The Abbott government’s first few months in office may have been underwhelming, but Labor leader Bill Shorten also has work to do.
Well-placed east coast contacts suggest Labor insiders have started asking questions about the long-term future of federal leader Bill Shorten, should he fail to capitalise on his party’s strong showing since last year’s election.
Mr Shorten’s role in the knifing of two prime ministers – Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard – and his so-far underwhelming performance as leader are among the reasons Labor powerbrokers may look to someone else to take on Tony Abbott and his government.
The speculation comes amid claims online, although largely unreported in the mainstream media, that Mr Shorten may have to deal with nastier issues outside of politics in the near future.
Although not widely reported, such claims could destabilise Labor, and its leadership, if taken further.
According to my sources, the name on many lips in Tony Burke.
I’ve been unable to discover if federal or NSW Labor have conducted confidential polling on Mr Burke’s electoral acceptability.
However, a blunt hint that he’s destined for bigger things appeared on the second last 2013 issue of the Sydney Morning Herald, in high-profile, Paul Sheahan’s column, headlined: ‘Tony Burke likely to be next Labor PM’.
At first it appeared Sheahan was balancing-up his December 12 column headlined: ‘Christian Porter: Meet Australia’s future Prime Minister’.
Although that may be so, it’s now felt Sheahan’s strongly pro-Burke piece was prompted by more than just seeking to look fair and balanced.
Many Labor MPs believe there’s a strong chance Mr Shorten may need to step aside for the good of the party.
And Labor’s disastrous ordeal with Julia Gillard means Mr Shorten’s leftist deputy, Tanya Plibersek, is unlikely to be considered.
Here are some lines from the Sheahan column.
“Tony Burke will be the next Labor prime minister,” he began.
“He is authentic, a crucial advantage in politics, and pragmatic, intelligent and decent.”
Sheahan’s emphasis on decency and authenticity is important.
“However, I also point out he is, like most Labor MPs, yet another former union official and has thus not spent a day of his career in a wealth-creating business,” Sheahan continued.
“The bulk of his career has been at public expense.
“After graduating from Sydney University in arts and law, Burke went to work for the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association where he spent six years as an organiser before being elected to the NSW Legislative Council at the age of 33.
“After less than a year in State Parliament he won the red-ribbon federal seat of Watson in western Sydney.
“In 2007, just three years after entering Parliament, he became a federal minister.
“At 44, he is still youthful in political terms but has plenty of experience.
“He served in the ministry for the entire six years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments.
“Burke has been among the best performers for the opposition in the new Parliament, perhaps the best.
“He offers a significant upgrade in tone as leader of opposition business in the house compared with Anthony Albanese, who was leader of government business in the house for the Gillard and Rudd governments.”
Sheahan said Burke was wise not to have entered last year’s leadership contest.
Then there’s Sheahan’s assessment of Shorten’s character and performance, reasons why Labor’s senior federal parliamentary wing is moving towards pre-emptive mode.
“Shorten manages to exude inauthenticity,” he wrote.
“He has been underwhelming in Parliament.
“He served under two Labor prime ministers and knifed both, conspicuously.
“I discount both Shorten and Plibersek compared with Burke’s potential appeal to the electorate.”
I’m assured Burke is on the up-and-up for the two reasons given by Sheahan – “authenticity” and “potential appeal to the electorate”.
Mr Shorten hasn’t extricated Labor from the failed pathways down which his two immediate predecessors took the party, especially the carbon tax.
Interestingly, a recent damning report by Queensland Labor ex-senator John Black’s think tank, Australian Development Strategies, concluded the big losers of the Rudd-Gillard years were “blue collar traditional ALP voters and young mums in outer suburbs” while “the big winners were white-collar, inner-city Greens”.
Sixty per cent of the 957,000 jobs created during 2008-13, were in health, education and public services, with slippage in construction, transport and manufacturing.
Understandably a view is emerging that federal Labor should distance itself, as Tasmanian Labor has, from the Greens, most especially when it comes to climate policies.
That’s something Mr Abbott more or less did successfully for the coalition as part of his ousting of Malcolm Turnbull as leader.
With Mr Shorten demonstrating an inability to distance Labor from vote-losing Greens doctrinaire catastrophism, its next leader needs to terminate buckling to such obsessions.
Mr Burke is probably capable of doing this in a calm, methodical, and electorally acceptable manner.
That, ironically, would leave the Abbott-led coalition floundering with its CO2 Direct Action Scheme set to cost $5 billion annually.
If Mr Burke does become leader while Mr Abbott is prime minister, the pair would share a strange connection that’s likely to be highlighted.
Leftist-oriented commentators, especially, relish reminding us that Mr Abbott, in his pre-parliamentary days, aligned in various ways with the late BA ‘Bob’ Santamaria-founded anti-leftist National Civic Council (NCC).
Not widely know is that Mr Burke has a similar element in his past, via his one-time union employer, the Shoppies, a longstanding ally of the NCC.