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True Disbelievers

It still hurts. Seventeen days later, and the re-election of John Winston Howard for a fourth term of government is still unbelievable. Despite his government's appalling track record on humanitarian issues, on foreign policy, on trade relations and industrial development, despite its under-publicised shortcomings in economic management, the Liberals and Nationals are back with an increased majority. Worse still, they will hold at least half of the senate seats from 1 July 2005, and might just (for we still do not know for sure) gain an absolute majority.

More disappointing is the way the Labor Party has coped with the defeat. Badly. It was probably naive to expect that Mark Latham could turn around the ALP's fortunes in just nine months, however bad the Howard government's performance. His inexperience, and his team's inability to argue against the government's economic "credentials", were two of the main reasons why voters supported the Liberals. Crikey's insider observations of the Latham campaign machine are interesting reading as well. But there appears to have been a lot of finger-pointing and blood-letting within the party since the defeat.

The greatest contradiction with the Labor Party, however, is the fact that they hold government in all six states and both mainland territories at the same time as they are stuck in opposition at the federal level. And on the Saturday after the federal election, they gained an absolute majority of seats in the ACT Legislative Assembly, the first time that any party has done so.

At least, with the Senate no longer a contrary force after July next year, the states and territories will be there to stand in the way of Howard's neo-con Liberalism. Which brings us to Bob Carr... but not in this entry.

The Labor Party's strength federally has never been so much in the strength of the leader (EG Whitlam excepted), but in the depth of talent on the front benches. The early Hawke ministries were rippling with talent (Paul Keating, Mick Young, Gareth Evans, John Dawkins, John Button, Susan Ryan, Tom Uren, Barry Jones, John Brown, Neal Blewett, among others).

The current ALP opposition has plenty of talent - but after the October 9 election, a lot of it has passed to the backbench. The reason? Not disloyalty to Latham, but factionalism.

Going to the backbench after the election were Kim Beazley, John Faulkner, Bob McMullan, Lindsay Tanner, Craig Emerson, Annette Ellis and Daryl Melham, while David Cox and Jacinta Collins were rolled at the polls. Faulkner and Tanner are exceptional losses, McMullan and Emerson will also be missed. Beazley's belated promotion to shadow minister for defence was a cynical and short-lived exercise, and one feels now that the sooner he retires from parliament, the better.

Another who should be retiring as soon as possible is Simon Crean, whose non-performance as shadow treasurer was one factor in the loss at the election. Latham, however, appears to have a few favours to return for his former leader. After Crean was disendorsed by his faction for a shadow cabinet spot, ML created an extra position for him. Enter Simon Crean, shadow minister for trade. Can he successfully pin down Mark Vaile? It's your last chance, Simey.

Latham announced his shadow cabinet about an hour ago. All things considered, he hasn't done a bad job of it. Julia Gillard, who will be Australia's first female prime minister one day (are you quoting me on that?), stays in the critical health portfolio. With Tanner on the sidelines, I would have had Stephen Smith as shadow treasurer, but Wayne Swan in that spot and Smith in "industry, infrastructure and industrial relations" sounds like a good combo. Swan and Smith are called "the glimmer twins", but I'm not sure which one is the Mick Jagger and which one the Keith Richards. Anyway, it's not that long since Latham called them "roosters"...

Jenny Macklin remains deputy leader - a benign choice for sure - and adds science and research to her employment and training portfolio. Kevin Rudd remains shadow foreign minister, where he is an extremely literate performer who absolutely pisses all over Global Village Idiot Alexander Downer (and I'll also come to the John Martinkus episode in another item).

Robert (son of Doug) McLelland takes on defence as well as homeland security. Howard believes that a Minister for Homeland Security is not required. Hmm. Tanya Plibersek makes her shadow cabinet debut in "work, family and the community", another worthy promotion for a talented backbencher.

