Jan 27, 2005

PM – ALP members focus on electing a new leader

PM – ALP members focus on electing a new leader

Thursday 27 January 2005

TANYA NOLAN: As Labor looks forward to a fresh start tomorrow, with the election of Kim Beazley as its leader, one frontbencher is imploring his colleagues, to quote "shut up" about the Party’s internal problems.

It’s been seven weeks since Labor MPs were last in Canberra and they’d hoped to put behind them the bitterness and division that wracked the Party after its election defeat.

Instead, Mark Latham’s resignation as leader has forced the 87 MPs and Senators to head back to the capital more than a week earlier than they’d planned.

And after he is installed as Party leader unopposed at tomorrow’s Caucus meeting, Kim Beazley has promised to detail his plans to restore Labor’s credibility.

From Canberra, Kim Landers reports.

KIM LANDERS: Labor MPs and Senators are trickling back into Canberra, jetting in at taxpayers’ expense from around the country, climbing into their Comcars and heading to Parliament for tomorrow’s Caucus meeting to rubberstamp Kim Beazley as their new leader.

STEPHEN SMITH: OK, well firstly it’s nice to be back in Canberra.

KIM LANDERS: West Australian MP Stephen Smith is one of the Beazley backers.

With Kevin Rudd and then Julia Gillard bowing out of the leadership race, Stephen Smith is now calling on all his colleagues to put their differences behind them.

STEPHEN SMITH: Yes we have been a bit messy in the last couple of weeks, and in the last couple of days. I’m not pretending otherwise. But as I said, that’s not necessarily a completely bad thing. People do get the chance to get things off their chest.

And yes, there will be personal disappointments around but that will be nothing like, nothing like the disappointment which will come if we lose an election in three year’s time, or if we lose the Werriwa by-election in a few weeks or a few months.

KIM LANDERS: Kevin Rudd puts it a little more bluntly.

KEVIN RUDD: It’s time Labor just shut up about itself and started instead focusing on the Howard Government.

KIM LANDERS: Fellow frontbencher, Anthony Albanese, is also keen to dispel any lingering friction.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  We as a group need to start talking to the Australian people about them, not about us and about each other, about what we will do for them rather than people’s personal ambitions and tomorrow I think is an appropriate time to draw a line in the sand.

KIM LANDERS: His catch cry for unity is echoed too by Shadow Treasurer, Wayne Swan.

WAYNE SWAN: Well I think it’s just important that everybody in the Party comes together and that’s certainly what I’ll be doing, that’s my objective, thanks very much.

KIM LANDERS: Kim Beazley is already thanking his colleagues for their support in tomorrow’s ballot, repeating his promise to be more inclusive.

As to how this soon-to-be recycled leader will make a fresh start, Kim Beazley is promising to articulate at length some of his policy vision, including on key issues like Iraq and Labor foreign policy, after he becomes leader.

KIM BEAZLEY: I’m going to go through that tomorrow in very great detail with you. What I’m not going to do now is presume. Caucus is still to make its decision. There are, at present, as you know, no other candidates in the field and I do express my gratitude to the two who were, who subsequently decided to withdraw, and the kind and useful things they said.

KIM LANDERS: Labor backbencher, Lindsay Tanner, is one of those pressing for a fresh policy start. He warns a new leader alone can’t restore Labor’s credibility.

LINDSAY TANNER: Obviously leadership is crucial, but our problems about economic credibility, about our policy position and about the lack of attractiveness to voters over the past nine years go way beyond just the question of who the leader is or how the leader performs. But what really matters is substance, policies and coherence.

KIM LANDERS: But whether a Beazley-led Labor team can get into shape for an election win in just under three years, not even Labor’s most senior Premier, Bob Carr, is willing to go that far.

BOB CARR: You never predict election outcomes three years off. You never do it. But we’ve got to get, Federal Labor has got to reshape itself as a viable opposition. It’s got to become viable, it’s got to have unity and it’s got to start focusing on policies.

TANYA NOLAN: New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr.