In a piece published in The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 19 March political editor Peter Hartcher made a strong call on the future of the Australian Labor Party and en passant had a swipe at Tony Abbott.
His article begins
When the Labor Party's national secretary announced his resignation on Wednesday, Julia Gillard put out a glowing tribute to the man. It unwittingly encapsulated the central problem facing Labor.
The Prime Minister thanked Karl Bitar for his efforts that "helped us be re-elected in 2010 allowing us to deliver our plans to make Australia a stronger and fairer society". In just 20 words, Gillard said so much, and so much wrong.
Hartcher then goes on to unpick those twenty words: Labor was not “re-elected”, and the biggest item on the agenda, the carbon tax, is not part of “our plans”, it is the plan of the Greens and the independents. Gillard’s tribute to Bitar is, as Hartcher says, a window into Labor’s extraordinary state of denial.
Then Hartcher makes his big call:
As things stand, Labor cannot hope to govern in its own right any more.
As a party able to offer itself as a viable government, Labor is not just under existential threat. It is finished. Unless, of course, it can engineer an extraordinary resurgence. Labor's looming death as a stand-alone political entity is the biggest story in contemporary Australian politics.
Hartcher then provides a thoughtful analysis of the situation in which Labor finds itself, and why the time-honoured tactic of “when in doubt, move to the right” will no longer work.
Of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott Hartcher says:
If Gillard is carrying on in a blithe state of denial, as if she were not under a political death sentence, then Abbott is becoming the cartoon villain of Australian politics.
Abbott is a bit like Yosemite Sam. Noisy, angry, quick to reach for his six-shooter, full of bluster and threats, he is terrific with the threatening theatrics. But he never actually manages to get his hands on his prey.
Remember the flood levy, the end of modern Australia as we know it? Remember Abbott's angry fulminations? The levy was "the opposite of mateship''. It would impose an unconscionable burden on the hard-scrabble families of Australia.
The moment the flood levy passed through the House of Representatives, Abbott fell silent on it. Now he's busy ranting and fuming about the next great danger. The theatrical bluster conceals that hard fact that 72 bills have been voted through the House of Representatives since the election. How many has Abbott successfully opposed? Zero.
If Yosemite Tony can't stop the carbon tax, his one-trick oppositionism will be terminally exposed as a failure.
Hartcher’s article is worth reading in full. It may be accessed here.
My own view of Julia Gillard and the Labor Party are not too far removed from Peter Hartcher’s. I have not as yet predicted its demise, but in Looking ahead at 2011 I did put my money on the table and predict that Julia Gillard would not last the year as Prime Minister, and I addressed her standing in more detail in the earlier post Can Gillard last?.
My views of Tony Abbott are adequately summed up in The real Tony Abbott . They haven’t changed, and this week Tony Abbott has certainly continued on his trajectory towards becoming “the cartoon villain of Australian politics”.