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Day to Day Politics: What can Shorten do with politics?

Wednesday 29 November 2016

Kaye Lee yesterday made some comments on my post. Astute as always she poses some very important questions about the importance of leadership and how important it is in the scheme of things. However, she also more broadly highlighted the importance of opposition and its limitations.

”What baffles me is that the PM is still seen as the best person for PM! Any thoughts on this?”

”I don’t think it has anything to do with policy or performance – in fact I am sure it doesn’t. I think partly it is due to the very superficial look thing – he looks and sounds more like a PM – or he used to. Nowadays he vacillates between deer in the headlights vacuous smiling as he tells us how happy he is, and attempting to do Abbott attack dog unconvincingly.”

But I also think it is the baggage that Bill brings to the job. There is that nagging doubt that all the leadership machinations were stepping-stones. There is also doubt from his union time where he undoubtedly did good things for workers but also seemed to already be on his self-promotion path.”

”Bill does well when in the right setting. His solo performance on Q&A comes to mind and they say his town hall meetings went well too. He is much better unscripted, without the rehearsed pauses and practiced eye contact and expressions.”

Allow me to make some observations. Yes it is rather odd that Malcolm is still the preferred Prime Minister given his Government’s abysmal performance. Does it tell us, taking into account the polls of this week, that the electorate whilst on the one hand are upset with his performance, on the other they dearly want a man of his style to succeed? They are voting for a perceived image rather than the man himself. On the other hand is it a reflection on Bill Shorten. You might say that he doesn’t have Turnbulls Manor of the Lodge personality. Kaye maybe right that people still have reservations about him. Or perhaps, given this Governments performance, a drover’s dog could win the next election.

Certainly Turnbull is unconvincing when it is obvious he is lying or trying to sell something he really doesn’t believe in. Even more so when he is playing bad cop politics. He cannot do nasty like a Dutton, Abbott, Pyne or Morrison. He just looks insincere, out-of-place.

Now about opposition and Bill Shorten.

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. The media, a biased one at that, focuses on the incumbent and often a 10 second grab on the nightly news is about all one can expect. Often you are dammed if you support something with bi-partisan intent or dammed 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.

And in their urgent desire to obtain office, or at least be seen to be on top of one’s opponent, they don’t take into account the re thinking of policy necessary to win back government, and the work involved in doing so. And in today’s political environment I might add the task is enormous.

Abbott made the mistake of not formulating policy (Turnbull the same) in opposition and are still paying for it.

In fact when and if they get their ABCC legislation through politicians will return to Canberra next year with nothing to talk about.

As Kaye said ”Bill does well when in the right setting.”

I have no doubt that in political terms Shorten out campaigned Turnbull in the last election and almost won.

I also think it true that Shorten in terms of public image doesn’t scrub up and that not only relates to appearance. He sometimes looks like he’s had a late night at the local. He does do well when he is fired up. He is also suspect on trust.

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 Barak Obama or Bill Clinton.

Shorten has none of their eloquence, instead shows 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. So opposition leaders tend to come over as unconstructive, having nothing good to say, or just carpers.

Having said that, Australia has not been blessed with charismatic leaders with a passion that excites and inspires. Howard, Gillard, Rudd, Abbott and now Turnbull have been dour, if not intelligent, individuals who would hardly enthuse one to alight from bed each morning, let alone be excited by ideas emanating from enlightened and sagacious minds.

We had great expectations of Turnbull but he was all show and no pony. You would have to go back to the period of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating to experience the exhilaration that might come about with an enthusiasm for what might be possible through the political process.

Brendan Nelson, Kim Beazley, Mark Latham, Simon Crean, John Hewson and Andrew Peacock, Alexander Downer all suffered from the helplessness of opposition and failed as leaders despite their aptitude.

My personal view, as an aside, is that Kim Beasley would have made a fine Prime Minister had he obtained office. And he nearly did.

Last year I wrote a few pieces about how I thought Bill Shorten should approach an election year. They got many responses but this one from Kaye typifies people’s expectations.

