Maxine McKew interviews Peter Botsman on the Labor leadership, 2005

Broadcast: 20/01/2005, Time for young blood: Botsman, Reporter: Matt Peacock, Interviewer Maxine McKew, 7.30 Report

MAXINE McKEW: Beazley backers have been promoting their man as the one person who can settle the party down after the wild ride of the Latham period. But there are other arguments to consider: the extent to which the party needs significant organisational change and a major policy rethink - you could call it an extreme makeover - in which case, is a younger alternative to Kim Beazley more viable? Long-time party member Dr Peter Botsman thinks so. He's a former director of both the Evatt Foundation and the Whitlam Institute and now runs his own on-line journal, 'Australian Prospect'. I spoke to him from our Canberrastudios a short time ago.

MAXINE McKEW: Peter Botsman, the expectation at the moment is that a natural majority is forming around Kim Beazley, but there's seven days to go. What alternative scenarios could you see developing?

DR PETER BOTSMAN (CHIEF EDITOR, 'AUSTRALIAN PROSPECT'): I think what's happening is that Kim Beazley has run too early. The lazy kind of attitude of insiders that all we need to do is change the captain fails to recognise that, in fact, the Labor Party's a bit like the Titanic: it has hit a rock; it's leaking; the boat is going down; and there are more serious things that need to be done to the party than just changing leaders, and certainly moving towards just an old, familiar and publicly recognised face in the form of Kim Beazley.

MAXINE McKEW: But surely there's a logic, though, to the idea of a one-horse race. I mean, at a time when the party is so traumatised, surely it's not a bad idea to have an uncontested run for someone who is very experienced, as Kim Beazley is?

DR PETER BOTSMAN: No-one doubts Kim's abilities, but this is an insider fallacy, that all we need to do is have a one-horse race and everything's gonna be okay. The truth is that the rank and file are very angry when they hear people on the radio saying that it's just a matter of being, again, loyal to a leader. That's not what people want. People want to be able to participate in the Labor Party and know that their voices count. They want to be able to actually elect a leader themselves, and really, this should be the last time that Labor allows a caucus to simply elect a leader. It really should be a rank-and-file vote for a leader, and the new leader needs to be about advocating those kinds of changes in the party.

MAXINE McKEW: But as Kim Beazley said the other day, it's not a US-style primary system. In the meantime, we're stuck with the caucus system as it is; they elect the leader. Who is the most viable alternative, then, do you think, to Kim Beazley?

DR PETER BOTSMAN: Well, I think there are a number of people who are very capable, but my view is that Kevin Rudd combines a lot of the qualities of Kim Beazley but also the potential of Mark Latham with a very capable hand, and someone who I think is capable of building a leadership around rather than simply hailing back to a past which is no longer appropriate.

MAXINE McKEW: Why do you nominate him? I mean, you're certainly right; Kevin Rudd has obvious talents. But is he the sort of person who can work with other talented people around him?

DR PETER BOTSMAN: I think Kevin Rudd's been through his Mark Latham stage in the Goss Government in Queensland.

MAXINE McKEW: What do you mean by that?

DR PETER BOTSMAN: Well, he's learned some hard lessons about consultation, and he's learned some lessons about the fact that in - when you're a leader, you really need to be a part of a team, and so I think he's got that quality behind him now. He knows how to put those sorts of consensual-style elements together. I think he's got absolutely fantastic foreign affairs capabilities, but I also think he's an innovator and he's interested in policy development, which is what the party needs, and he's an independent, not a factional warrior. So that he, more than anybody else, will look to the kinds of changes that need to happen in the party without fear or favour in terms of the factional warriors and the union leaders that currently dominate most of the thinking in the party.

MAXINE McKEW: Let me put this to you, though. Kevin Rudd may seem the obvious choice to you, but the argument put by the Beazley forces goes something like this: if a Kevin Rudd were to get up, then the leadership war would go on because the other aspirants would continue to agitate against someone like Kevin Rudd.

DR PETER BOTSMAN: The leadership war will go on in this context: where a leadership - where a leader is not necessarily doing his job, and if Kim Beazley, for example, were to get the job and it looked like he was going backwards to the way in which he's worked before, then those leadership aspirants would emerge again, just as surely as they would if Kevin Rudd didn't perform in the job. But Kevin certainly needs a couple of years, I think, and what I think the party does need to do is look to the future and build a leader that will be around for at least, you know, 10 years, and I just don't think that's the case with Kim Beazley.

MAXINE McKEW: Well, as we know, Kevin Rudd has yet to nominate. In the meantime, Kim Beazley is the only candidate who's gone public so far. The other day he said at his press conference that the road to the prime ministership is a long and hard one; he said you have to be around in politics a long time inAustralia. He's right, isn't he? I mean, John Howard has proved that. Again I come back to the logic of the Beazley candidature.

DR PETER BOTSMAN: Well, I think that is Kim's strongest suit, but equally, I think that he came out too quickly, and in fact, he talked too long, and it reminded people of the kind of - the long speeches that he gave when he was Leader of the Opposition, and it reminded people of the fact that Kim is very much a party person and he really knows those machinations well. He's not really interested in administrative reform. A lot of those things emerged, just from one press conference, and my feeling is that since that press conference, the flow is back against Kim, and it is towards - and people are really actively encouraging other aspirants for the job.

MAXINE McKEW: What kind of sentiment are you picking up from rank-and-file members?

DR PETER BOTSMAN: The kind of views that I'm hearing from rank-and-file ALP people are that we must be concentrating on bigger issues than just the leadership; that the Labor Party really has hit a very - you know, a difficult phase, and things need to be done internally, and things need to be done in the policy terms that really make Labor stand out over the next period.

MAXINE McKEW: A final point, Peter: you've worked with Mark Latham in the past. The manner of his departure earlier this week - he looked to be an exceptional lonely political figure, didn't he?

DR PETER BOTSMAN: That illness is very severe; it will kill you, and I don't think anybody should overlook that. Pancreatitis is a very severe illness, and I think he is suffering badly from it. But I also think that Mark is very much a maverick, and I expect that he's going to do very well in another life. But it was very hard for him to become leader at this stage of his professional development. In another kind of scenario, I think he could have done very well in politics. But he got a half - you know, a 50-50 baton from Simon Crean. I think there was a bit of reform done, but not enough, and it left Mark Latham in a very difficult situation, and against a Prime Minister who really, almost like Roger Federer plays tennis, just basically let him win the first set and then just creamed him after that.

MAXINE McKEW: Peter Botsman, for that, thanks very much.


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