Reports of Labor’s death have been grossly exaggerated, writes Dennis Altman in Inside Story
THE LAST sitting day before the winter recess was a charged time in Parliament House. The day before, the House of Representatives had passed Rob Oakeshott’s attempt at a compromise bill on asylum seekers by a bare majority, and many MPs had revealed deep personal conflicts during their contributions to the debate. While I was in the building the arguments were being ritually repeated in the Senate, despite the lack of any prospect of success. At one point during the day, as I was sitting in the small cafe frequented by those who work in the building, a group of five MPs – three independents, one Liberal, one Labor – came down for coffee and an attempt to resurrect a final compromise.
Their bid failed, but seeing the five of them together – politely deferring over who would pay for coffee while juggling with mobile phones and iPads – was a reminder that not all decisions are made by the leadership and passed down the line to unthinking supporters. Journalists and political scientists pay too little attention to the ways in which backbench MPs and senators can affect party policies and outcomes, and how they have the potential to do more…
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Illustration: Bull’s Eye/Corbis