”I don’t want an election campaign mode. I want that marketing bullshit to stop. I want a frank and open discussion with the Australian people. I want us to decide what sort of society we want and then talk about how we can achieve it. That can’t be done in a two-week campaign.”

As it turned out we had a long one. Shorten was the policy wanker I thought he was and released them prior and during the election. Leadership is somewhat a personal judgement thing. Sometimes I read people’s ideas on who should be leader and I’m flabbergasted at their suggestion.

How do we perceive a person’s image? We think about how they present rather than what they do. Kaye is absolutely right when she says ”we need to decide what sort of society we want and then talk about how we can achieve it”.

Given current world and national events I don’t think there has been a more opportune time to do so. Change is necessary. We have the opportunity to mould it and shape it for the common good. We need a leader who can turn the Australian Political scene upside down and I don’t believe in this instance you need a charismatic figure. We just need a person who can layout the ground work for change in words that would make the hairs on your arms tingle. It’s in the substance, the words and how you use them that matters. If we don’t we could experience change as a phenomenon of its own making. With Its own tragic inevitability.

My thought for the day

”The secret of change is to focus all your energy on not fighting the old but on building the new”.


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  1. Peter F

    John, If you want to gain some further insight into the mystery of ‘preferred PM’ take a look at Mondays Telegross’ front page: It screamed out at Bill’s ‘hypocrisy’ over the 457 visa’s. It MIGHT have contained some truths, but it did not compare Bill’s position with the Government – just an all out attack on Bill. Too many people get their news ( and their opinions from this rag)

  2. Wayne Turner

    Or a simple answer,by simple people aka the public – The MSM campaigns against Shorten and Labor.The MSM years of being anti-Shorten has brainwashed the masses to NOT like him.It’s the MSM manipulation of the ignorant and gullible.

    Turnbull should no way be preferred PM – Stood for a whole set of issues before he was PM.Now alleges to think the exact opposite.A serial liar eg: “Mr Advocacy NOT slogans” = “Jobs And Growth”.A GUTLESS PM,who’s let the ultra right run the country.A waffler who says so much but really says so little,and says nothing of substance.A better speaking Abbott is all he is.A no point useless PM.

  3. Terry2

    I watched a hapless LNP member struggle to read a Dorothy Dix question during Question Time in the House of Representatives yesterday.

    It occurred to me, not for the first time, that that is no job for an intelligent life form.

    Answers a lot of questions about the type of people who wander into politics: empirical evidence ? Malcolm Roberts, Tony Abbott – I rest my case.

  4. Zue

    In what way is Australia served by the constant nitpicking on Bill Shorten’s manner and appearance? The Labor Party has been disciplined, stable, and has produced good policy during his time as leader. They have effectively been governing from Opposition, insofar as any government at all has been possible during the past term. The MSN has never had a good word to say about Bill, has given little space to his speeches (many of which have been very good). The MSM readers that I know have very little idea of Labor’s policy positions, but you can bet they would go to town on Labor if the Party started playing leader games again.

    Bill Shorten, like Julia Gillard before him, had his past put under a microscope by a Royal Commission. The fact that nothing of substance was found should tell us that he (like Julia) is pretty clean – I doubt many could bear such scrutiny.

    Out of all the leadership changes that we have had since 2009, the only one that was really a mistake was replacing Julia Gillard with Kevin Rudd. Both Abbott and Rudd had reached a point where they were unable to achieve anything – Rudd having exhausted himself, and Abbott having made himself a laughing stock. Julia was a good leader, subjected to extraordinary personal attacks by a misongynist and right wing press. She should have been supported in her leadership, and those attacks treated with the contempt they deserved. Shorten was on the wrong side in that affair, however it seems he learned from it. His misjudgment does not point to any failure of integrity or intelligence.

    You criticise Shorten for ambition, but there is no evidence that he supported Julia over Rudd and then Rudd over Julia in order to become leader himself. I imagine he is ambitious, but ambition can be motivated by many things – a desire to be in a position to make a difference, for example. Anyone who gets to the top needs to have some ambition, so it is pointless to criticise ambition alone. Turnbull’s sacrifice of his principles to his ambition is an entirely different case – one where it seems that the driving force behind the ambition was not about achieving public good at all.

