Curing the poison
Federal Labor is on a hiding to nothing as the election approaches, that much seems clear. But over time, this may not be all bad news for the country’s oldest political party.
Labor is likely to suffer its greatest loss of seats in NSW, hence Julia “I’m not campaigning” Gillard’s recent trip to western Sydney. The mission is not to win seats there, but rather to desperately cling on to those they have.
The Labor brand stinks in this state. Anyone who’s lived here for five years or longer will remember only too well the corruption, arrogance and incompetency that defined the pick-a-premier Labor governments.
When it comes to politics, it’s said voters can tell the difference between state and federal issues and parties. But this seems to be the exception to that rule. The NSW Labor poison has spread and is infecting the federal brand – not surprising, given national Labor is all but run from Sydney.
So, painful as a wipe-out in NSW will be for Labor at the next election, in time it might well be the purge the party needs to rid itself of that poison once and for all. Labor can then truly regroup and rebuild.
And there’s one state where this could happen – Victoria. Labor is actually travelling quite well there – so well they may just relegate the state’s coalition government to one term. Labor weren’t annihilated at the last Victorian state election the way they were here (and Queensland), and they were never subject to anywhere near as much scandal or disaster during their 11 years in government.
Labor needs to imagine a world where men like Graham Richardson, Eddie Obeid and Ian Macdonald aren’t running the party into the ground over boozy taxpayer-funded lunches and dodgy backroom deals. One way to neutralise their power bases is to remove their fiefdoms. And the only way to do this is to remove the number of MPs they control – politics is, after all, first and foremost a numbers game.
Melbourne offers all the advantages of Sydney in terms of its potential as the HQ city for federal Labor. It’s fast growing, so much so that if current trends continue its population will surpass Sydney’s within 20 years. It’s the next-closest capital city to Canberra. And Victoria also offers Bill Shorten, Labor’s likely next opposition leader and best shot (for now) at containing Tony Abbott’s reign to one term.
Sure, a shift to Victoria won’t stop the reign of the “faceless men” or factionalism that invariably plagues the ALP. But if Labor can point to an end to the NSW poison by virtue of a wipe-out there, voters might just be able to believe that the dark days of Sydney domination are over.
For Labor, Melbourne should symbolise the future where Sydney symbolises the past.