Tuesday 5 December 2017
In terms of political strategy I think for any opposition leader to draw attention to himself (other than making rudimentary comments) while his opponents are indulged in their own self-destruction is political folly.
On the Labor side of politics the consensus seems to be that Bill Shorten should, with much urgency, become more aggressive and spruik policy together with an abundance of ideas and a planned future pathway for the nation. And it all should be boxed in a narrative that explains it all with Whitlam-style grandiosity.
But given Turnbull’s predisposition to stuffing things up, there is no hurry. The Government should be left to squirm and fester in the cesspool of political ineptitude it has created.
Timing and patience are required. What I am advocating is that Shorten should firstly take on the high moral ground starting with the repair of our democracy. Necessarily required because of the destruction caused to it by, principally, Tony Abbott and then the current Prime Minister. There is any amount of evidence for it.
There is no doubt that the Australian political system is in need of repair, but it is not beyond it. Shorten should burst into 2018 with a series of speeches titled, “A reformist agenda for our democracy.“
Labor has already taken a small but important first step in allowing a greater say in the election of its leader, however it still has a reform mountain to climb. Besides internal reform that engages its members, it needs to look at ways of opening our democracy to new ways of doing politics: ways that engage those that are in a political malaise so that they feel part of the decision-making process.
Some examples of this are fixed terms, and the genuine reform of Question Time with an independent Speaker.
Shorten needs to promote the principle of transparency by advocating things like no advertising in the final month of an election campaign, and policy costings submitted in the same time frame. You can add reform of the Senate into this mix, and perhaps some form of citizen initiated referendum. Get the people involved.
Given the success of the Marriage Equality survey, consideration should also be given to a plebiscite on the question “Should we have an Australian as head of state?”
Implementing some form of National ICAC is absolutely necessary and would have broad public appeal.
Perhaps even a 10 point common good caveat on all legalisation.
The citizenship fiasco has proven beyond doubt that our Constitution is in need of an overhaul and Shorten should propose a standing panel of review to do so. Even include a debate on a Bill of Rights.
I might add to that a department of the future where policy can be subjected to the riggers of future needs. A department that is constantly looking into the future needs of the country, lock the productivity commission into it.
Appeal for bipartisan government for the common good as Howard did with Hawke and Keating. On top of this is the need to do something about politicians expenses and there justification. You can add foreign political donations to that.
The biggest issue though is a commitment to truth in order to restore people’s trust in government and our representatives.
He needs to convince people of the need for a truly collective representative democracy that involves the people and encourages us to be creative, imaginative and enthusiastic. In a future world dependent on innovation it will be ideas that determines government policy, not the pursuit of power for power’s sake.
Good democracies can only deliver good government and outcomes if the electorate demands it and it doesn’t come about by people being disengaged from the process.
We exercise our involvement in our democracy every three years by voting. After that the vast majority takes very little interest. Why is it so? We need to exercise our creativeness, use our brains, and talk about what is best for ourselves as individuals, couples, families, employees, employers, retirees, welfare recipients and what is affordable for the future of the country. And their needs to be avenues by which our ideas can be presented to government.
Shorten’s narrative must convince the lost voters who have left our democracy to return. Shorten has to turn our democracy on its head on its head, shake it and re-examine it, then reintroduce it as an enlightened ideology-opposite to the Tea Party politics that conservatism has descended into.
He must turn his attention to the young, and have the courage to ask of them that they should go beyond personal desire and aspiration and accomplish not the trivial, but greatness.
That they should not allow the morality they have inherited from good folk to be corrupted by the immorality of right-wing political indoctrination.
He might even advocate lowering the voting age to sixteen (16 year olds were given that right in the Scottish referendum). An article I read recently suggested the teaching of politics from Year 8, with eligibility to vote being automatic if you were on the school roll.
Debates would be part of the curriculum and voting would be supervised on the school grounds. With an ageing population the young would then not feel disenfranchised. Now that’s radical thinking; the sort of thing that commands attention. It might also ensure voters for life.
Why did the voters leave?