    In our system, leadership is a matter for the party, not the public, and I wish we would discuss policy instead of personal presentation a bit more.

  5. Harquebus

    The pursuit of growth at all costs is a failed concept and any leader who participates in this absurdity will also fail. John Lord will be writing many more submissions like this one and for quite some time to come.
    In the meantime, we can expect our current environment to be completely destroyed, the climate to be permanently altered and all of us destituted as a result. This will be the price that we will pay for our inglorious leaders cowardice.

    “He knows nothing and thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” — George Bernard Shaw


  6. SGB

    “We just need a person who can layout the ground work for change in words that would make the hairs on your arms tingle. It’s in the substance, the words and how you use them that matters. If we don’t we could experience change as a phenomenon of its own making. With Its own tragic inevitability.”

    Yes this is exactly the PM we need: my thought is for ‘Albo’ I am hoping that one day the Labor Party will awaken and once more see the light on the hill.

  7. SGB

    Yes Zue,

    All that you said is very relevant.

  8. Kaye Lee


    I agree with everything you said. The comment that John quoted was in response to someone’s incredulity as to why Turnbull was ahead of Shorten so I was postulating on the mindset of an electorate that just re-elected a Coalition government with a sprinkling of Hanson just to drive home the discontent.

    For me, Labor’s policies have always been superior and I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone but amoral wealthy people would vote for the Coalition. I don’t really care who the leader is. But you are right about the media.

    After Brexit, the Remain campaign said they thought that the economic argument for staying was a self-evident winner but the conservative populists blew the immigration dogwhistle just as they have done here.

    Bill needs to go hard on income/wealth distribution, corporate tax evasion, action on climate change, and affordable housing. I also liked his line about us ALL being Australians – the inclusive language is good. He also should agree to a Federal ICAC and a REAL overhaul of politicians entitlements and political donations and reporting of same. I cannot believe that more than two years after Tony Abbott made the grand gesture to revoke the lifetime gold travel pass of politicians, they still haven’t got around to voting on the change in Parliament.

    Health and education are always important but he needs something different to grab the public’s attention. I still think the high speed rail linking Melbourne to Brisbane via Canberra and Sydney is a good idea for many reasons.

  9. helvityni

    “Beaten by Borat: Australia losing to Kazakhstan in education report.” ABC news

    Let’s sort our education system once and for all, and stop electing Queensland cops and Paulines to any position to ‘lead’ this country…
    Anything is better than what we have now.

  10. Sitoshi

    It’s interesting how people think that the MSM are obviously biased, but they blindly consider political polling as legitimate research? Political polls are a farce, and the media go to great lengths to manipulate the electorate so the polls look accurate. Now they even have a seasonally adjusted, aggregated poll of polls? You only need to consider the 6% swing in the poll taken after Turnbull became leader, without having any policies, to conclude how utterly ridiculous aggregated polls are.

    I bet I could get the average Tele reader to love Shorten, if I structured the question in a particular way. Voters aren’t ‘disaffected’, they’re dumb…

  11. Neil Hogan

    I think your thought for the day “The secret of change is to focus all your energy on not fighting the old but on building the new” says it all John and is the reason why Labor almost won the election and I point to Shorten’s Budget Reply speech to back that up, but I also think the reason why Labor never won the election was Labor’s campaign strategy.

    Having a campaign launch five weeks into an eight week campaign was a dumb decision because if it was held at the beginning of the campaign all of the talk since then would have been about Labor’s policies and how they would make them all work which would have left the government struggling to try and discredit Labor which would have highlighted the fact that the government didn’t really have a plan for the future at all, beyond a list of slogans completely lacking in any substance whatsoever, and the only proposal to hopefully achieve their jobs and growth mantra was a $50 billion tax cut to business and they called that innovation!!

    If Labor had have opened the campaign at the beginning it would have proved that Labor was ready, willing and more than able to lead Australia into a sustainable future economically, environmentally, inclusively and socially for all Australians, no matter what sex, colour, race or creed!!

