Only man who can save Australia's soul
THE hard right blaming Malcolm Turnbull for the Liberals losing Wentworth is like the Indonesians blaming drug smugglers for their firing squads losing bullets.
Sure, the condemned man could save them a whole lot of time and effort just by executing himself. The only question is why would he want to.
This is instinctively obvious to every garden variety playground bully, yet it is a question that political masterminds in both major parties appear never to have asked themselves.
Indeed, it is not only self-evident but has been repeatedly proven in every single term of government over the past decade.
Cynical old Labor warhorses went lilywhite with indignation after the PM they knifed in the night on June 23, 2010 refused to die quietly. And Liberal lords and ladies were no less precious when the PM they tore down in another midnight coup likewise plotted his revenge from the backbench.
And now the hardcore conservatives are outraged that the moderate PM they tore down in turn refused to help save their dying cause. This is politics that now transcends ideology. This is the politics of idiocy.
Every single one of the last four Australian prime ministers has blood on their hands and the current one, who gallantly threw his body on the grenade that was about to blow up his party, now has too many grenades and not enough bodies..
As a result the Coalition will get the punishment it deserves at the next general election, just as Labor got its in 2013. But the man who perhaps played more role than any other in bringing this cancer to Canberra will not be punished. Instead, he will be made the next Prime Minister of Australia.
Bob Hawke once wryly observed that he was the only man to be made prime minister by Graham Richardson and unmade prime minister by Graham Richardson, but Richo's political wiles delivered a record 13 years of Labor government. The current crop of Richo wannabes would struggle to deliver a pizza.
And chief among them is Bill Shorten, a veteran factional player of the Victorian Right who knifed Kevin Rudd for Julia Gillard and then knifed Julia Gillard for Kevin Rudd.
Yet even after his bloody work was done Shorten was reluctant to take the Labor leadership, reasonably presuming that after all the damage he'd caused the ALP would be in the backwoods for the best part of a generation. Better to let some other patsy do the hard yards in opposition and then knife him too when the time came.
Little did he know that the Liberal Party carried the same unstoppable chromosome for self-destruction that the Labor Party did. Indeed, it has become depressingly apparent that the Libs are even better at it.
Suddenly Shorten's poisoned chalice turned into a tall drink of water. He is now all but unbackable to become the most powerful man in the country.
And so the treachery and duplicity and idiocy that has seen our most hallowed democratic institutions chew through prime ministers like mincer through cattle will be neither purged nor punished but rewarded with the highest office in the land.
But the worst past isn't that it is morally repugnant - little in modern politics is not. The worst part is that for the few remaining Australian species who still pray for a decent Labor government this century, or at least one that will last for a single term without ritual self impalement, this is politically insane.
Shorten's inevitable victory will make Steven Bradbury look like Carl Lewis. Voters will flock to the ALP not because they love it, or even like it, but because the Coalition is now so apocalyptically unstable and delusional that they openly admit to pinning their only hope for survival on the bloke they just garroted with dental floss.
And yet despite every fantastical f**k-up and mind-blowingly moronic misstep - including accidentally voting for a neo-Nazi slogan the week before a by-election in the nation's most Jewish electorate - Scott Morrison is still at least 10 points ahead of Bill Shorten as preferred prime minister.
And all of this is as Labor continues to slaughter the Coalition in the two-party preferred vote, as it has done effortlessly since the Keystone Cops coup.
In other words, Labor is all but assured of victory. Its only weakness is the man who leads it.
Blind Freddy could read these numbers and know what needs to be done, but sadly blind Freddy's hands would be tied. Because thanks to a little parting gift from the second Rudd prime ministership it is now all but impossible to roll a Labor leader.
Ironically, Rudd's revenge means that his arch-nemesis Shorten is all but assured of a safe ride to the Lodge because to unseat a leader in opposition now requires 60 per cent of the caucus vote, instead of the traditional democratic tradition of 50 per cent plus one. And were Shorten to win and the party experience some buyer's remorse it would require 75 per cent of the caucus vote to depose him as prime minister.
And so Rudd's little suicide pill has turned out to be a prescription for palliative care.
Were there to be a contest it would be decided by a painfully lengthy process in which the entire Labor membership accounted for half of the vote and the caucus for the other half. And indeed it was by this process that Shorten became leader because his majority among MPs was slightly higher than Anthony Albanese's popularity among the rank and file.
And this, of course, brings us to Albo.
In all the traitorous double-dealings that have beset Australian politics over the past decade no one has resisted more temptation since Jesus spent 40 days in the desert.
Despite being a leading figure in the Labor Left, Albo faithfully stood by the technically right-wing Rudd even when all hope was lost. And when Gillard won that infamous ballot he nobly offered his resignation.
When that offer was politely declined and he was reinstated as a senior minister in the Gillard cabinet, Albo served her as loyally as he had her predecessor and would not move against her despite various entreaties. Even though he was always sympathetic to Rudd he steadfastly refused to play a part in prime ministerial assassinations.
And even today, after he was defeated by Bill Shorten despite overwhelmingly winning the rank and file vote, he has been unshakingly loyal to a leader he knows he could outperform at any election.
One wonders how many other people in parliament can say that today.
Of course everyone in the party knows that Albo has always been a factional player who has done his fair share of backroom deals but there is not a single person in politics who hasn't. The fact is that when it really mattered, when the big moral and political decisions had to be made, Albo is one of the very few political leaders who chose decency and stability over his own self-interest.
And of course this is constantly reflected in public polls and private conversations that prove him more well-loved and more respected than the man who is about to become the next prime minister and who will inevitably be deposed at the ballot box as soon as anyone better comes along.
The current machine-gun approach to politics in this country hasn't just bloodied the parties who practise it, it is a stain on the national soul. It is up to all of us to declare that we want more than just the least-worse option. We want someone to lead us who we can actually be proud of. That shouldn't be too much for a nation to ask.
If the Labor Party really wants to absolve itself of the sins of the past it cannot do so by slavishly following the man who committed them. More importantly, if it wants to stay in government for more than a heartbeat it would be not just immoral but insane.
Either Labor purges its dark past and restores its former place in the community or it continues to shake hands in the sewer of transactional politics and await its next battery from the left, right and centre as disaffected voters rain bullets on major parties that are somehow as stupid as they are cynical.
The decision is clearly difficult but it is also simply clear.
The only question is whether the party will have the courage to make it.
- Joe Hildebrand co-hosts Studio 10, 8.30am weekdays, on Network Ten and is editor-at-large for news.com.au. Continue the conversation on Twitter @Joe_Hildebrand