03 July 2015

The shadow of BIll Shorten

Australia's political media assumed that Tony Abbott would be a good Prime Minister because he led the opposition to the previous government. This assumption was false and has been proven false pretty much every day this government has been in office. In no respect is it a better government than the one it replaced. It chops and changes and makes big decisions on the fly, and has even undergone a leadership challenge that resolved nothing.

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!
If the Royal Commission into Trade Unions uncovers any serious allegations against Shorten, it will be a sign of failure by every industrial and political journalist in the country (same with Gillard's renovations from twenty years ago). The dire hints from the press gallery about what might come from that are not based on any real knowledge, but on behind-the-scenes briefings from the government.

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!


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.


  1. Thanks for that.
    I'm not a fan of either the ALP or Shorten but watching the media, even [?] Crikey, fall into lock step about how Shorten 'can't cut through" and is declining in popularity [down to around where Abbott has been for the better part of several years] and the ALP needs a new leader - cos that will solve all the problems, whatever they are - such as being ahead in the polls maybe - and meanwhile Abbott does stupid and nasty thing number several hundred and lots is so manifestly just echoing a mindless narrative it has become boringly repetitive.

    Thanks for being out of step, you may be the only marcher in time with the real music.


    1. Reminds me of a time when I was at school. Being musically trained, I kept a harmony part while all the others merged into the melody. I fought a losing battle, and often felt quite silly being the only one singing the harmony. In fact I was the only one singing it right!

  2. Well said Andrew. I am astounded how many people, even Labor partisans, keep being fooled by the media groupthink on Shorten.

    All the evidence you quote is in the public domain and openly accessible so no one has any excuse for not calling out the bullshit.

    By the way, I've met Shorten briefly and he struck me as smart and personable too.


  3. You want to be a journalist and you not joining the "Get Shorten" campain?

  4. So Shorten lied to Neil Mitchell about the leadership challenge,
    a bit like "Brutus, are you going to assassinate Caesar?"
    "Yes, of course, but don't print it in the Rome Herald Sun, OK".
    The fact is, all politicians lie when it suits them, and sometimes the lies are understandable.

  5. Hillbilly Skeleton3/7/15 10:54 pm

    Which is all well and good, Andrew, however, what can you do about the fact that even so-called 'Labor people' have swallowed the Abbott government's spin, relayed as you have correctly pointed out by a compliant and complicit Press Gallery in Canberra, that Bill Shorten is all the negative things THEY want them to believe!?!

    For the life of me, and I have been watching the rise and rise of Bill Shorten from before his time as Secretary of the AWU, when he would go anywhere in this wide brown land to address a room full of gormless local ALP members just so he could start to get name and face recognition, and I just can't understand where this conception of him as wishy-washy comes from. What I have seen and heard has been a man who has the fire from the Light On the Hill burning bright within his soul. He seems to genuinely want to preserve a better future, for more Australians than Abbott, Hockey and company ever could bring themselves to do. Plus he also seems to be full of good ideas. Sound policy ideas. Let loose in portfolios in government he came up with FOFA and the NDIS. What's wrong with that!?! Aren't they the sort of ideas that you want from a potential Prime Minister?

    He very easily could have gone over to the Liberal Party when he married up like Malcolm Turnbull did, however he deliberately chose not to.

    Apparently all that counts for nought with the media, an electorate who has been groomed to be contemptuous of his every misstep(whilst Abbott's contiguous line of missteps goes all the way back to his time in University and through his short and dysfunctional working life, to his time in Hewson's office and Howard's government), and the Albo Groupies worst of all, because they should know better. I should also add The Greens, I guess because they are the darlings of the Press Gallery also and unable to do any wrong from a Left of Centre perspective, except if you are a Murdoch media hack, and then they are the political devil spawn. Of course, they too would like nothing more than to profit as a result of Labor's artificially-manufactured misfortunes.

    So, therefore, I am led to despair at the fact that the electorate is, yet again, being groomed(and I use that word deliberately) by the Murdoch media and their lackey IPA government of Arch Conservative Antediluvian Reactionary Social Dinosaurs, to vote against their best interests. Not for a man who, whilst not perfect (and who ever is in the political realm?), does seem to have their best interests in his heart.

    Abbott doesn't even have a heart! Only a dried up old Communion wafer.

