The press gallery owes us all an apology, but in the absence of that it is doing what bad governments do: committing to a course of action that ensures an unrepeatable set of circumstances never recurs. They are going to hold this opposition leader to account, oh yes, because the last one got the green light and look what happened. The Abbott horse has bolted so they are trying feebly to lock the gate on Shorten.
Go back through the archives and read the profiles on Shorten, particularly those preceding the Beaconsfield mine disaster. They are all the same:
- Bill is a very smart fellow. Everyone says so.
- Bill is very personable. Everyone says so.
- Here is a picture of Bill with Richard Pratt. Bill used to eat fancy dinners at Richard's place all the time (you can see why he had so much trouble at that pie shop), even though he was a union official.
- Richard says Bill is very smart and personable.
- Either/Both Bob Hawke/Paul Keating say Bill is very smart and personable. Those guys used to be Prime Minister! Maybe Bill will become Prime Minister too one day ...
- Bill bats away predictable question about leaving AWU to go into parliament, and does so in a smart and personable way.
- Gee you have to be smart and personable to bat away a predictable question from a journalist! Maybe Bill Shorten will become Prime Minister! You never know!
Shorten inherited a divided caucus and has united it. Unity has been a characteristic of almost all state Labor caucuses over recent years; Labor victories in Victoria and Queensland would have been impossible without it. For those who rate polls, Shorten has outpolled Abbott (and where he hasn't, Rudd outpolled Abbott in those areas before the last election and so what).
By this point in the last parliament, the press gallery had written off the incumbent government and were convinced Abbott would win, without feeling any necessity to scrutinise what an Abbott government might be like. Their consensus now is that Shorten is unknown and unknowable, that he's no certainty to win and could do anything in office. Again, this is a failure of journalism, not an example of it.
The personal offices of Rudd and Abbott were/are chaotic sinkholes of good ideas and effective policy. The press gallery narrative never twigged to this despite odd and unconnected stories giving examples. What's Shorten's office like, and how would a journalist know anyway? Easier to let the government frame Shorten, and then do an article about how clever the government's framing of Shorten is.
This piece by Rod Tiffen on how Labor can afford to ignore Murdoch is excellent. The Murdoch press needs Shorten more than he needs it, which will be interesting for its business model going forward. Once politics works out how to get around the broadcast media, and so long as broadcasters continue giving them incentives to do so, access journalism is finished. Gillard was half-hearted in embracing social media and the Labor Herald is an opportunity wasted. One redeeming feature of former UK Labour Leader Ed Miliband was that he realised no good would come of truckling to the old man.
Then there is the nature of the office Shorten now occupies. Oppose the government and you're a wrecker (unless you're Tony Abbott, in which case you're "devastatingly effective"), agree with the government and you're a wimp. To what standard are the press gallery holding Shorten, and (never mind fair) is it coherent or even sensible? Senior press gallery journalists have seen plenty of opposition leaders come and go. They should understand what they cover and report accordingly. They should have some perspective and be able to deal with complexity.
The idea that Shorten is a wrecker one day, wimp the next might be worthy of government spin, but it does not help the country understand how such a man might govern us.
The press gallery has no excuse for doing a lousy job in covering Bill Shorten. He should be a known quantity by now, enough to start enabling comparisons between the incumbent government and the alternative.
But, but ... it's hugely significant that he lied to Neil Mitchell. I mean, Neil Mitchell!So?
Soon after he assumed the position Shorten now holds, Tony Abbott went on the ABC to tell Kerry O'Brien that he made stuff up on the spot, that he'd say anything really, and that only written statements counted. He should have been gone within 24 hours; that, not the 2014 budget, was Abbott's point of failure as a potential Prime Minister. The fact that journalists continued to hang off his every word and report him credulously is their point of failure, day after day, year after year.
If experience counts for anything in political journalism, they'd realise this, and recognise the Mitchell thing for the non-event it is. At the risk of rubbing the noses of Victorians in their inability to determine the fate of national governments, I have to say: Neil who? Is he some sort of Sandy Stone with headphones?
A successful leader rises above media gotcha, and Shorten has done that. A successful leader unites his party, and Shorten has done that. There's more to being PM than those things, however - but the press gallery wouldn't even know what that is after all these years, and neither would Neil Mitchell.