What does Bill Shorten stand for?

ScreenHunter_1210 Feb. 12 16.01

Cross-posted from The Conversation:

Bill Shorten’s blaming of the Abbott government for the death of the car industry and condemning the royal commission into union corruption were entirely predictable positions.

But they also highlight the major challenges ahead of the opposition leader – positioning himself on key economic issues and loosening the constraints imposed by his union past.

It’s easy politics for Shorten to target the government over the exit of Holden and Toyota. Losing this particular industry and the high cost in jobs make it a hot button issue. And advocating more government assistance fits into Labor’s tradition.

At least, into one strand of that tradition. In the Hawke-Keating period, Labor established another tradition, when it promoted extensive change in the economy, including dismantling protection.

Later, Labor for a while turned its back on those years but then re-embraced them.

Shorten has to ask himself: does he want to stand for economic reform, as Hawke and Keating did?

Doing that is harder than putting “oppositionist” politics first and foremost (in the mould of Kim Beazley and, of course, Tony Abbott). It would be especially tricky given that the interventionist approach has strong followers in Labor.

But if Shorten’s aim is to cut a credible figure in the years ahead, he will have to look to the economics. And, as Paul Keating puts it, “good policy is good politics”.

Interestingly, on the issue at hand, voters don’t necessarily default to giving more aid to the auto industry. This week’s Essential poll showed more people against than in favour of production subsidies for motor vehicle manufacturing – 47% to 36% (Labor voters were more likely than Coalition voters to approve support – 45% to 32%).

Shorten in parliament on Tuesday resorted to the line that “this North Sydney-based government does not understand manufacturing in the southern states of Australia. They have never seen a Victorian or South Australian job they would ever fight for other than their own marginal seat MPs.” It sounded like a twist on the so-called “class” swipes made in the Gillard-Swan time.

But it is a simplistic attack, which doesn’t do justice to Shorten’s own economic knowledge. Shorten’s attention should be on the creation of a forward looking industry policy, because the end of the auto sector will be a fait accompli (production is due to finish in 2017) by the time of the next Labor government.

Even more difficult and important is how Shorten deals with the union connection.

Aware that Labor had to put up an alternative to the royal commission, he proposed a police taskforce. It was clear however that, despite the government’s political motives for the royal commission, Labor’s arguments against it (lack of criminal charges out of the previous Cole commission; the high cost) sounded weak.

Shorten has robustly condemned corruption in unions but his opposition to a royal commission undermined the strength of what he was saying.

The commission holds dangers for Labor because of its institutional and financial links to the unions; the union backgrounds of so many leading parliamentary figures, including Shorten; and the current personal networks.

Shorten now should be seen to take the line of letting the cards fall where they will in the investigations ahead.

More generally, cementing himself in as an alternative prime minister requires drawing a boundary line between himself and the unions – no small task but one better tackled early in his leadership.

Kevin Rudd had little time for the unions and paid a price; Julia Gillard was too beholden to them, and that had a cost too. Shorten is of the union movement, and so will try to use it. But it will try to use him too and there lies the risk for him.

Tuesday’s Newspoll found that after a solidly increasing satisfaction rating last year (as people took their first look at him as opposition leader), Shorten had gone backwards, with a fall from 44% in December to 35% (Abbott was stable on 40%). Labor’s vote had fallen but on a two party basis the ALP was ahead of the Coalition 51-49%. In the Essential poll, also released on Tuesday, Shorten’s approval was down 5 points to 30% from mid January (Abbott’s approval fell 6 points to 41%).

Although it is the start of the term, the coming months will be crucial for Shorten. It’s not just the voters who will be getting a handle on him in his new role – his party will be too. In areas such as Labor’s economic approach and its stance vis-a-vis the unions, this is the best time for Shorten to set his tone and establish his authority.

Article by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow at University of Canberra

Leith van Onselen
Latest posts by Leith van Onselen (see all)


    • rob barrattMEMBER

      You win a free copy of the Fair Work Act personally signed by Julia Gillard. This will become an increasingly sought after publication as increasing numbers of Australians wonder why they’re being retrenched.

    • Shorten doesn’t have to stand for anything, he just has to stand against the government. Abbott was the master of this strategy.

      Besides, oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them, and One-Term-Tony is doing a bang up job of that at the moment.

      • Shorten is not the right person for the job. Three years grind in Opposition?

        Bill take the Board offers, move in the circles you have grown accustomed to. The circles you prefer. Open the French and reap the big bucks.

        You know you deserve it. Your destiny.

  1. Bill “Shittin”

    Cares about lots of things, there is

    Me, myself & I and lifetime pension, plus all his union hack buddies and then feathering the ALP’s nest, jobs for mates, industry rorts, getting nothing done and basically SFA about the Australian people

    He is after all a politician!

  2. At you get a sense of where you stand with Tony (like him or not).

    Bill Shorten seems like he will say what ever he thinks will get him in (and screw you all when he is there). No idea where you really stand with Bill.

  3. He reminds me most of Labor’s original hollow man, Simon Crean.

    aka he’s a chair warmer and that’s about it.

  4. Labor has to break up with the Unions if they are going to get any real long term cred & reach out to the huge portion of the electorate that has become disillusioned with both side of politics.

    Most voters under 35 agree with a lot of what Labor’s social policies, eg, Carbon Tax, NBN but can’t cop the constant pandering to those pulling the strings in the union movement. A movement that represents an ever decreasing portion of the population.

    Unfortunately I can’t see this happening.

  5. Much like Abbott, Bill is the worst of both worlds

    Shackled to his last-century hardcore union loyalties and undergraduate binary world view while at the same time seduced by the big Australia, Keynsian magic-pudding growth-at-any-cost cult.

