These are deadly days for Australians trying to eke out a living on the land but spare a thought for the Leader of the Opposition facing an even more unforgiving future. While farmers have to battle a shortage of water, Mr Albanese has to front up to a crueller fate; a drought of ideas.
Last week, he marshaled his troops to seek refuge in what he was sure was the evergreen oasis of a climate emergency, which normally provides a progressive politician with months or even years of respite from the wilderness of opposition. His shadow climate spokesman, Mark Butler, sallied forth into the parliamentary chamber demanding that the government declare a ‘climate emergency.’
Greens MP Adam Bandt rallied to the call, warning that ‘Nothing is more urgent than acting when people’s lives and livelihoods are under threat,’ and modestly declining to mention that it is the policies of the Greens and Labor that pose the greatest threat to workers in Australia. ‘We are experiencing record drought. Some of our communities have been told to expect they may run out of water in coming months,’ he continued, again refusing to take any credit for this turn of events when his party has campaigned tirelessly and extremely effectively to prevent the construction of dams and weirs or even to merely increase the height of dam walls. Mr Bandt also saw no need to glory in the fact that ‘parts of Australia have been on fire barely two weeks into winter,’ when Green opposition to backburning has done so much to increase not just the frequency but the severity of bushfires.
Perhaps to the surprise of Mr Albanese, if no one else, the government poured cold water on the purported emergency about which the opposition leader had asked not a single parliamentary question and whose only purpose appeared to be a feeble attempt to attack the government. Even Daniel Andrews, the most left-wing premier in the country, mocked Mr Albanese. ‘No such motion has been moved in this parliament,’ he pontificated, ‘and that may be a point of difference between our government and the opposition in Canberra. Action is always better than simple posturing.’
It was just sad — as President Trump would have tweeted — that only five Labor MPs turned up for the declaration of the great climate catastrophe. It conjured up ‘Little Clotilda, well and hearty (who) thought she’d like to give a party, but as her friends were shy and wary, nobody came but her own canary.’ It was left to LNP MP Keith Pitt to question the import of the declaration when Labor hadn’t even managed to fill the chamber?
Undaunted, Mr Albanese claimed that, ‘The idea that an issue’s importance is determined by how many people are in the chamber, I don’t think stands up to scrutiny.’ This is undoubtedly true in the left wing of the Labor party from which Mr Albanese hails, and which is the undisputed champion of lost causes and unpalatable ideas that nobody else, particularly the voters, supports.
Mr Albanese went on to explain that the rest of his MPs were busy having ‘meetings,’ which in the right wing of the Labor party usually means that they are planning a leadership coup. Sure enough, this week, an anonymous Labor frontbencher was quoting Mr Albanese’s poor showing in the polls, which is hardly even code in Labor for ‘we are sharpening the knives.’
When the government refused to come to the climate calamity party, Mr Albanese was forced to confront the brutal reality that he couldn’t go much further with his parliamentary prestidigitation — stunt is such an unforgiving, Anglo-Saxon word — since one of the most painful aspects of being in opposition is that a party is deprived of the numbers to pass legislation. This prompted Mr Albanese to offer the profound insight to his MPs, ‘News flash, news flash. We’re not the government. They are.’
Keeping his nerve, Mr Albanese set off in search of another emergency and, deciding to purloin one from Labor MP and leadership hopeful Joel Fitzgibbon, Mr Albanese boldly sat down to write a letter to the prime minister formally requesting their two parties come together to form a ‘drought cabinet.’
Forgetting once again that his party had lost the (unlosable) election and that he was not prime minister, Mr Albanese decided the cabinet should have 15 members and worked out who they should be, opining that ‘Nothing should be more inviting of bipartisanship than the wrath of Mother Nature.’ In a fit of generosity, Mr Albanese even proposed that of the 15 people he’d come up with, eight should be from the government. ‘I am not proposing there be a meeting established whereby the government doesn’t have a majority,’ he explained.
Sadly, the wrath of Mother Nature didn’t inspire the government to outsource its job to the opposition leader. Nationals MP David Littleproud, the Minister for Water Resources, rubbed salt into the wound by saying that we don’t need to revert to an English-style 1940s mode because if the opposition has any constructive ideas, they can just pick up a phone. That, of course, is the problem. Mr Albanese has no idea what to do. He has not even announced Labor’s policies on the climate or drought, much less come up with any to offer the government.
So far, Mr Albanese’s major achievement since becoming Labor leader has been to make Shorten look good. Sure, Bill lost two elections but at least by leading in the polls he gave them the illusion for six years that they were going to win.
Mr Rudd’s parting gift to the Labor party was to change the rules governing regicide. A petition challenging the leader requires 60 per cent Caucus support and a ballot for a leader requires a vote of both the party membership and the federal parliamentary Labor party. This perhaps explains why Labor is already hoping that the government goes to an early election — it may be the easiest way to get rid of Mr Albanese and, they hope, to cut short their misery.
Labor’s unquenchable thirst is for a Messiah to appear, preferably riding on a donkey, that they can follow into Jerusalem, waving palm fronds, to take their rightful place on the government benches. It rarely seems to occur to them that what a leader needs to deliver are eternal principles, preferably graven in stone, and that it is adherence to principle, not to the leader, that will end the ideas drought, make them worthy of office and ultimately lead them out of the wilderness.
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