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Bill Shorten’s Mistake And The Media’s Lack Of Memory

A few days ago I wrote about the problem that the left had with “framing”. In the light of Bill Shorten’s terrible, terrible mistake, I thought it was perhaps instructive to just consider how Bill is being framed by the media.

Now, just to clarify, by “framed” I don’t mean that he’s being set up to be convicted for a crime he didn’t commit; I’m talking about how we’re being asked to view the whole thing.

Let’s start with what he actually did. He answered a direct question with a direct answer. Unfortunately, the answer he gave wasn’t a Labor policy that had gone through caucus or the shadow cabinet. So far, so bad. Then, on Friday, he turned around and announced that he was wrong. It wasn’t Labor policy and wouldn’t be Labor policy.

Politically, I think it would be fair to say that this was not Bill Shorten’s shining moment. And we can go down the path that the media is framing for us and talk about his leadership, his lack of charisma, the fact that Turnbull is still prefered PM, Bill’s bad breath, the fact that Albanese made a speech where he said that Labor would work with business… Why, I could even tell you that someone in the Labor party – who I haven’t named – has expressed unspeciified doubts about Shorten as a leader.

There’s just a few things wrong with this, however. While I’m sure some of you will happily use this to trash Shorten, I come to neither to bury Bill nor to praise him.

The first point I’d like to make is one I’ve made many, many times before: The incumbent usually has a healthy lead over the challenger in any opinion poll when it comes to prefered PM or prefered Premier. It’s the long term two party prefered trend of polls that really matters. More accurate is the betting markets. Shorten – or Albanese or the drover’s dog – won’t really matter when it comes to election day. Sure, it would be great if there was a Hawke – who was a well-known, popular Opposition Leader for the few weeks before the 1983 election – to lead. However, I can’t think of anybody in the current party who’s a current day Hawke.

The second point is one that seems to be being ignored in the discussions about Shorten’s future is Kevin Rudd. What’s he got to do with anything?

Well, for those of you with short memories, way back in 2013, when Rudd took over the leadership, he introduced what I’d call the “No More Ides Of March” rules. And when he lost the election, Labor had to choose a new leader. While once they could have played spin the bottle and just picked the person it landed on, now there needs to be a ballot of members, as well as a vote by the parliamentary party. You may remember that after a process lasting several weeks, while Bowen was temporarily leader, Albo won the popular vote, but Shorten won the latter, and according to some complicated algorithm, which put all the votes together, Shorten was declared Leader of the Opposition.

I bring this up because with less than a year to go before the next election, any move to replace Shorten would have to be agreed to by Bill himself, or else there’d need to be a period with a caretaker leader while the whole mess was sorted out. In what world do you imagine, Turnbull not calling an election during this time? I mean, they called the by-elections on the day of the Labor conference. I know, I know. That was just a coincidence. Would Labor really take such a risk?

But let’s just forget all the technicalities here. Let’s just look at what happened last week in the cold, harsh light of political apathy.

Just stop for one moment and ask yourself. How much do you care about the tax rate for the companies affected? I mean, did you even know what their tax rate was before last week? Was it something you discussed at your last barbecue? Did you hear anything like the following conversation during the week?

“I was going to vote Labor until last week. I mean, the reversal of the tax cuts for businesses turning over between $10 million and $50 million was a deal breaker for me.”

“Yeah, I was pretty upset about the cuts to my penalty rates, but the poor boss isn’t going to get the full benefit of that if Labor gets in. It hardly makes my sacrifice worth it!”

“That’s right. They just hate aspiration. I’m not going to do 36 hours overtime a day so I can earn enough to benefit from the tax cuts to higher income earners.”

“It’s not just that it’s their whole class war, politics of envy thing. As Malcolm said, Labor want to keep the workers in their place, whereas the Liberals want them to…”

“Yeah? Finish your sentence.”

“Um, I think that Malcolm was making the point that we should aspire to be like him where we donate all our wages to a foundation which helps us to minimise our tax, but when I think back, he didn’t really make it clear!”


All in all, whatever happens, I’m intrigued to see how the media will manage to keep this one front and centre, after next week when Abbott will contradict government policy directly, Turnbull or Morrison will praise One Nation and a minister will make a mistake that dwarfs anything Shorten has ever done.

Ok, I mightn’t know the future, but you’d be brave suggesting that won’t happen!

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  1. Yvonne Robertson

    Couldn’t agree more but the MSM are diligent when it comes to examination and misrepresentation of anything they can construe as a Labor blunder while Liberal lies and chaos goes largely unchallenged or ignored. ‘Ah – that’s just Tony’ we’re meant to think and laugh, though the government continues to legislate and support draconian policies which were either rolled out by him or in some cases are even right of his objective at the time he was Prime Minister.

    I have been thinking as I read the list of things that are to change today – the further cut to penalty rates, the 10% GST rate to overseas online purchases and the changes to family tax benefits and childcare just off the top of my head. Let’s see what the voters are thinking even though Labor has to win despite the billion dollar free advertising the LNP get from media outlets pretending they’re not owned by one of the world’s wealthiest men with far too much say in this country’s politics.

