01/07/2015 - 13:18

Shorten plays to win the base

01/07/2015 - 13:18

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Bill Shorten seems intent on winning support of the Labor rank and file before taking on the government.

LONG GAME: Bill Shorten wants to secure his support among Labor members before taking on the government.

Bill Shorten seems intent on winning support of the Labor rank and file before taking on the government.

Last month was the least impressive of opposition leader Bill Shorten’s 21 months in the job.

That said, it’s worth stressing none of the preceding months was overly impressive, even though he and Labor had quickly shot ahead of Tony Abbott and the coalition in the polls.

The Abbott government’s eight-month honeymoon ended dramatically with its May 2014 budget, after which Mr Shorten seemed set to become prime minister before Christmas 2016.

This so scared the Liberals that two of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s supporters in the lower house, Western Australians Luke Simpkins and Don Randall, moved a spill motion on the party’s leadership.

But the vote failed, after which the media and voters refocused on Mr Shorten, and fairly quickly concluded that all he’d been doing was playing a lacklustre Dr No role.

During this period I attended a commemorative get-together for Labor’s late and great Hawke government finance minister, Peter Walsh, at the Subiaco-based think tank Mannkal Economic Education Foundation, where he’s greatly admired.

Interestingly, former WA Liberal MPs John Hyde and Peter Shack were the only speakers at the event

Among the guests, however, was one with an excellent Labor lineage and insider knowledge of Mr Shorten’s modus operandi, including an explanation for his approach to politics.

After the speeches, guests expressed amazement that Mr Shorten wouldn’t adopt the long-time hailed Walsh approach to national financial management that served Bob Hawke and Paul Keating so well.

The implications behind this discourse were that all Shorten-led Labor needed to do was demonstrate that the Kevin Rudd-Julia Gillard days were over for Labor and that the Walsh legacy had been embraced.

If that had occurred, it was contended, an Abbott or Bishop-led coalition would be snuffed-out at the 2016 election.

The guest with the ‘excellent Labor lineage’ put all this conjecture to rest, however.

According to this guest, Mr Shorten was working to a master plan that envisaged him moving from opposition leader to PM at the 2019 election, not in 2016.

All political pundits were, therefore, three years off target in their calculations.

Unbeknown to them, Mr Shorten believed that the Abbott-led conservatives were likely to hold power for two terms, after which they’d be tired and vulnerable.

The Shorten master plan, therefore, designated the 2019 election as the crucial contest.

In the meantime, Mr Shorten would focus his attention on the party, because he’d performed badly in the leadership contest at which its newly enfranchised rank-and-file membership preferred Anthony Albanese.

Mr Shorten also concluded that the profile of Labor’s rank and filers was now markedly skewed in a Greens direction, by which is meant that old-style blue collar Laborites who valued bread-and-butter issues no longer dominated the branches.

Those now joining Labor were white-collar university graduate GetUp types – people fixated on global warming with no firm views on stopping the boats, who favour ever-higher government spending and aren’t overly concerned about higher taxes.

Furthermore, a significant number of this GetUp-Greens-big-spending-taxing group hold down government jobs.

That’s new Labor.

So they’re the ones who’ll decide who becomes Labor leader, and, eventually, prime minister.

Anyone seeking those positions must therefore take cognisance of these types and their beliefs, which is precisely what Mr Shorten’s been doing.

Remember also that the rank and filers only narrowly missed getting their leftist candidate, Mr Albanese, into Labor’s top job.

Here are the figures highlighted at the Walsh wake.

About 30,000 rank-and-file members voted, with Mr Albanese winning 59.92 per cent to Mr Shorten’s 40.08 percent.

That near-20 per cent lead shows Mr Shorten to be a long way from being rank and file Labor’s favourite son.

Clearly he must lift his standing among this group to be re-elected leader after the 2016 election so as to contest the 2019 election.

The only reason he overcame lack of support among the rank and file was because Labor’s parliamentary caucus markedly favoured him over Mr Albanese, 55 to 31, which, via arithmetical calculations I don’t understand, meant a final result of 52.2 per cent for Mr Shorten to 47.98 per cent for Mr Albanese.

Our informant concluded by adding that all Mr Shorten’s responses to Abbott government policies could be explained by the former’s lack of support among the rank and file, since he was playing to them, not Australian voters.

All was shaped with that gap in mind, because to become PM in 2019 he must win the post-2016 party leadership ballot.

Failure to appreciate this means Mr Shorten is erroneously considered as a Dr No.

Unfortunately for him, several new factors surfaced last month, including especially the wage rates negotiated downwards for low-income earners by the Australian Workers Union, which he headed before entering parliament.

Failing to convincingly explain why to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption could mean he’ll be denied the opportunity to lead Labor into next year’s election.


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