go, the Labor government is an easy target even if the value of the Australian dollar is the main reason steelmaking in this country just isn't profitable.

Telling voters that this is part of a painful adjustment in the economy will not cut it. There is a feeling in the real world that this was just the start of announcements by Australian manufacturers on job cuts. A hell of a lot of people wonder if they will have a job next year.

Fear of the future is the reason retailers are complaining about a lack of customers. When people are frightened, they want comfort. They would like to look to the Prime Minister to allay their fears. They want to believe that things will get better, but they don't have leadership they trust.

When Labor has done well in recent decades, the party had leaders to whom the public related. Today they don't. Hawke could speak to anyone - the chairman of the board or a ditch digger - with equal fervour. He had that extra oomph that makes people want to believe. Hawke and Keating had the capacity to inspire. You don't need to look at the polls to know that Australians are not inspired today. They are fearful of where our nation is heading and they neither like nor trust the person at the helm.

If you talk to cabinet ministers and backbenchers you get the impression they just don't want to face up to how miserably their party is doing. There is a blind faith in many caucus members that things will get better - soon, sometime, maybe.

The way that this government is conducting the national debate suggests to me that this is a forlorn hope at best. Too many factors work against them and one of them is just plain bad luck. Gillard is not responsible for the horrible mess that debt is creating in the US and Europe. You don't have to have a PhD in economics and be able to write a learned treatise on why it has happened, to know that the outlook isn't good.

Then of course there is the Craig Thomson effect. This bloke is damaging the Labor brand every day he hangs around the parliament like a bad smell in a lift. Gillard is not responsible for this either but what a dilemma she has. Dump him and lose government or cling on to him to maintain the parliamentary numbers and watch the slide in the polls continue. Thomson is the suicide bomber's vest, wrapped tightly around the Prime Minister and the Labor Party.

It cannot be defused and at some stage it is destined to explode. Police investigations will take a while. Then, if a decision is made to charge him with a criminal offence, Thomson will be lost in the justice system for a couple of years.

Luck is important in politics. When John Howard faced defeat, the Tampa sailed to the rescue. I always believed that Hawke would put his hand down a sewer and pull out a $20 bill. I'm afraid Gillard would pull out something else entirely.

I have never hoped to be wrong as much as I do now, but it is hard to come to any other conclusion than this will all end in tears.

Graham Richardson is political commentator for the Seven Network and hosts Richo on Sky News at 8pm on Wednesdays.



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