    1. Yes, I remember following the FoFA progress under Shorten. Unappreciated, or forgotten, by most after the ructions and loss of government.
      The exquisite 'karma moment', of course, was when $inodino$ the Slasher was all set to swing the wrecking ball on it when, lo and behold, he was found to be unconscionably corrupt.
      I still chuckle quietly at that. And where would we be without people like Jeff Morris who are prepared to put all on the line in blowing the whistle. But I bet he sleeps well.

    2. It doesn't matter how sound Shorten is when we have the loons in the mainstream media bleating about him all day.

  6. Thanks for clearing things up Andrew.
    Not that I take nuch notice of the mainstream media these days but I had wondered why they and Fairfax in particular is going after Bill Shorten at this particular time in the political cycle.
    Nearly busted a gut with incredulous laughter when they got their knickers in a twist over the fact bustling billy told a porkie to Neil Mitchell.
    Who is this Neil Mitchell anyway and who cares?
    It's got to the stage now of a desperate lunge for the remote whenever that pathological lying PM gets his melon on the idiot box.

  7. Andrew, years ago I read a long profile on Bill Shorten in one of the weekend mags.

    The author quoted a number of people who spoke highly about Shorten's ability to achieve consensus without bullying, even in the most difficult circumstances. The fact that he appears to have united the ALP bears testament to that.

    Despite the fact that the ALP, both before and under Shorten, has been too ready to back Howard and Abbott on matters of security and asylum seekers, I have always found Shorten's measured, lucid responses to indicate the presence of the kind of intelligence and character one expects in a leader.

    I hope I am not wrong.

    The misnamed Liberal party is far too radical for me and the language of the leader is coarse and brutal.

    In my opinion exceptional leaders should appeal to our better side and not play upon our weaknesses and fears.

  8. Finally someone who cuts through the silly and lazy dismissing of Shorten. Imagine if for just one second this press gallery had scrutinized Abbott in the way they are drilling Shorten. We wouldn't now be in this god-awful mess.
    Abbott and his government have failed, and that failure only gets worse the longer they are allowed to loiter in power.
    We now have no choice but to give Shorten a go in the top seat and hope he can at least repair/ negotiate a way out of the quagmire we are stuck in now.

    1. Sad to say, if the press gallery had done their job with Abbott we probably wouldn't have had The Knifing(tm), Gillard would have taken over peacefully-ish (as far as you ever could with Rudd on the other end of the see-saw) and would now be into her second term after winning easily in 2013, and Abbott would be selling what passes for his soul doing political commentary (a-la Richo, who is, astonishingly, cheapened by that comparison - Richo had some brains at least, even if he sold his integrity long ages ago).

      I'd probably have an NBN connection by now, too.

      But that's all fantasy land, and the here and now is one where Shorten is probably the best hope for bringing things back to sanity.

    2. I don't think even Gillard could keep us safe from Rudd.

  9. Lovin' the 'stable door swinging' analogy. They really are, most of them, really that stupid.

  10. So, is it time to replace Bill Shorten as leader with someone that has some grasp of left wing Labor policies?

  11. I think the expectation has now been set that opposition leaders are meant to be drooling psychopaths, and on that account Shorten has been disappointing. He's the least entertaining opposition leader since Hewson - no, that's not fair, since Nelson maybe.

    He will probably make a good PM, but I find him dull, and an opposition leader don't think that he's attacked the foolishness and dishonesty that masquerades as government nearly enough - because he can't.

    Not only has he been terminally damaged by Mcauliffe, but - IF- if he stayed loyal to Gillard he would be able to prosecute the case that he was part of a government that has an incredible legislative record, that fought on three fronts for survival, but he didn't, he wimped it and for that I think he's listless crap. He can't stand up to Abbott because he doesn't have the right to - he was part of the narrative of dysfunction, rather than standing up for something that was actually good and worthwhile for this country.

    Fuck him. ('Albo' seriously? - he would be a terrible PM). Combet would have been a brilliant true Labor PM - but he's gone, and that's a great pity.
    The sad thing is that Shorten might win - just, or Tony will and that will be an unmitigated disaster - Plibersek maybe - dunno - but it won’t happen.

    The Tony government should lose in a landslide of biblical proportions, but they won’t.