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Bob Ellis: Toasting John Faulkner

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Long serving ALP stalwart Senator John Faulkner has announced his retirement, however Bob Ellis says his contribution, while significant, was not always a boon for the Party.

IT IS WORTHWHILE NOTING the harm John Faulkner did the Labor Party.

It was his vote that elected Latham. It was his vote – and four others – that elected Rudd. It was his vote – and four others – that re-elected Crean. All these men he preferred to Kim Beazley.

It was he who, although the sole witness, did not dissuade Gillard from challenging Rudd, nor Rudd, initially, from defying her. He it was who, as party elder, failed to stop Rudd frim undermining, treasonously, his leader during an election.

It was he who worsened Gillard's chances in that election by flagging his resignation as Minister of Defence. It was he who failed to help Gillard thereafter, by not joining her Cabinet and worsening the crisis she was in.

It was he who complained the Labor Party was on its last legs and called "its various funeral services", the several centenary events he spoke at, very movingly.

He was a 'Gloomy Guts' and a very eloquent one, about the party that for twenty-five years enriched, acclaimed and fed him.

There was a reason, of course, for this.

He never drank alcohol – never ever – and for four years taught profoundly disabled children. This put him in a melancholy-misery he is still in. Where Albo, say, would cheer up, see hope and get on with it, John Faulkner was disinclined to. In a deeper part of himself, I think he was lazy, and mistook his laziness for unflinching principle.

Thus, he could have swapped with Plibersek and become prime minister, and chose not to be. He could have been Gillard's Foreign Minister, and chose not to be. A lazy thinker, he applauded the Afghanistan adventure, and let the Rudd PNG 'solution' go through to the keeper.

He was very good in Estimates, interrogating fools. He spoke magnificently at Labor conferences, inspiring True Believers. He was a good friend and advocate, and goal keeper, of Gough Whitlam.

He was a fine Party historian. He was right about Party reform.

But he was wrong when it really counted, supporting duds and undermining heroes. He cost us a Beazley prime ministership, his vote alone.

He should have had a drink, and a walk in the woods with his conscience, and then another drink, and supported Beazley, and been his foreign minister in 2004. He could have been what he was there for, to help, not heckle, and split the Party.

He could have kept  the faith, and finished the course, and not been such a doomsayer.

But alas, he drank lemonade.

And so it went.

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