The departure of Nicola Roxon and Chris Evans from the Government has been reported widely as though they are rats leaving the sinking ship. There is no sign that this is the case, and the reasons given are perfectly straightforward, and in my view, acceptable.
When Parliament is dissolved, and writs are issued, candidates have to lodge their nominations. Now the Prime Minister has only signalled that she will ask the Govern0r-General to dissolve Parliament, and that will be some months away. Nonetheless, since we all know that there will be an election on 14 September, in every electorate party workers are preparing for the poll. Who are to be the candidates? It makes a considerable difference to the morale of party workers if they don’t know who the candidate will be, and is reduces the likely level of support for that party as well. Every candidate brings some personal support to election day, and the faster they are known to be running the better for their party.
If you’re not going to contest the next election, this is the time to say so. Both Ministers say they advised the Prime Minister last year that, for family reasons, understandable in both cases, they would leave Parliament at the next election. Once she announced the date, they declared their intention. Since both were Ministers, she had the choice of keeping them in post until the poll, or accepting their resignations and reshaping her Ministry. She did the latter, and to me that was perfectly sensible too.
There is enough time to blood new Ministers and to provide existing Ministers with changed responsibilities. The government of the day must carry on until an election, and Ms Gillard has done exactly what she should have done. Should she have reshaped the Ministry first and then called an election? I can’t see why that would have been preferable. She would have had to say at once why two of her senior people were being dropped.
As it happens, quite a number of members of the Parliament won’t be recontesting their seats, and this is normal. One who does seem to be giving up because his star is falling is Robert McClelland, Labor MP for Barton in Sydney. He was a Rudd supporter, and was dropped from the Gillard Government in February 2011 after serving as Attorney-General since 2007. Barton is winnable for Labor (McClelland had a 6.9 per cent margin in 2010) and Morris Iemma, a former NSW Premier, is a likely ALP candidate, and a good one, too.
For those who like these pieces of political trivia, McClelland is one of a very few families of whom three generations have served in a parliament. His father, Doug McClelland, was Minister in the Whitlam Government and President of the Senate during the Hawke period, and Doug’s father Alf was a member of the NSW Legislative Assembly, first for Northern Tableland from 1920-27, and then for Dubbo, 1930-32.
The Prime Minister has asked her candidates (those who are known, anyway) to get out into the highways and byways and tell the electors of all the good news stories about what her Government has done. She has to do that, and no doubt I’ll get a letter from my local member telling me what these stories are. But it’s going to be a hard sell on a cold call. The impression I get is that the level of ‘undecided’ is unusually low.
So the new Gillard Government gets sworn in today, and it will be business as usual after the ceremony. I did not like the way Julia Gillard came into the office of Prime Minister, and think that she made a mistake in cementing a deal with the Greens and the independent MPs. In my opinion these deals have proved to be lead in her saddlebags. The better strategy would have been to tough it out as a minority government. Arguably she would be in a stronger position today, all other things being equal, to contest the 2013 elections.
Having said that, I admire her pertinacity, toughness and capacity to get on with the job. Many, including me, would have wished for a smoother run for Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. But no-one can say that a man would have handled the last three years any better than she did. She is, above all, a first-class politician.