Poor old Chris Bowen, better known lately as the embattled Federal Immigration Minster.

Rising star… but it's hard to hit targets in the immigration portolio

What did Bowen do to deserve what some might call the political kiss of death portfolio? Sadly, immigration is one of those portfolios where you can easily divide a nation and end up being typecast in a way that sticks with you forever. Inevitably some people will love you and others will hate you. If you let too many people into the country you may be considered soft on border security. If you let in too few, then you’re considered mean-spirited.

Of course, on occasion you get a flamboyant immigration minister like Al Grassby. Whatever words could be used to describe Chris Bowen, flamboyant is certainly not one of them.

Rather, Chris Bowen is one of those Labor politicians who grew up under the influence of the NSW Labor Right and worked his way through its ranks to emerge as a rising Labor star.

Out in the western Sydney suburb of Fairfield, Bowen practised his political craft. In many ways Bowen epitomises the career path of your typical NSW Labor Right political operative. First, a stint in local government with time as the Mayor of Fairfield and then followed by a period of intense political training in the Office of a Senior Labor Minister. In Bowen’s case it was as Chief of Staff to Carl Scully.

It was only a matter of time before Bowen found a safe Labor seat and he was duly elected in what was then called the Federal seat of Prospect. It wasn’t long before Bowen was identified by the Parliamentary Labor Party as a rising star and soon became friends with the up and coming Kevin Rudd.

That friendship remains to this day with Rudd having rewarded Bowen with a Ministerial appointment after the 2007 Federal Labor victory. There was little doubt in the minds of those who knew Bowen that he was very ambitious.

In Opposition, Bowen had served in the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Competition Policy Portfolios. During that time he consulted some of the best competition law minds and developed a number of very sensible competition and consumer policy reforms, some of which were not liked by the big end of town. A good thing some would say.

But opinion was divided as to what would happen in Government. To some, Bowen’s Opposition days and the commitments given during those days offered encouragement that he would translate good competition and consumer policy proposals into law when Labor was elected in 2007.

To others, there was always a suspicion that good policy reforms developed in Opposition could conveniently fall by the wayside in Government on the way to being Treasurer which was the obvious next step for a successful Assistant Treasurer.

Having been swept to Government in 2007 Bowen was no doubt pleased to be given the Assistant Treasurer and Competition Policy and Consumer Affairs Portfolios. After all, he had some great competition and consumer proposals up his sleeve which he had developed with considerable help from those leading competition and consumer law minds.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to the Government benches. We started to hear that Bowen had become the promoter of a new Federal scheme to be called Fuelwatch. He had also became the promoter of a new `petrol cop on the beat’ to be called the Petrol Commissioner.

We now know that Bowen couldn’t get Fuelwatch through the Senate and the Petrol Commissioner now doesn’t want to be called the Petrol Commissioner anymore.

Politics can be very strange like that and can be a very lonely place, especially if you fail to get the numbers. While success has many parents, failure is a lonely child. It gets worse when the policy you are trying to get through is universally criticised.

Bowen couldn’t get the numbers to get the Fuelwatch scheme through the Senate because the scheme was universally attacked. Even the Petrol Commissioner idea had few, if any friends. Then what are we to think when the person that Bowen appointed as Petrol Commissioner doesn’t want to be called that anymore?

As many Minsters and MPs would know, a losing streak is hard to break. Indeed, we all know that Bowen has been struggling to get the numbers in the Senate for the so-called Malaysia solution. Just remember how failure can be very lonely in politics.

Getting the numbers is the key. Any well trained NSW Labor Right political operative knows that. So what does an operative of the NSW Labor Right do when the numbers are not there? Having a review by an expert panel sometimes comes to mind.

If Fuelwatch was a disaster for Bowen, then the GroceryChoice website debacle is something that many of us, including probably Bowen, would rather forget. Strangely enough these two policy reforms were backed by the ACCC during Graeme Samuel’s time.

You have to wonder if things would have turned out differently for Bowen if there had been a different leadership team at the ACCC at the time. There’s no doubt that leading competition experts would have been advising Bowen against both the failed Fuelwatch and GroceryChoice proposals. If only Bowen had listened to those particular experts.