My local member, Anthony Albanese, takes on the environment portfolio. It's a key role and one I think Anthony will embrace most effectively, but surely anyone is that spot is just a seat-warmer for Peter Garrett? More significantly, he is now deputy manager of opposition business in the house (under Gillard), a fitting reward for the man ejected from parliament twice during the Iraq war debates of March 2003, one for calling JWH a "dope".

Stephen Conroy takes on communication and IT and I won't argue with that. Helen Coonan looks a better performer in that portfolio than Richard Alston, but then so would your average sloth in the subtropics.

Let's not forget either that former ACTU president Jennie George continues on the backbench for her third term in parliament. We'll be watching you, Jen!

Parliament resumes sitting on November 16.
The full shadow ministry is:

Latham, Mark - Member and Candidate for Werriwa: Federal Labor Leader
Macklin, Jenny - Member and Candidate for Jagajaga: Deputy Federal Labor Leader , Shadow Minister for Education, Training, Science & Research
Albanese, Anthony - Member and Candidate for Grayndler: Shadow Minister for Environment & Heritage , Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House
Bevis, Arch - Member and Candidate for Brisbane: Shadow Minister for Defence Planning and Personnel , Assisting the Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations
Bishop, Mark - Senator for Western Australia: Shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Burke, Tony - Candidate for Watson: Shadow Minister for Small Business
Carr, Kim - Senate Candidate for Victoria: Shadow Minister for Public Administration and Open Government , Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation , Shadow Minister for the Arts
Conroy, Stephen - Senate Candidate for Victoria: Deputy Leader of the Federal Labor Leader in the Senate , Shadow Minister for Communications & Information Technology
Crean, Simon - Member and Candidate for Hotham: Shadow Minister for Trade
Evans, Chris - Senate Candidate for Western Australia: Federal Labor Leader in the Senate , Shadow Minister for Social Security
Ferguson, Laurie - Member and Candidate for Reid: Shadow Minister for Immigration
Ferguson, Martin - Member and Candidate for Batman: Shadow Minister for Primary Industries, Resources & Tourism
Fitzgibbon, Joel - Member and Candidate for Hunter: Shadow Minister Assistant Treasurer and Revenue , Shadow Minister for Banking and Financial Services
Gillard, Julia - Member and Candidate for Lalor: Shadow Minister for Health , Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Representatives
Griffin, Alan - Member and Candidate for Bruce: Shadow Minister for Sport & Recreation
Ludwig, Joe - Senate Candidate for Queensland: Shadow Minister for Justice & Customs , Shadow Minister for Citizenship & Multicultural Affairs , Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate
Lundy, Kate - Senate Candidate for Australian Capital Territory: Shadow Minister for Manufacturing , Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs
McClelland, Robert - Member and Candidate for Barton: Shadow Minister for Defence & Homeland Security
McLucas, Jan - Senate Candidate for Queensland: Shadow Minister for Ageing and Disabilities
O'Brien, Kerry - Senate Candidate for Tasmania: Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Local Government and Territories
O'Connor, Gavan - Member and Candidate for Corio: Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries
Plibersek, Tanya - Member and Candidate for Sydney: Shadow Ministry for Work, Family and Community , Shadow Ministry for Youth and Early Childhood Education , Shadow Ministry Assisting the Leader on the Status of Women.
Roxon, Nicola - Member and Candidate for Gellibrand: Shadow Attorney-General
Rudd, Kevin - Member and Candidate for Griffith: Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security
Sercombe, Bob - Member and Candidate for Maribyrnong: Shadow Minister for Pacific Islands
Sherry, Nick - Senator for Tasmania: Shadow Minister for Finance & Superannuation
Smith, Stephen - Member and Candidate for Perth: Shadow Minister for Industry, Infrastructure & Industrial Relations
Swan, Wayne - Member and Candidate for Lilley: Shadow Treasurer
Thomson, Kelvin - Member and Candidate for Wills: Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Roads , Shadow Minister for Housing and Urban Development.
Wong, Penny - Senator for South Australia: Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Participation , Shadow Minister for Corporate Governance and Responsibility