  12. wam

    Shorten is clearly the best labor has(except for tanya but her god given handicap will keep her out till jesus says women are equal).
    Sadly is unelectable, like the other highly capable but colourless, tastless leaders.(evatt, calwell, hayden, beazley, crean)
    He and labor essentially miss the fact that we have never voted the conservatives out regardless of their nastiness without a whitlam, hawke or rudd.
    Why? Because they are unchallenged by the media who re-inforce believe that they are the economic managers. To disprove that belief is vital in today’s politics.
    The financial review again gives labor the clue to an attack on the risk to Labors’s AAA. Not just bowen but every interview aimed at the poor.
    First on the rabbott whose debt crisis was a lie
    Second of 457 taking jobs
    third of the massive increase in private debt
    all to debunk the image of economics.
    Whatever shorten et al does they must claim AAA and put the lie to the rabbott’s debt crisis.
    ps Zue, Gillard was desperately unlucky to be wedged by an ambitious set of loonies, a greedy media, a petulant lemon and a vicious rabbott. She achieved much but ask your conservative voting friends and she did nothing(they believe obama did nothing either), Labor cannot even mention gillard without the condemnation of the government’s media. Policy is the last thing voters want delivery is the only visible requirement and does little billy deliver????

  13. Kaye Lee

    Neil Hogan,

    There is a reason both parties waited so long to launch their campaigns.

    “If you’re wondering why the parties leave their official ‘launches’ so late, there’s a simple – but infuriating – answer: they only have to pay for their own campaigns after the official launch. Until then, it’s a taxpayer-funded romp around the nation.”

  14. Ella

    Being a political tragic, I watch Question Time with interest.
    Malcom Turnbull to me appears to carry an air of entitlement (out of arrogance) .
    Bill Shorten on the other hand is not a ranter, much quieter, much more refined without the arrogance.
    I don’t know how Bill Shorten can fight the vested interests supported by the media.
    The tabloids run the vested interest line. The average person , reads them, listens to the likes of Bolt et al.
    It reminds me of the campaign against Julia.
    In Parliament , the attack dog front bench throws piles of mud …which then the media rehashes.
    I guess if we want a better Australia we need as a society to become politically literate and be critical thinkers who don’t just consume the garbage being dished out.
    Even today just now Mr. Morrison is saying that Labor is against making corporations pay their fair share of tax.
    NOT SO ! What Labor is against is the kid gloves with which the LNP is treating high income earners , corporations etc.
    They cry poor but will not look at revenue raising measures.
    An ordinary person can not minimise their tax obligations…so…why should anyone else be allowed to do so.
    Mr. Morrison is just telling us all the taxes these people and companies pay BUT what he is not talking about how many ways they can avoid paying tax.
    Change the tax law LNP to make many of the the tax avoidance measures used by corporations ineligible….but then that would not protect their vested interest.

  15. Neil Hogan

    Kaye Lee – “There is a reason both parties waited so long to launch their campaigns.”

    Well as the old saying goes Kaye, you only get what you pay for…I would have thought winning would have been a good investment and not only for the ALP, but a good investment for the country too!!

    I guess that’s the problem when you leave strategy up to the accountants, they only look at the bottom line and not the investment.

  16. wam

    I am a tragic too, Ella. Sadly, the kid gloves analogy applies to labor.
    I was happily discussing uber with a hire car owner who is positive because competition on a level playground is a good thing. I nearly choked on my lovely mango and missed a bit of ZULU on the tele.
    The advert for uber says yes you pay tax but there is plenty of deductions.
    For my benefit has anyone got a benefit from the competition between petrol companies??
    Where does uber money go vs taxi/hire car money?
    Wonder if shorten can get someone to suggest a medicare levy is on gross not net. Then gina, packer and twiggy would squeal. What about trunbull’s vultures would they drop a few feathers?