    Albo pips him marginally on the first aspect but..

    Depressing options all round.

  6. Clearly, Shorten is standing for PM. Abott stood for the same thing. Apologies in advianct to anyone who has to read this desultory comment.

    • Apologies rejected! Instead I’m commission a cast iron bust of your good self for my inadequate to your magnificence shrine.

      That was not sarcastic, floral perhaps but not sarcastic 🙂

  7. At least in her younger days, Grattan’s approach of rubbing one out over the course of a newspaper column culminated in nothing worse than a brief, clear and odourless discharge. Her more recent work is just one long stream of fetid piss, which conservative voters typically wary of the Conversation are eagerly widening their mouths for. She is perhaps angling for a more comfortable retirement among her adult-nappy wearing peers at the Australian.

      • GunnamattaMEMBER

        ‘Her skew has not realigned.’

        You can say that again…

        When was the last time Grattan actually wrote something not immersed in the hypocrisy typical of the babyboomer set?

        a radical in the McMahon sunset, a pragmatist looking on appalled at application of Gough, a writer in search of vision when Malcolm just wanted things to be nice, and a cheer squad member as Bob and Paul handed out the benefits of reform to her clientele, then she listened in to the siren of John Winston and found that yes, she was entitled too, and became relaxed and comfortable. For her there was always something a little gauche with Rudd, and if the voters were suckered in for a tad, she wasnt, Gillard represented the vision of the late teens Michelle, and she saw her though the bitter prism of that dream as reality. TestosterTone presumably brings her back the full circle to the primary school yob who pushed and shoved, and threw sand, but which she now thinks is fairly natural, and does well for people like her.

        Such is life.

        Shorten is the latest manifestation of Whigdom the ALParatchiks have seen fit to festoon themselves with. When you think of Australian politics and cross reference that with Australia’s absolutely pathetic media, it is a lot like the porcine world and warm faecal matter….the smell isnt obvious to the occupants (indeed they find it rather homely, redolent of life essence even).

      • Gunna we must be gentle. Michelle is a ‘curator’. FFS.

        Curated by professional editors

      • ‘Spleen why stay at the Telegraph when you could move to the Oz?’

        ……..why look at the stains on the paper when you can look at the turd in the bowl?

      • I did actually work at News Ltd for awhile, but the limbo bar just kept going lower than I could dislocate my frame to fit under. Still lets some facts through, but it’s like a reverse roller coaster condition – you must be this short to take this ride. The joint is filled with limber assholes on the make for the biggest prick they can find. Unfortunately for them, Rupert is rarely in town.

      • Spleen why stay at the Telegraph when you could move to the Oz? A hurdle too high?

        Reckon you would be an excellent resident Patrick Cook type persona here at MB – a weekly roundup…

    • But lets be perfectly clear; when it comes to a self satisfactory, pompous, dripping with the crackling lard of over cooked boomerocracy none hold a candle burning at both ends to that masterbaterly public leftylectual Philip Adams.

      How in my misguided youth I’d pine that one day I too could be so self congratulatory – picking only the guests that would pander breathlessly to my neuro-linguistic refined cadence and swoon likewise at my strident, boomering, lefty credentials.

      Yes I was misguided once, and led down a dark path that culminated in self loathing and pity at having been taken in by such tripe — and am still reciting The Lord Prayer daily in penance…

      • @Spleen (Phil?) In a word



        EDIT: Meaning that I think we must all hold our selfs to scrutiny and genuflection, wishing to a have public intellectual is like wishing to have a public toilet…out at sea…

      • I’m something of a Jack Hibberd man myself…although I always found his adulation of the ’76 Wendouree Cabernet mystifying – but his basic premise that punting types should be able to turn their conversation to something other than football or weather for 5 minutes, have an intrinsic interest in the world around them beyond someones balance sheet, retain an earthy understanding that humans have processes and needs, and a good eye for a perve when the opportunity presents, was a good enough place to start.

        The fact that he is a doctor and wrote ‘Memoirs of an Old Bastard’ ‘Life of Riley’ and the play ‘Dimboola’ adds to his lustre – but you never see him pontificating in the press.

      • @Spleen LOL

        I was really hoping it would bring you or Gunna out for another run — I’ve really enjoying the prose this evening.

        EDIT: Must look into this Hibberd! and yeah Stoya is pretty good

    • On public intellectuals:

      I keenly recall observing – abusing? – an airing of a Sunday morning ABC politico round up program, the kind patronaged frequently by ilk of the Bolt, some chick with curly black hair who is quite the in thing after coming back from a stint Europe (at time), that poor chap from Perth who deceased some years back.

      Why in Gods name did I ever turn to such rubbish, and worst still considered myself, blindly, to be the better informed for it!? But I digress.

      At wrap of the show the host, another politico-jorno bigwig, asked the cursory end of show throw-away line “In 30 seconds what are the issues you’re seeing”.
      Well that bovine of man Pier Ackerman laments that with the advent of screw lid wine bottles he appalled at the new-found etiquette of resealing the bottle with the lid!!! “They never did that with corks!” He said.
      I shit you not! This actually happened!!

      Fucking public intellectuals…

      The Howard years my humorous, erudite and loquacious friend – we never came back…

      • @Spleen Once upon a time I was quite take with Christopher Hitchens and the like, once a upon a time.

    • 1 coq ring to rule them all? Oh sorry you’re on Game of Thrones… I should probably be doing something else with my holidays, like trying to get laid! (good luck right?)

  8. Doesn’t really matter what Shorten stands for, he just has to stand against the government.

    Oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them, and One-Term-Tony is doing a bang up job of that at the moment.