Well over 3.3 million Australians have tuned out of politics because of the destabilisation of leadership, corruption on both sides, the negativity and lies of Tony Abbott (initially), the propaganda of a right-wing monopoly owned media, and the exploitation of its Parliament by Abbott and Turnbull. Somehow the lost voters must be given a reason to return. A reason that is valid and worthwhile. A reason that serves the collective and engages people in the process, and a politic for the social good of all – one that rewards personal initiative but at the same time recognises the basic human right of equality of opportunity.
Shorten needs to campaign for a robust but decent political system that is honest, decent, and transparent, and where respect is the order of the day. A political system where ideas of foresight surpass ideological politics, greed, disrespect, and truth. Where respect, civility and trust are part of vigorous debate and not just uninvited words in the process.
“The right to vote is the gift our democracy gives. If political parties (and media barons, for that matter) choose by their actions to destroy the people’s faith in democracy’s principles and conventions then they are in fact destroying the very thing that enables them to exist”.
The reader might determine that the writer is an idealist of long standing. That is so and I make no apologies.
There is much in the way of common sense to support the narrative I suggest but will a politician of Bill Shortens ilk take the plunge?
All the latest polls give Labor an unambiguously clear lead over their Coalition government. Malcolm Turnbull has proven to be a failure as leader and the electorate has recognised that they elected a dud. He has a trust deficit even worse than the fiscal deficit.
You might ask then, in light of all this, what then is Bill Shorten doing wrong? In spite of a clear lead in the polls he constantly comes under fire for his inability to cut through as Opposition Leader. Even on the pages of this site he is criticised for an incapacity to confront his opponent, communicate policy or at least differentiate it.
Leading your party in opposition must surely be a job you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. It’s a thankless, powerless task that has few positives but comes with enormous expectations from those who follow you.
Releasing policy is considered precarious until the election campaign begins. Ask John Hewson. He tried it. The media focus on the incumbent and often a 10 second grab on the nightly news is about all one can expect. Often you are damned if you support something with bi-partisan intent, or damned if you don’t.
Your followers have a ‘why doesn’t he stick it up ‘em’ mentality that is laced with an unrealistic desire to win every argument along the way.
It is all made the more difficult when your own ability is limited by your personal capacity to deliver succinct messages because people have an expectation that you should have the presentation skills of a Barack Obama, Bill Clinton combined with the charisma of Whitlam or Hawke. Shorten has none of their eloquence, instead showing a distinct inarticulateness that is at times depressive. Often he comes over as just another apparatchik or union boss. As a communicator he lacks charisma and personality. What he does have though is an ability for well thought out policies and ideas. He may very well be the man for the times.
So opposition leaders tend to come over as unconstructive, having nothing good to say, or mere carpers. Abbott of course made a virtue of it.
So what should Shorten do?
Well, for the moment he should sit pat and let Turnbull’s self-destruction take its course. Only react as necessary. At the same time he should not fall into the trap of adopting a small target strategy. As I see it, Bill Shorten, at this time in our political history, has been handed a unique gift.
The opportunity to create a narrative about the decline in our democracy and Abbott’s/Turnbull’s involvement in it. It’s an invitation to do the same as Abbott did. Redefine what opposition is, and do so, in a resoundingly positive way. Acknowledge the faults, the corruption on both sides together with the destruction of our parliamentary conventions and institutions. Shout the need for a new democracy as often as Abbott said “Stop the Boats”.
In every utterance say that good democracies can deliver good government and outcomes only if the electorate demands it. Messages should speak to young and old alike by appealing to people to participate in a new democracy where all policy is cantered on the common good. I can hear the first sentence of his first speech:
“I speak to all who have a common interest in renewing our democracy regardless of ideological association.”
As President Obama said:
“A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonising each other; where we talk issues and values and principles and facts rather than ‘gotcha’ moments or trivial gaffes or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives”.
My thought for the day
“All in all our Parliament has become a cafeteria for self-serving individuals who walk the aisle with tray in hand selecting from a smorgasbord of rorts to select from.”