  17. Freethinker

    Interesting comments and I agree with many but what we like to see or want it is not what the electorate like.
    This not only apply to Australia but to many countries.
    People like leaders like Abbott, Trump, ignorant like Pauline, aggressors like Rodrigo Duterte and I can go on and on.
    Look Abbott’s negative campaign when we won the election and how similar was Trump or Pauline policies.
    Leaders with this behavior and with the support of the press are today like a sheep dog gathering the voters and leading them to where the master want.

  18. Jack Straw

    Harq; We Know We Know

    “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”

    Winston S. Churchill

  19. Ella

    Wam, in some ways I agree that Labor should take off the kid gloves. I guess the question is ;
    do we want an attack dog like (Abbott) to pull our country apart or do we want to discuss policies and plans for the future. When you have
    no real policies that back up (the jobs and growth mantra) then you use the attack dog and personal attack on your opposition….because you have nothing better to talk about. Which is what the front bench of the LNP appear to be doing.

  20. Ella

    So the ABCC has been passed by the Senate…shame on those cross bench members who sold out Australian workers for their own end with NO concrete guarantees .
    We were told by the LNP that union leaders should come under the same rule of law as leaders in corporations.
    I would like to know how many from corporate sector has been put in gaol for ripping off mum and dad investor? The banks have not dismissed ANY of their executives responsible for the losses sustained by mum and dad investors.
    We have put the fox in charge of protecting the hen house ….thanks to those who got involved in the unscrupulous horse trading.
    Do we know EXACTLY what was horse traded for what ?
    The cross bench should be made to declare what was horse traded.
    To my understanding there is NOTHING concrete for SA in relation to the Murray Darling water scheme, only some vague letter from the PM , who has shown he will backflip on anything to keep the he said “I love my job…being PM”

  21. Kaye Lee

    Pauline Hanson says she is all about jobs, particularly apprenticeships. She thinks people should leave high school after third form (like she did) to get apprenticeships. She thinks we should go back to apprenticeships for nurses rather than academic qualifications.

    I wonder if she realises the building code she just voted for prevents the union bargaining over things such as limits on casualisation of work, promoting apprentices, limits on overtime and job security.

    These are bargaining restrictions that are not contained in the Fair Work Act, imposed on the construction sector but not other industries through government procurement policies.

  22. jim

    ”What baffles me is that the PM is still seen as the best person for PM! Any thoughts on this?
    IMO, I think religion has a lot to answer for it. being there is no other reason i can think of.
    Thought for to day “if there really was a God there would be a lot less crimes.”

  23. Marilyn

    MSM, especially Murdoch’s rags have a lot to answer for in the perception of who is the better leader. Even the ABC can no longer be trusted to provide a true analysis. Bill Shorten comes across really well in his Town Hall meetings and unscripted interactions. He is a man ready to listen and with true compassion.

    If Labor are to be successful in the next election they must do as you advise and reinvent themselves. Change is necessary, indeed vital! We cannot continue down this path. The thinking public want to see a more open, egalitarian society but we want our environment and our democratic rights protected. The push for Globalisation and the Fair Trade agreements have not benefited Australia. We want to see our land, infrastructure and public assets protected. It is possible to have investment without holding a fire sale.

    As for innovation, Australian have the mind set, the expertise and the imagination. Let’s be truly innovative and invest in High Speed Rail, preferably the zero emissions type, and open up our regional centres for employment at the same time as easing the burden of over development in our capital cities.

    Most of all Shorten needs to give the people an opportunity to voice their preferences for the future. Most of us currently feel that we have no voice. Our concerns are dismissed. Property developers lobbyists and Business Alliances have taken over the government and law changes are being made to degrade environmental protections and over ride public protest, especially in NSW.

