News National As a Labor rout looms, opportunity awaits Tony Abbott

As a Labor rout looms, opportunity awaits Tony Abbott

Bill Shorten
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The rout of Labor is almost complete.

When federal parliament next sits on March 17, there is likely to be only one Labor leader in government across the nation: ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.

It is a far cry from November 2007 when, as Kevin Rudd ended John Howard’s 11-year reign, Australia had wall-to-wall Labor governments.

The ALP appears headed for defeat in the Tasmanian and South Australian elections on March 15, ending more than a decade in power in each state.

Tasmanians have the baseball bats out for the Giddings government, as the Apple Isle’s economy goes sour and voters grow weary of what has been a dysfunctional parliament in recent times.

Labor might have better prospects of holding seats in South Australia, but the state is almost certain to put Liberal leader Steve Marshall in the premier’s seat after disquiet over job insecurity and an “it’s time” factor.

From red to blue

The change in political hue will help Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

At the 2013 election, Abbott pledged to put greater co-operation with the states at the centre of his reform agenda.

His first meeting with the premiers in December secured the signatures of all leaders on memorandums of understanding to streamline environmental assessments and approvals for major projects.

NSW and Queensland went a step further, signing agreements to take over the assessment process.

The December meeting also laid down an agenda for 2014, focused on cutting red tape for manufacturing, higher education, early childhood and small business.

Jay Weatherill
The last domino? SA premier Jay Weatherill. Photo: Getty

It’s been estimated that completing what’s known as the “seamless national economy” agenda could deliver up to $4 billion in cost savings for business and $6 billion in productivity improvements.

The prime minister will have more friends in the room at the May 2 COAG meeting for discussion of two issues that require genuine co-operation: schools funding and the national disability insurance scheme.

Abbott’s ambition to become known as the “infrastructure prime minister” will heavily depend on his Liberal state colleagues delivering promised road, rail and port projects.

Working together to boost the economy and create jobs will also be a key theme in April when the PM travels with some of the premiers and a platoon of business leaders to South Korea, Japan and China.

On another level, holding power across the country will give the Liberals a rare opportunity to bolster the party’s electoral war chest through corporate fundraisers.

Challenges for federal Labor

As for the ALP, federal leader Bill Shorten has a massive task ahead of him to put the party back on a winning footing.

Voters gave the party the thumbs down in September 2013 over its bloody leadership battle and broken promises.

Factionalism remains alive and well and there are internal calls for a rethink of the party’s formal ties with the union movement in a bid to broaden its support base.

ALP national president Jenny McAllister briefed federal caucus this week on plans to inject fresh ideas into the party platform.

A national policy forum comprising 60 ALP members is consulting widely on topics ranging from education to industry policy, before releasing a draft platform and presenting the final version to the 2015 national conference.

Despite the party’s lack of electoral success, there is a sense of rebuilding since the first-ever grassroots election of the federal parliamentary leader.

The ALP received a flood of support due to the ballot, and membership numbers now exceed 50,000.

Amid the noise of daily politics, Shorten has begun building his own agenda based around science and innovation driving jobs of the future.

The debate over Qantas remaining in majority Australian hands might also play well for Labor. Polls show its position is more popular than the coalition’s proposal to “remove the shackles” from the national carrier.

The prospect of the airline shedding 5000 jobs – as car makers and other industries also lay off workers – has many concerned about the government’s commitment to job security.

However, Labor has a long way to go to restore voter confidence.