The PM needs to signal who will take charge of Defence
Like Samson and his hair, I’ve a long held theory that John Faulkner’s powers actually reside in his huge red rimmed glasses.
This may have been an optical illusion, but in moments when Faulkner’s significant consolatory powers were most in demand, such as sitting between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard in the Prime Minister’s office two weeks ago, the glasses appeared to double in size.
Today, as the wise old owl of the Labor Party announced he would be moving back to the backbench, the size of his specs looked almost regular - or at least within the range of sizes recommended by OPSM before they give you long-term neck problems.
There have been rumours around Canberra for while that Faulkner was pretty over the role of Defence Minister, foisted upon him as one of the few reliable and experienced people Kevin Rudd could turn to after the disastrous experience of Joel Fitzgibbon.
According to Faulkner today’s decision was always in the plan, as he only wanted to return to the front bench for one term of the new Government.
By his own admission his decision to announce that he will leave the portfolio after the next election is rather “old fashioned”, not wanting to maintain an illusion of post-election responsibility for defence which he won’t actually possess.
The decision is in keeping with Faulkner’s well-earned reputation as a man of genuine integrity within the ALP. He also made clear he won’t be revealing any details of the meeting between himself, Rudd and Gillard on the night Rudd was knifed: “I have not broken a confidence . . . and I don’t intend to start now.”
But throwing out the symmetry of Faulkner’s decision is the fact that he will stay in the job of Defence Minister until the election and we have no idea who will replace him.
Gillard has taken a similar decision with the retirement of Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, but the decision to leave us without a clear idea of who is handling defence is less excusable because of the precarious state of the war in Afghanistan.
In the last month five Australians have been killed in Afghanistan, and only two weeks ago Faulkner made some rather confusing statements about a timetable for withdrawal.
With more Australian casualties in Afghanistan before the next election being a very real possibility, is it good enough to have what is now a lame duck Defence Minister answering questions on the purpose of our mission? And how much faith should we have in our role in the war if the man answering questions about it is on the way out?
Faulkner would not publicly entertain the possibility of who his likely successor should be, but an obvious candidate is current junior Defence Minister Greg Combet.
Gillard may be hesitant about promoting Combet the former union boss so soon after her own ascendancy to the leadership, to counter perceptions of giving “union heavies” a leg up. But given that the war in Afghanistan doesn’t seem to be letting up for the Australian election, why should our administration of it go into the deep freeze until after the poll?
In Combet you have a willing and able candidate ready to step into the role of Defence Minister from now until after the election, albeit with rather large glasses to fill.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…