  24. Zue

    WAM, I love your list of parties to the Gillard wedge. So succinct and spot on!
    (P.S. Sorry about capitalising your moniker – the grammar-checker insisted on a capital at the beginning, so I continued)

    Kaye, I do agree: That the majority of people vote the way they do, is a mystery. I figure it this way:
    20% are completely disinterested, and vote whichever way their parents or their friends do, with absolutely no understanding of consequences. If things get bad enough, this lot will take more notice, but will have little political judgment and no sense of history, so can’t be trusted to make good decisions.
    20% are interested, but really easily manipulated by the press. This lot can be quite passionate in repeating what the press has told them. Change the press and you change them. Unfortunately little hope of that.
    15% are rusted on Liberal voters because they believe the economy is the only thing that matters, and are incapable of believing that Labor could be better economic managers (despite all the evidence).
    10% are so convinced that urban people have no understanding of the problems of farmers that they will only ever vote for the Nationals or a minor right wing party, despite the fact that the Nationals do nothing for them and the right wing minors are a very mixed bag.
    10% vote Green because they are anxious about the planet and injustice.
    5% vote Labor because they identify as a unionised worker who will be benefitted by Labor policies.
    Another 20% vote Labor because they see Labor as the progressive party of Government. Some of these folk switch to Greens if they don’t like the way Labor is performing, but return when they see a good team in place.

    I think it is possible that rural people could eventually see that their interest does not lie with the Nationals or other parties of the right wing. Unfortunately, enlightenment seems a way off for many – a pity, as these people are suffering and they could be helped by a different government.

    Greens and Labor need to stop attacking each other.

  25. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Good on the WACA protesters in Parliament today speaking up for the people incarcerated on Manus and Nauru.


    I will respect Bill Shorten when he doesn’t keep his back to human rights protesters protesting for humane treatment of asylum seekers and incarcerated detainees. (Malcolm also turned his back on them pretending to talk to his sleezy colleagues but then we wouldn’t expect better of Malcolm Muck anyway.)

    I also want to see true alternative leadership for the vulnerable on welfare and proper environmental protections for vulnerable sites like the Great Barrier Reef. That’s leadership!

  26. wam

    no labor person could be a rabbott he is one of a kind an amoral opus dei who has only lied to do god’s work.
    His tactic of running from the questions by giving answers that resonate with the electorate could be modified by labor? perhaps, at every interview we need to remind the electorate about tripling the debt and risking labor’s hard won AAA despite going through the global financial crisis?
    I am naive but when albo talks to karl he could say if labor had a debt crisis and the rabbott has tripled it was he lying about the crisis or is the tripling a disaster? Surely they can come up with a stratyegy that helps the commercial station ask questions???

  27. helvityni

    I was pleased to see the brave protestors in Parliament today; I was also MORE than pleased to hear that Di Natale had comforted the protestors outside the place.

    I was also chuckling when I found out that the protestors had glued their the railings….

    We used the same method with our potted plants that got stolen twice off our front porch, we glued the third lot of the pots to the table.

    Plant stealing has not ever happened here in the lush green Bowral. According to the police, some angry Libs have found out that we are Lefties.

  28. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Congrats to you too, Helvi.

    You and the Parliament Protesters outsmarted Authoritarianism and its would-be adherents!

  29. Ella

    Jennifer, from What I saw Bill Shorten actually faced the protesters. It was Labor who remained in the Chamber. The cowardly LiNP walked out because they could not face the music.Now they are going to go on a witch hunt as to who signed the protesters in.
    Good on WACA bravo to them. the Parliament is after all the people’s house….Not for long if the LNP has its way.
    I hope these brave people keep protesting…I stand with them

  30. Jane

    How dare these silly young people interrupt Parliament, Get a job you fools.

  31. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    So Ella,

    70/30 I’m with you.

    As for you Jane,

    I’m 100% against you. If however, you’re being ironical and I’m too lacking in ironical scrutiny, please accept my humble apologies once you clarify your support for the Parliament Protestors.


    I will allow your correction on this occasion coz I also came to see Labor’s smart recognition of staying in the chamber while the LNP arse-lickers escaped from public exposure and censure.

    As for Billy’s attitude, his initial response was to turn on the chants. He then turned around sure, but his body language and acknowledgement of their protests were not much different from Malcolm Muck’s.

  32. Harquebus

    Jack Straw
    I’ll see you’re quote.

    “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.” — John McCarthy


  33. Jack Straw

    Huston we have a problem

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