Labor war hurting bid for power

Labor war hurting bid for power
# 24 August 2010 22:39 (UTC +04:00)
Baku-APA. Julia Gillard has failed to keep the lid on recriminations within Labor over its poor election campaign, APA reports quoting web-page.

A former national president describing the internal atmosphere as poisonous, amid growing calls for the sacking of national secretary Karl Bitar.

As the caretaker prime minister faced opposition claims that her party was in the grip of a "ferocious civil war", her promise to deliver a stable minority government was compromised when former ALP president Warren Mundine attacked the party as divided, and several beaten Labor candidates vented their frustration about party bosses, who imposed a flawed campaign on candidates.

The attacks came as Tony Abbott sharpened his pitch to the three independents who will anoint the next government by saying only the Coalition could provide stability, while Labor infighting was a recipe for chaos.

And as counting continued in the closest post-war election, the Coalition appeared to improve its position in several seats, reversing the trend of Monday’s counting.

While the situation remained fluid, the Coalition appeared likely to finish with 73 of the 150 House of Representatives seats, with Labor, which is struggling to repel an independent challenge in Denison in Tasmania, possibly stuck on 72 seats. There are likely to be four independents and a Greens MP, who will determine which of the major parties is able to govern.

Labor is sticking by its claim that the independents should join it in a coalition government because the party has recorded a higher two-party-preferred vote.

Mr Mundine said Labor’s failure to explain the political execution of Kevin Rudd and the NSW Right’s smothering of Ms Gillard’s personal appeal had left the ALP "full of poison".

He told The Australian Labor’s campaign was plagued by blunders. "There is no doubt that there is poison in the Labor Party at the moment, I’m not going to back away from that," he said.

"We have really got to learn the lessons and deal with that reality. I’ve known Julia Gillard for a number of years and the woman I know is a lot better than what we saw in this campaign."

His comments follow Monday’s condemnation of the party machine men by current ALP president Anna Bligh. The Queensland Premier attacked those in the party who believed leaders were disposable, insisting the Gillard experiment "failed miserably" and demonstrated how no one had learnt from the experience of NSW state Labor politics.

Others who spoke out yesterday included Arch Bevis, a former Labor frontbencher fighting for his seat of Brisbane, and West Australian former state governemnt minister and candidate for Canning, Alannah MacTiernan. Ms MacTiernan was scathing about the controls placed on the federal campaign by officials in Sydney, and said the party’s campaign culture had to change.

Other senior figures inside the party warned a new order must be established and power taken away from Mr Bitar and NSW right-wing numbers man Mark Arbib or the ALP would "implode".

Mr Bitar will not be easily removed and senior Labor figures who back him say Ms Gillard and her advisers also made campaign blunders. They included the declaration that there would be a "real Julia" and the disastrous plan for a $2.6 billion Epping-Parramatta rail link in Sydney.

However, one critic of Mr Bitar said the position of secretary should be taken out of the hands of the NSW Right and be given to another talented right-winger not associated with the problems that had dogged Labor in that state.

The ALP will soon begin a review of what went wrong during the campaign, which saw a 2.1 per cent swing against the party.

Victorian MPs said the obsession with NSW -- and the Sydney seat of Lindsay -- in the campaign underestimated other gains that could have been made in Victoria. The Labor candidate for Dunkley, Helen Constas, who appears likely to fall just short of claiming the sea, said her grassroots campaign did well given it was on a "shoestring" budget.

Two potential replacements for Mr Bitar are Victorian assistant state secretary Nathan Lambert and Wayne Swan’s political adviser, Jim Chalmers.

Mr Mundine attacked the failure to explain Mr Rudd’s shock removal, and flawed policy announcements such as the Epping-Parramatta railway. "The NSW government is so badly on the nose and that has been transferred to the federal level. We do have problems," he said.

Ms MacTiernan said Labor candidates in Western Australia felt the mining tax should have been better explained to voters but it was decided in Sydney "we’ve neutralised it and it was just an old negative so let it go through to the keeper". She said when her team in Western Australia decided that many people under 35 were politically disengaged and decided to use the broadband rollout to engage their interest and support, the strategy was recast by Sydney to become an attack on Mr Abbott for not supporting broadband. "We got locked into a very negative approach," she said.

Mr Bevis, who is fighting for his political survival in the seat of Brisbane, said the party needed to have a serious look at itself in the wake of the result in Queensland, where it lost nine seats. "An honest assessment of what’s happened in Queensland needs to look at what we’ve done and not done, and the way the political debate has been had in this state," he said. "We need, with some reflection, to have a very thorough, brutally honest assessment of how we managed. I’m seriously interested in a proper analysis of what went wrong so we can build for the future."

Former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson urged everyone inside the party to pull their heads in. "The focus has to be on who will govern Australia."
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