Of course, Bowen would have had his own team of political staffers and one would have expected that they would have been astute enough to spot the dangers of some of Bowen’s policy decisions, especially if they had been working cooperatively with those competition experts who would have been pointing out the dangers.

Or perhaps the staffers and Bowen had stopped listening or forgotten those experts that had helped them so much in Opposition. You have to wonder what happened to those staffers once the policies out of Bowen’s Office started to fail.

Before Bowen moved on from the competition policy and consumer affairs portfolio, there was one last throw of the dice and that was Bowen’s attempt to safeguard small businesses from unfair contract terms. That was one of those very sensible policy reforms he had been advised about in Opposition. That simple reform would no doubt have been a real vote winner amongst small businesses.

But that reform was not to be. A cabinet reshuffle following Joel Fitzgibbon’s departure from the Defence portfolio gave us that forgettable singer Craig Emerson as the new Minister who then promptly denied small businesses what Bowen was about to give them. And there you have it. Another blown opportunity.

Then Bowen was off to immigration. Here we can all see that Bowen has been facing the kind of heat that the Space Shuttle was subjected to on re-entry. Time will tell if Bowen will survive the re-entry and keep his political career in one piece.

Maybe it’s time for a cabinet reshuffle? In the meantime, Bowen looks like he will be re-contesting his old seat now renamed McMahon after Liberal PM Sir Billy McMahon. You have to wonder what a member of the NSW Labor Right thinks about the new name for the electorate.

Or perhaps we should be asking what the Liberal party thinks about a Labor man representing a Federal seat named after a Liberal PM. Strangely enough there are already media reports that the Liberals are targeting the Federal seat of McMahon and Bowen himself. What a surprise.

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28 comments

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    • Mahhrat says:

      07:35am | 15/08/12

      Cool.  Unapologetically critical of the Labor party.  So it does happen.

      I think it’s a given that being in opposition is easier than being responsible for stuff.  The transition apparently hasn’t been kind, but then he did go up against some big powers in fuel and groceries industries.

      One little politician versus every big business CEO in Australia worth a damn (outside of mining, anyway)...no wonder he’s struggling.  A man has to know his limitations.

    • Mrs Herries says:

      07:41am | 15/08/12

      With all the failed ALP policies crippling this nation (IR, health ‘reform’, budget overspends, immigration, border protection, carbon tax, defence, etc etc etc), I am yet to see one single ALP minister swallow some price, take some responsibility and step aside for someone more capable.  Imagine the respect they’d gain with Albanese, Combet, Swan, Wong, Roxon or Bowen saying “look, I am the Minister, I accept responsibility for this failure, and I am resigning from this post”.  Not so arrogant, quite human, and totally in control.

      One is left with the opinion that it hasn’t happened because the arrogance and self-denial runs thick and murky through the party, and the talent is worryingly thin amongst their backbench ranks.

    • Expat Ozzie says:

      09:06am | 15/08/12

      Mrs Herries: “With all the failed ALP policies crippling this nation”

      In what way is the nation crippled. You live in one the best bloody places you could possibly live. My god you people can whine. You have access to some of the very best systems around and you still whine like little children.

    • Anne Voter says:

      09:17am | 15/08/12

      Economy in steady growth, low inflation, low unemployment, tax breaks, pension rises, benign interest rates, employment at record levels, GDP at record levesl, budget deficit sensible in global crisis, sensible carbon price, sensible defence posture.

      I am yet to see a single Liberal front-bencher dare to tell the truth about our economy, our country, our government , and our PM.

    • Meniscus says:

      10:04am | 15/08/12

      Take out the mining sector and our economy is either in recession or bordering on it. All thanks to labor overspending and policy failure. The sad thing is that the damage is only just getting started.

    • Expat Ozzie says:

      12:30pm | 15/08/12

      Meniscus: I see you’ve swallowed the mining sectors rhetoric. I believe the wheat prices are at near record highs and agriculture is dong quite well at the moment. There are many sectors doing quite well that is why the unemployment rate is so low.

      You could of course add the GFC and the hangover from the heady days of lose credit into your picture of gloom and doom but then you can’t blame the government for what is just the reality of the capitalist system. Simple boom bust market cycles really.

