Labor, Liberals Seek Fresh Leadership
SYDNEY — AFTER Labor's stunning victory in federal elections on March 13, Prime Minister Paul Keating has cemented his mandate with a Cabinet reorganized in his own image while the demoralized Liberal opposition seeks a new one.
Mr. Keating was swept back into office March 13 after voters got scared by an opposition that campaigned on promises to pass a massive goods-and-services tax (GST) and introduce workplace bargaining.
With a new mandate in place, it seems Keating will continue to rewrite Labor Party traditions. A party caucus has traditionally elected ministers, while the prime minister has selected portfolios. But Keating, flush with victory, insisted on choosing both. He announced his picks March 23, but was expected to delay the portfolios by a day.
Keating got all the people he wanted for 11 new places in the 30-seat Cabinet, despite some factional tussling. Some seats were vacated by more mature members stepping down, while other ministers were maneuvered out. Keating's choices, removing an "old guard" loyal to his predecessor, Bob Hawke, and moving in younger people who support Keating, show a return to a Tammany-Hall style tradition of rewarding friends and punishing enemies, says Marian Simms, senior lecturer in political science at Australia N ational University.
It has been said that this election was all about change; how much, how fast. Even though voters rejected Liberal candidate John Hewson's clean-sweep approach, by voting Keating back in, they are still getting change. In his first term, the prime minister favored reducing tariffs, gradual microeconomic reforms, and a form of collective bargaining. By slightly favoring pro-free-market, right-wing candidates in his Cabinet over the more ideological, protectionist left wing, he will strengthen that course.
THE Liberal Party had its own shakeups following the election. Dr. Hewson's immediate announcement following the election that he would stay on as head of the party was met with a challenge by shadow minister for industrial relations, John Howard. Neither man was considered ideal for the spot: Hewson has been blamed for losing the "unloseable election" because of his staunch promotion of the GST and inability to sell his policies. But Mr. Howard, too, has lost an election. Hewson won the March 23 vote, 4 7 votes to Howard's 30, a tribute, some say, to Hewson's better politicking.
The election loss, the fifth consecutive defeat for the Liberals, has left the party to do some soul-searching about new directions, policies, and image. Analysts say one reason the party has fared so poorly is that they do not have the same crop of talent waiting in the wings as Labor. "They haven't been able to recruit people of the same caliber and commitment as Labor," says ANU's Ms. Simms. "The party needs to solve that before it can solve problems with policy and political leadership."
Several prominent Liberals have written articles recently saying that what the party needs is "heart and soul" - more attention to women, health care, the environment, Aborigines, and the arts. Some analysts say that in the end it was not the controversial GST that drove voters to Labor. It was changes in Medicare payments that would have forced patients to pay for doctor's visits up front before the government reimbursed them.
Signs of a "softer" Liberal Party are that Deputy Peter Reith, a staunch conservative in Parliament, has been replaced by Michael Wooldrich, who says he wants to focus on social policy. While Hewson has not announced his shadow cabinet yet, he has hinted it could include more women.
Acknowledging post-election criticism, Hewson pledged to "listen more to the views of the party." He plans to hold a two-day election postmortem with party members soon. Hewson says that all aspects of policy are now in question, including the GST.
"Hewson has to demonstrate the ability to be inclusive of all party opinion and not just pay lip service," says Ian Kortlang, political consultant. "The party has been narrow and exclusive."