There is rampant speculation over the nation’s two highest leadership positions: the Prime Ministership, and the Australian cricket captaincy. No matter how you butter it, Australia really is in a state of turmoil.
Michael Clarke is in many ways just like Tony Abbott, in that they both appear to be out of touch with mainstream Australia.
Both have made massive misjudgements of late – in Abbott’s case, the knighthood of Prince Phillip; in Clarke’s, his relationship with Cricket Australia and handling of the captaincy issue.
Meanwhile, competent challengers to both positions wait calmly in the wings: Julie Bishop and Steve Smith.
Clarke, despite an admirable public performance in the immediate aftermath of the Hughes tragedy, has burned a lot of bridges throughout his career. He appears to think that he has enough credit in the bank to get through a few more years, even though his injuries are a genuine (and rightful) concern.
It would not surprise if Clarke’s own hubris contributes to his downfall.
Clarke’s late-years career resembles, in some respects, that of John Winston Howard. An ageing, creaky-limbed stalwart, he hangs feverishly onto the top job with liver-spotted hands. This determination to remain in power, against all good advice, means he risks the embarrassment of losing his seat of Bennelong to Maxine McKew.
Smith, obviously, takes the role of Peter Costello in this analogy: the logical successor waiting to be handed the keys to the city.
However, Smith is still seemingly happy to play second fiddle to Clarke. Earlier this month, he said: “I’m only temporary at the moment. It’s Michael’s team and when he comes back he’ll jump straight back in.”
Leadership spills are generally seen in a negative light here in Australia, especially since the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd debacle. In politics, a leadership challenge is a huge move to make; one fraught with danger for the challenger. A failed spill can be career-ending, in fact.
Smith’s public statements are extremely conservative – and if he were to show a bit more conviction in his desire to be the sole leader of Australian cricket (ODIs and test match cricket, that is), then I have no doubt he would get the job.
The same goes for Bishop – although I’ll admit the stakes are higher in federal politics. That said, the difference between Abbott and Rudd is marked: Abbott’s key problem is with the public, whereas Rudd’s issues were internal to the Labor Party.
Is this regard, Bishop is closer to Paul Keating than Julia Gillard. By usurping a sitting Prime Minster she would have the backing of the public (not just the party room), and thus wouldn’t face the same criticism that dogged Gillard. People weren’t ready to see Rudd knifed; they tired of Abbott months ago.
Bishop and Smith are the friendly and competent faces of tomorrow. But why wait until tomorrow?
By Dave Edwards