beazley retreats to back bench

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    Beazley retreats to back bench
    By Brad Norington
    October 16, 2004

    KIM Beazley will walk away from Mark Latham by retreating to Labor's back bench, reigniting leadership questions after the party's disastrous election defeat.

    Retreating ... Kim Beazley at home with the family dog.

    Mr Beazley will announce his decision to quit the front bench today, just three months after the Labor leader appointed him defence spokesman in an attempt to mend relations with the US.

    The resignation sparked immediate speculation about Mr Beazley's future. Some backers want him to consider an eventual draft back to the party leadership if support for Mr Latham collapses.

    The former Labor leader and deputy prime minister confirmed to The Australian he would not leave parliament and said he was committed to serving the rest of the term as a backbencher.

    It was "possible" he would seek a further term at the next election.

    Asked why he was quitting Mr Latham's team, he said: "I don't have a problem with Mark. I've done my job and it's time for others to do it."

    It is understood Mr Beazley informed Mr Latham of his intentions earlier this week and that Mr Latham made no attempt to dissuade him.

    While not contemplating a return to the leadership at this stage, Mr Beazley is believed to have the support of his wife, Susie Annus, for whatever decisions he makes. Labor insiders believe it will take the party two terms to win government from the Coalition after a devastating loss of seats last Saturday.

    They say that although caucus will re-elect Mr Latham unopposed as leader next week, his future remains unclear because of recriminations about the extent of Labor's defeat and doubts he would be willing to stay leader for up to six years.

    Mr Beazley, despite two election defeats as leader and two failed challenges to regain the position, is still regarded in the party as the strongest alternative to Mr Latham, over likely contenders Kevin Rudd, Stephen Smith and Wayne Swan.

    Mr Latham declined to comment last night on Mr Beazley's decision to quit his front bench.

    Frontbench colleagues Simon Crean and Bob McMullan, from Mr Beazley's generation, have declared they will also quit their posts but want Mr Latham to give them new jobs.

    Several ALP insiders said yesterday that Mr Beazley, at 55, was still relatively young and could follow in the footsteps of John Howard by "rising like a phoenix".

    Others said his time was past but that he would probably continue to serve as a backbencher in the tradition of British MPs.

    Former Beazley chief of staff Michael Costello declined to comment on Mr Beazleys' future but said Mr Latham must take responsibility for a series of policy and strategic decisions that had cost Labor dearly in the election.

    He said he expected Mr Latham to lead the party to the next election but that he would win only if he became "a much more focused, effective leader".

    As jockeying for positions on Labor's front bench continued, Mr Rudd sought a move from foreign affairs to the Treasury portfolio.

    Mr Latham is believed to be unreceptive, with such a promotion likely to fuel the ambitions of Mr Rudd, who considered running in last December's leadership contest against Mr Latham and Mr Beazley, but later withdrew.

    The Australian



    Fig Jam

    A poll held a day or so after the election had Beazley preferred as ALP leader by a vote of 70% to 30%.

    Looks like Latham has more problems on his plate.

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