The Intelligent Investor Growth Fund is listing on the ASX. Initial Offer now open

Rudd's popularity gives Libs pause

L et's get this right.

L et's get this right.

L et's get this right.

Kevin Rudd saw off Malcolm Turnbull. Tony Abbott saw off Rudd and now looks as though he will do the same to Julia Gillard.

The solution?

Bring back Rudd to see off Abbott. Which has already raised the prospect of the Liberals bringing back Turnbull to see off Rudd.

At this rate, we may as well go back to the beginning and make Brendan Nelson prime minister.

Underpinning all this leadership chatter are the structural, cultural and policy challenges and failures with which the major parties are grappling.

At the same time on Friday that Julia Gillard laid out the structural reforms she thought the Labor Party needs to undertake to revive its membership, the Liberal Party federal executive was having a similar discussion, poring over the post-election review conducted by Peter Reith.

Like Labor's Faulkner/Bracks/Carr review that underpinned Gillard's speech, the Reith review similarly warns of a declining membership and proposes measures to empower the members by giving them a greater role in electing office bearers and candidates and policy forums.

Proponents of such change are not optimistic. It is understood the bulk of Friday's discussion concerned recommendations governing finances and fund-raising. Hard may it be to believe, but the Liberals claim the donations are not pouring in as one would think given the hostility towards the government.

That there should be grumbling about Tony Abbott is absurd given the poll position the Coalition is in. But party elders have counselled Abbott that he cannot expect to cruise into government on the back of discontent with Labor and will have to get on the front foot on policy. Since an election could happen any time, there is pressure to hasten the transition from opposition to alternative government.

Reith was at it again last week, warning that if Abbott did not embrace industrial relations reforms, the Liberals could still lose the next election. He'll be at it again tomorrow at the National Press Club.

Spectator Australia has joined the growing conservative condemnation of Abbott for not supporting changes to the Migration Act to ensure offshore processing remains possible.

What alarmed the Liberal worriers was last week's Herald poll, which showed if Labor brought back Rudd, it would move from facing a wipe-out to an election-winning lead.

''The guy burns the house down,'' said a Liberal of Rudd's record as prime minister. ''Labor says 'let's bring back the arsonist' and people are prepared to back them again'.''

This, he concludes, indicates the numbers are still soft. Gillard's problem is not a lack of policy per se. For every member lauding Labor's courage on climate change, there are more condemning it for the Malaysia plan. On the latter, the government has managed to create a unity ticket between Tony Abbott, the Greens and the Labor Left.

On Friday, after Gillard announced the proposed party reforms with a target of 8000 new members next year, David Grant from the Yass sub-branch took the Prime Minister to task.

''I can tell you, Prime Minister, last night we discussed at our branch meeting the issue of the Malaysia solution,'' he said. ''It is a strongly-held perception among those of our members who are falling away that we are about politics not principle.''

Gillard urged Grant ''we shouldn't necessarily talk ourselves down or use critiques that others would use of us''.

To those angry about asylum seeker policy, think about the sacrifices the government was making on climate change, she said.

The exchange underscored that structural reform alone will not lift the party's stocks but it can help by ushering in cultural change which will require faction bosses to start putting the party first.

Gillard has excited the Left by backing ''the party members empowerment reforms'' proposed in the Faulkner review. The most significant is giving the rank-and-file power to elect an increased component of delegates to the national conference, which would dilute union and factional control.

There will be resistance from the Right, which will be keen to maintain its control of the party. The last leader to try and reform the party was Simon Crean and it cost him his job. Gillard, who has little to lose, cautioned she was not prescribing anything: ''I don't want to get my own way on every detail.''

Even small changes to the party structures will be better than none, and putting her stamp on the conference now may ward off any leadership change being plotted for the same time, in early December.

Because by giving permission for everyone to have a full-blown brawl and ''not an American-style convention'', Gillard sent a direct reminder of the hideously confected last conference under Rudd, which stripped the party of its soul.

Phillip Coorey is chief political correspondent.

Join the Conversation...

There are comments posted so far.

If you'd like to join this conversation, please login or sign up here

Related Articles