For Labor, November 8 cannot come quickly enough. For that is the date when party luminaries Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson are scheduled to hand in their report into why the May 18 election was lost.
Given the propensity for these things to leak, it is likely the report will be released quickly after it is handed to Anthony Albanese. (Minus the bits containing sensitive tactical information about the campaign that Labor will not want the Liberals to know.)
Otherwise, the report is likely to make three key findings as to why Labor lost: unpopular leader; terrible campaign; and a large, expensive and unwieldy policy agenda that left it too vulnerable to fear campaigns and scared off aspirational voters.
Once it is handed over, however, Labor will have a template upon which to begin rebuilding. Because right now, the party barely has a unified philosophy, let alone a policy agenda.
This is the complete antithesis of where it was for the past six years, when Labor was not only unified but pretty much led the policy debate in this country.
Being directionless at the moment is not all bad. After such a protracted period of discipline, it does the party and its MPs good to have a roam in the top paddock and vent views as to what went wrong and how to fix it.
At the same time, however, that risks the party drifting off into a debilitating civil war fought over policy and personality differences. It also allows the government to consolidate. One reason Scott Morrison is keeping things low-key is because he knows Labor will fill the news vacuum with its own squabbling as it seeks to recalibrate.
That was perfectly on display this week whenJoel Fitzgibbon provoked a fightby declaring Labor should stop sacrificing itself on the altar of climate change policy and adopt the Coalition’s 2030 emissions reduction target.
This invited a fresh bout of navel gazing and swift rebukes from colleagues, including Mark Butler and Albanese, all while the government’s own failure to deliver a settled energy and climate policy was being laid bare atThe Australian Financial Review National Energy Summit. Not to mention the ongoing public war between Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull.
With Albanese in Hawaii,acting leader Richard Marlesbecame the latest in a rapidly growing line of colleagues to call for a change in economic philosophy – to move away from tax and spend and towards economic growth.
He joins Albanese, Chalmers, Bill Shorten and numerous backbenchers in calling for the economic recalibration.
Wayne Swan penned a new essay saying Labor tried to do too much at the election, leaving itself exposed to attack. He suggested less will be more next time.
The Weatherill/Emerson review has canvassed widely and will, importantly, provide an evidenced-based set of findings upon which the party can base its rebuild rather than reasons that are anecdotal or perceived.
It will not settle the show down straight away, but will signal the end of the beginning.
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