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The new statesman

By Peter Van Onselen - posted Wednesday, 6 December 2006

As soon as Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard determined they would challenge for the leader and deputy leader positions as a "dream team", Kim Beazley was wounded.

Uniting to bring down Beazley was clever politicking by Rudd and Gillard, perhaps a sign they have the political cunning to beat John Howard.

That said, the challenge was a bad idea in the first place.


Beazley had Labor ahead in the polls most of the year. With 25 years in the Parliament, he was Labor's only leadership option capable of matching Howard's experience.

And his low personal approval ratings were not uncommon for an opposition leader - it is a very tough job as Rudd will discover.

But Labor has moved on from the Beazley era, so what can voters expect to see from a Rudd-led Opposition?

First, Rudd needs to travel west to convince WA voters not to punish Labor because of his actions. Howard has spent a lot of time in the west in recent years and, for his troubles, has picked up the seats of Canning, Hasluck and Stirling.

He now wants to grab Swan and Cowan. Howard only missed out on each at the last election by 50 and 600 votes respectively. Rudd has to do what he can to avoid parochial West Australians deserting Labor in the wake of Beazley's embarrassing defeat.

Second, Rudd needs to change his image. As Shadow Foreign Minister, he was an attack dog frontbencher. In that role, Rudd sometimes appeared as a carping force, and he overplayed his hand on AWB.


Now that he is leader he can be forgiven for that - a shadow minister must do what he can to get noticed.

As leader, he needs to develop a statesman's persona - many years in the diplomatic service should help him make the transition.

Third, Rudd should put out a policy manifesto as soon as he practically can. It was a good start when he announced his challenge citing federalism as an area he wants to reform. That will appeal to states such as WA, Tasmania, South Australia and his home state of Queensland, all of which believe too much power filters between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. He needs a large policy document setting out his approach to government. It can be light on details so long as it is not light on ideas.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on December 5, 2006.

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About the Author

Dr Peter van Onselen is Associate Professor of Politics and Government School of Communications and Arts at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia.

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