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ALP searches for a new leader.

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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.


It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


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Monday 1 December 2003

ALP searches for a new leader


MARK COLVIN: Less than 24 hours before tomorrow's Labor Caucus meeting at which the party will elect a new leader, MPs are frantically counting the numbers, with almost everything else in federal politics set aside. 


Neither the Beazley nor the Latham camps is claiming victory outright, though Mr Beazley's supporters are now claiming that he has 47 votes out of 92. Even that, though, would be a very close call and in any case, Mark Latham's supporters are counter-claiming this evening that their candidate is in front.  


All the signs are that either way, tomorrow's victor could emerge finding that almost half the Party voted against him. In Question Time today, Government MPs were instructed to be on their best behaviour and Labor ranks, too, were unusually subdued. 


Simon Crean cut a sad figure as he faced his last Question Time as Labor leader. 


Alexandra Kirk was in the gallery. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: A strange quiet has descended on both sides of federal politics as Labor searches for a new leader. The Government's parliamentary secretaries, who sit in the row behind their ministers, looked positively studious as they poured over their huge files, their usual cheering and jeering set aside for another day. 


Simon Crean broke the ice with a little humour. 


SIMON CREAN: … Mark Philippoussis coming down off the mat, written off for all money and he won it six:love. I must say the events of last week gave me a bit more time to watch the tennis on this occasion, Mr Speaker. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And only one of the Government's frontbenchers, Employment Minister Mal Brough, couldn't resist the temptation. 


MAL BROUGH: The first paddle steamer in south east Queensland has been refurbished, which is a very important part of forming an interpretive centre in Nerang, and… 


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Minister has the call. 


MAL BROUGH: Something's titillating them over there, Mr Speaker. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Simon Crean plugged along, leading his Party in Question Time for one last time, as his colleagues behind him headed, in a long procession to the water jug by the entrance to the House of Representatives, clearly unable to sit still for long, busy assessing votes.  


The number crunching has reached fever pitch. On the eve of the Labor leadership ballot, both sides are claiming to be in front. 


And in contrast to the last vote, which Kim Beazley lost just five months ago, this time it's a much more emotional and difficult decision for many, because the factional heavyweights are not controlling large blocks of votes and therefore giving them a clear steer on who to vote for. 


Kim Beazley's camp claims to have 47 votes, making more ground overnight. They're not yet claiming victory, though 47 out of 92 is a majority. They know there's a small group of MPs and Senators who are yet to make up their minds. In other words, their support is still up for grabs. 


But those close to Kim Beazley say the support they have locked in is quote "reasonably rock solid". Their sales pitch is that Mark Latham presents a big target for the Government, that he's the risky option because of his myriad public policy musings and unpredictability and that the Government would clearly rather fight Mr Latham than Kim Beazley. 


Those backing Mark Latham say he has a lot of support from people appalled by what's happened to Simon Crean, they're going for generational change and don't believe in harking back to a former leader. 


Sources close to the Latham camp say Mark Latham is in front, that he's passed the Beazley tally, but it's still close, with the final decision depending on a small number of as yet undeclared votes. 


Latham supporter, Warren Snowdon, who's flown back from New York to register his vote tomorrow, is publicly claiming Mark Latham has the numbers, endorsing the Latham pitch that he's the person to take the Party forward with energy. 


WARREN SNOWDON: Mark Latham's in front as I speak, and I think now there's a very strong trend towards him. 


I was on the plane this morning, a number of people spoke to me about… that is flight attendants, came up to me and said 'Mr Snowdon, how are you? We understand you're a Member of Parliament, can we have a chat?'  


And we did. And they said we'd like you to make sure that people understand that we want you to vote for… we'd like you to make sure that people think we want them to vote for Mark Latham, we want new blood. 


Kim Beazley is a mighty person, he's a fantastic individual, there's no question about that in my mind, and someone who I've been able to call a close friend. But I'm not supporting him in this ballot, because I don't think he's the person to take us into the future. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Another Latham supporter, Laurie Ferguson, is warning that a close result will be worse for Kim Beazley's authority than for Mark Latham. 


LAURIE FERGUSON: I think most members will work out that it is going to be close. If A or B wins, how is the media going to paint that close win? I think there's a very clear difference how the media will look at a close win by a new leader, as opposed to a close win by Kim Beazley. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Frontbencher Kevin Rudd's decision to withdraw from the leadership race and back Mr Beazley has removed some uncertainty for the Beazley camp.  


But Laurie Ferguson isn't happy with the prospect that if Kim Beazley wins tomorrow's ballot but loses the next election, he'd resign from Parliament, leaving the field open for Mr Rudd to make a run for Labor's top job. 


LAURIE FERGUSON: Kevin has been rubbishing Beazley over the phone for the last week or two because he was trying to take votes off Beazley, that was his market. Obviously Beazley and his supporters didn't want Rudd in the race and who knows what they promised him. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The blood on the Caucus room floor is still fresh, with potential losers still worried about future recriminations. And neither of the two contenders can go to bed tonight absolutely certain of who will wear the crown tomorrow. 


MARK COLVIN: Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.