  2. Don Kelly

    “He answered a direct question with a direct answer. Unfortunately, the answer he gave wasn’t a Labor policy that had gone through caucus or the shadow cabinet.”
    I believe that Bill Shorten was on the right track with his “direct answer”, whether it was policy or not. People need to ask how the government’s fiscal position is calculated in the National Accounts. This is simply the difference between what the government spends and what the tax revenue is. If Spending minus Tax is Positive, the the fiscal position is in Deficit. With less tax revenue in the future, it only stands to reason that a new government will have difficulties advancing their policies.

  3. Jagger

    There were 732 companies who paid no tax in Australia in the 2015-16 financial year. Collectively, their income was more than $500 billion.
    Yep, the top end really need a tax cut.

  4. Frank Smith

    I do not understand why these claims about “not being Labor policy” are being made. It has been Labor policy since before the 2016 election! It is exactly the policy they took to that election and unsuccessfully argued for during the debate on business tax cuts in the Parliament. So why all this fuss and false accusations?

  5. Zathras

    The media sharks have been circling and waiting for this sort of blunder and now think they can smell blood in the water and will be canvassing for a leadership change.

    They, like the government, will milk it for all it’s worth but in the end it is likely to be just a glitch.

    If the polls swing wildly because of this, it will discredit the polls more than it does the opposition because I don’t think there are that many voters who will change their vote on this alone.

    Add today’s end of penalty rates into the mix and then let’s see what happens.

  6. New England Cocky

    I am disappointed that Karen Middleton in The Saturday Paper 300618 has taken the MSM bait and rabbited on about unnamed sources, alleged dissent in the ALP ranks and speculated about potential “alleged” leadership challengers.

    There are a plethora of capable and competent political leaders in ALP ranks, mostly well educated and forward thinking.

    This clashes markedly with the NLP misgovernment where a multimillionaire give himself and his political mates a huge tax cut while stopping penalty rates for workers.

    Then there are the National$ where they prefer adulterers.

    The NLP misgovernment and their parasites remain desperate because the electorate are just sweating n the date of the next Federal election to save Australia from the neo-con liberals who have raped Australia financially during the past almost six years for the benefit of the undeserving wealthy and multinational corporates with their shareholders living overseas.

  7. Frank Smith

    Not only do further cuts to penalty rates kick in today but so does a 2% salary INCREASE for politicians and judiciary. That is a $4000 per year RISE in pay for a backbencher. Inequity perhaps? Time we manned the barricades and took to the streets, 60’s style.

  8. Mick Byron

    New England Cocky
    I’m well over this Labor Leadership claptrap.
    First they need to read how an elected Leader gets there under Labor election rules, and as for the alleged Albo plot, I was at the Shellharbour Workers Club to hear Albo deliver it.

    “The first thing to know about Albanese’s Gough Whitlam Oration is that he sent the text of his speech to his leader’s office on Friday afternoon, hours before he delivered it to the Shellharbour Workers’ Club south of Sydney that evening.

    Shorten’s staff sent back two suggested changes. Albanese incorporated both. Shorten had every opportunity to read the speech and to propose edits. He took the opportunity and Albanese obliged. So much for treachery.
    The second thing is that the speech was a positive and uplifting appeal for a big, broad, reforming Labor government.

  9. Ricardo29

    Sad to see too the almost gleeful bandwagon hopping of ABC’s Leigh Sales, Laura Tingle and Andrew Probyn. I wondered about the fabled ‘balance’ when, the night before, Leigh Sales said Labor and Bill Shorten had opposed the tax cuts, not noting that Bill had promised bigger cuts for low income earners if elected.

  10. Kaye Lee

    I don’t get this fixation about who leads a party. Changing from Abbott to Turnbull didn’t change the policies or the approach.

    I also think this showed that Bill listens to the party, unlike when Abbott made his Captain’s picks.

    I am concerned about the influence of the Labor factional right though. They seem more intent on grabbing positions and gagging debate than on listening to the electorate.

  11. Jaquix

    Polling in 2 byelections has Liberal/National party going backwards. In Mayo dud Georgina Downer is going backwards. And in Longman Labors Susan Lamb has crept up 2 points, so from previous poll of being behind at 48-52, is now neck and neck on 50-50 with Campbell Newman bloke Ruthenburg. With a month to go.
    Libs whimped it in WA – leaving 2 seats without a Lib candidate.
    Very little news coming out of Braddon.

  12. Phil

    Policy, policy, policy. Unity, Unity, Unity. Climate, climate, climate. ICAC, ICAC, ICAC.
    Pensions, Pensions, Pensions, Newstart, Newstart, Newstart – NBN, NBN,NBN, NDIS, NDIS, NDIS

    These are what matter to me.

    I don’t give a flying fig who leads the friggin’ parties. Just give me the above

  13. paul walter

    No mistake, just a shabby beat up emanating from the usual suspects.

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