    • Amused Qld says:

      07:54am | 15/08/12

      In my opinion, and I am certainly not a Labor voter, Bowen is one of the more sensible Labor ministers.  People like Bowen, Jason Clare and Mark Butler are certainly more palatable than the fools we have now in prominent positions.  These three appear to be reasonable and capable.  Get rid of the other fools, these guys should be leading the ALP if they are to have any hope of resurrection.

    • colroe says:

      11:46am | 15/08/12

      Unfortunately Bowen, thru Gillard, is responsible for the deaths of an unknown amount of illegal immigrants trying to reach here by boat.  If he, and the government had swallowed their pride and followed a working policythe deaths would not have happened, or substantially reduced.

    • Dash says:

      08:59am | 15/08/12

      Ah Fuelwatch and Grocery Choice! Those two promises of the ALP in 2007. “we’ll make your groceries cheaper”. “we’ll make your fuel cheaper”.

      Just two in a long line of promises that have never been delivered by this government.

      260 child care centres promised and not delivered
      A Coast Guard promised and not delivered
      The East Timor Solution announced when it never existed
      “I’m a fiscal conservative” - ah no actually you are the biggest spending PM in our history
      “I fully support PM Rudd - Paul Howes/Gillard Socialist aliance
      “I fully support Craig Tompson” whilst he’s using union credit for hookers
      “There will be no Carbon Tax under a government I lead”
      The written committment to the Health Insurance Industry that the ALP would not touch the private health tax rebate - LIE
      “We’ll have a citizens Assembly” - LIE
      “We’ll deliver root and branch tax reform” - Fail
      Green loans - fail
      Cash for Clunkers - Fail
      No child shall live without a laptop - now its one for two?? Schools in LNP seats are still waiting!
      We’ll deliver an education revolution - lol still waiting
      School Halls program - ends in rorts
      Pink Batts - fiasco, fires, deaths
      Funding for the Parrammatter to Epping Rail Link - not provided
      “We’ll deliver pokies reform” - backdown
      $900 handouts to dead people and people living OS, highest taxpayers receive nothing!
      Credit card fraud - stand by your man, NSW ALP paying for legal fees
      The Peter Slipper fiasco
      More affordable housing - still waiting
      Cheaper better childcare - still waiting
      Public ownership of hospitals by July 2009 - still waiting
      National disability Scheme - Announced but not funded
      The Malaysian Swap deal - unlawful
      Backflip to reintroduce part of the Immigration policy Gillard campaigned to have scrapped.
      Peter Garrett!
      Union stacking of Fairwork Australia
      Hand sitting over the Qantas dispute
      Taxpayers money used to set up a climate propaganda unit.
      Wealth redistribution under the “compensation” scheme
      “This is about making the big polluters pay”- FRAUD!
      3million families deliberately made worse off because of their income not because of their carbon footprint. The Socialist tax manifesto in action. Zero environmental impact. Class A Fraud!

      And the list goes on and on. Who in their right mind still supports this pack of deceitful morons??

    • sir ronald bradnam says:

      10:04am | 15/08/12

      Thats a great start dash top effort.

    • Jay says:

      10:14am | 15/08/12

      Ditto from me!!!

      and a short ps:  Interesting Larry Pickering blog.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      10:29am | 15/08/12

      I’d just like to say that since the Carbon Tax my grocery bill has actually declined by about $50, without changing what I’m buying.

    • Jacob says:

      10:43am | 15/08/12

      Yes Jay, amazing how this has gone unnoticed by the left wing media.
      Pickering is coming out with some incredible allegations which no one in the mainstream media want to touch. Why? I wonder if the threat Bob Brown made about media regulations was a hint of what would occur if any media outlet took it on? Why hasn’t the Punch taken it on?

      Larry Pickering’s piece on Julia Gillard’s involvement in $1m extorted from developers has also been removed under threat of permanent banning by Facebook. The PM’s office has been very busy.

    • P. Walker says:

      12:02pm | 15/08/12

      Dash make sure this is all posted at election booths because some people have short memories.

      ...and PsychoHyena, utter bullcrap..selective imagination, list the products with a now, then and which stores you swapped. 
      Keep sucking the LaboRats!!

    • jaki says:

      12:02pm | 15/08/12

      @ PsychoHyena

      So you paid for some items and shoplifted others. Good for you wink

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      01:34pm | 15/08/12

      This should be printed & delivered to every house, unit, flat, apartment, hovel or hut in the nation.
      Bloody Brilliant!!!
      Unfortunately for Gillard, Swan, Rudd, Wong, Albanese, Garrett & the rest of the swill, undeniable, irrefuteable Fact.

    • jaki says:

      01:59pm | 15/08/12

      And don’t forget their Australia Day stunt.

    • dibatag says:

      09:12am | 15/08/12

      Capable people are thin on the ground in the Labor party, why do you think they had to bring in Carr to fill the position foreign minister?  they had noboby whith the intelligence to fill the post this is not supprising when you have over half of the members made up of ex union illiterates

    • Expat Ozzie says:

      09:51am | 15/08/12

      dibatag: “they had noboby whith the intelligence to fill the post this is not supprising when you have over half of the members made up of ex union illiterates”

      Now there’s a Chardonnay sipping elitist comment if I’ve ever seen one. I’d actually say they have been quite capable. I don’t agree with their policy’s for the most part but they have passed a significant amount of legislation even in the tight political environment they find themselves.

    • Mike says:

      09:39am | 15/08/12

      Grocerychoice and Fuelwatch were ideas Kevin Rudd had early one morning. Chris was the poor sucker who had to try and implement them. Should’ve been more careful in his choice of friends.

    • MP says:

      07:51pm | 15/08/12

      How do you know these were ideas Kevin had early one morning, Mike?  Were you with him?  Ahh the magic of anonymous commenting, you can make any sort of outlandish claim without having to substantiate anything.

    • Leigh says:

      10:34am | 15/08/12

      Individual politicians are not worth writing (or reading) about. How could the author be bothered with so many words about a dullard and incompetent like Bowen?

    • franklin says:

      12:14pm | 15/08/12

      Phillip Ruddock handled the immigration portfolio with great competence in very difficult circumstances, despite the barrage of criticism from refugee advocates. Australian immgration policy would not be in the mess it is now if Chris Evans and Chris Bowen (and the Left leaning caucus members of Labor ) showed half as much of Phillip Ruddock’s competence and good sense.

    • True Blue ozzie says:

      12:18am | 16/08/12

      He had the nuts to do a great job with class, unlike the tinkerballs of today!

    • Pat Bishop says:

      12:43pm | 15/08/12

      Watching the PM display the s..ts the other day when she spoke about the Asylm Seekers and also seeing today where Bob Carr - who is too old -
      decide to send $5m to Burma - I was wondering whether they have a money
      tree in the back yard - this was an excuse when you could not spend enough
      money when you had money problems - I can see this looming in the future.

    • Robert S McCormick says:

      01:56pm | 15/08/12

      PsychoHyena,
      Just where do you do your shopping?
      Or are you really that SA Senator who “shops” at one of Coles’ supermarkets & nicks $60+ worth of goodies?
      My local Coles’ (closely - so bloody closely you would think they just e-mail thrie price rises to each other - by Woolworths) have since July 1st 2012 Increased many of their prices by a Minimum of 15%!!
      Oh! They are very clever for they leave all those “down, down, prices are Down” goodies alone, many of those they know are included in the Basket of Groceries the Australian Bureau of Statistics use the work out the CPI. It’s the other stuff they are winding the prices up on and we can expect many more increases.
      If, as Gillard has admitted, her CO2 Tax is responsible for a 10% hike in Electrcity Charges (Yes, the States allowed even bigger ones) we won’t feel the effect of that on our Quarterly Electricity Bill until the September Bill arrives.
      Don’t imagine for one second that the Supermarkets & every other business in the country will not pass that 10% increase in the cost of their electrcity (of which they use an awful lot) on to us. They can’t afford not to.
      That the likes of Coles & Woolworths started their 15% Price Hikes on July 1st was to be expected. They are not allowed to blame the CO2 Tax for those increases but they know bloody well that the public will.
      There are only a few ways to achieve that $50 per week drop in the cost of your groceries:
      You have become a very adept & successful Shoplifter
      Or,
      You are sleeping with the store manager - male or female you don’t have to be fussy for either will do
      Or,
      You have found someone else to buy them for you!

    • jaki says:

      02:30pm | 15/08/12

      Or,
      he’s lying.

 

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