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Day to Day Politics: Being an Opposition Leader sucks. So get off his back.

Wednesday 24 January 2018

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 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.

An observation

“The exchange and intellectual debate of ideas needs to be re energised and it is incumbent on the young to become involved.”

More often than not 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 they don’t take into account the re-thinking of policy and party structures necessary to win back government, and the work involved in doing so. Remember, Tony Abbott made the mistake of not formulating policy in opposition and paid dearly for it. You could be the sort of Opposition Leader he turned out to be but look at how that’s turned out. The best ever, the Murdoch papers said.

In Shorten’s case it is all 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 or Bill Clinton. 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 unless Labor history needs defending: then he can burn rubber with the best of them.

So opposition leaders tend to come over as negative, having nothing good to say, or just carpers. Abbott, of course, made a virtue of it.

Having said that, Australia has not been blessed with charismatic leaders with a passion that excites and inspires. Howard, Gillard, Rudd, and now Abbott 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.

So unpopularity has never been a retardant against election.

You would have to go back to the period of Whitlam – who could make your hair stand on end – 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, Andrew Peacock, Malcolm Turnbull and 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.

I have written, over the years, a few pieces about how Bill Shorten should approach an election year. Even been criticised for doing so but this one from Kaye Lee 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.’

Next Wednesday the Opposition leader will address the National Press Club and it will present him with an opportunity to outline what path, both economically and socially he wants to take us down. He might even begin with these words he tweeted last Monday:

“Today’s must-read. The top end of town is doing very well already. They don’t need a $65 billion tax break from Turnbull. And if I’m elected Prime Minister, they won’t get it.”

With an election likely anytime after August it seems Labor is well prepared to take the fight up to the Coalition. Leaders need not be popular to win. Ask John Howard.

“The party plans on using its jumpstart on campaigning by “building our narrative”, which is expected to centre around the party’s work highlighting inequality, including the casualisation of the workforce.

“It’s going to be about getting back to Labor basics, about coming up with solutions for the battlers, and that includes people who have jobs but can’t get enough hours, can’t have job security,” one party source familiar with the plans said. “You can expect that to be a fairly big theme as we go through this year.

“We’ll be working with the unions on it, of course, but it continues what we started at the last election. Negative gearing changes. That sort of thing. It is our point of difference and it matters to people and we should be going further down this path.”

Shorten certainly has his detractors but he keeps on keeping on. But he also has a large block of supporters.

He enjoys the support of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees union, which has a significant bloc of federal MPs and the support of Victorian Left power broker Kim Carr. He is also respected for his negotiating skills by many business leaders.

Since his last campaign one would have to admit that he has put an enormous effort into getting the party into shape for the next election. To be rid of him now would be an unnecessarily bad move. After all his performance as a Labor campaigner at the last election surprised everyone. So much so that he came within a seat of winning. Other than the “unpopularity” disease every leader seems to acquire in Australia what other reason do they have?

Collingwood lost a few premierships by slim margins but never sacked the coach. You couldn’t say Shorten has under performed.

For his part, the Prime Minister has become emboldened by his win in Bennelong and his High Court challenges to the legitimacy of three Labor MPs. Given a positive outcome in both will it be enough to overturn years of the poorest governance this country has seen in my lifetime? I don’t think so.

My thought for the day

“Labor is a party of progressives who never apply the philosophy to their internal structures. A decent leader should insist on it.” Go Bill!


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  1. Alpo

    Brilliant article John, I am in agreement with you. The Libs only have Shorten to attack, and the massive attack so far (including an entire RC, the TURC, specially designed to “get him”) has failed…. miserably. Political parties don’t change leaders who are leading the party to victory, especially a leader, such as Shorten, who is pretty aware of the Social Democratic direction that the ALP must follow (and lead Australia into); and he is also very aware of the difficulties and intricacies of the ALP party structure that, in part, could slow down the progress in such direction. He has shown the capacity to overcome such challenges in spades!!

    I agree that Beazley is the best PM we never had…. but Shorten won’t miss the target and the whingers from some sectors of the left, plus the scaremongers from the right, will be surprised to see what Shorten and his Team are going to do once in Government. The challenge is now clearer than ever: through tackling the growing inequality, Labor’s mission is to restore Social Democratic decency and bury Neoliberalism forever.

  2. Susan mann

    Well said

  3. wam

    To the standards of the boys you listed, Lord, Bill has not under performed.
    However, they remained unelected. What makes you think Bill’s fate will be different?
    The libs are just keeping the stereotype of labor’s economic mismanagement, shorten’s union affiliations and his absence ticking over in the minds of the voters.
    ps Lord,
    How has trump performed in comparison to your expectations?

  4. Chris

    Kim Beazley has no objectivity when it comes to Americans. He was a warmonger and militarist.

    “Labor is invariably divided on foreign policy – as would be expected in a party that embraces the views of Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd, along with Jenny Macklin and Tanya Plibersek. These divisions are easier to manage in government – or when the opposition leader is strong on foreign policy. Which explains the Hawke government’s support for the first Gulf War (1990-91), and Kim Beazley’s backing for the Clinton administration’s proposed Operation Desert Fox in 1998, which was aimed at ridding Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.”

    “Kim Beazley argues the situation in the Gulf today is different than it was – potentially – in 1998. But it is not clear why this is the case.”

    Sure they are examples from a crappy human being but that is all I could find at the moment.

  5. corvus boreus

    Bill Shorten is the leader that the ALP has.
    Changing that at this stage quite likely wouldn’t help Labor gain government next election.
    Either way, I won’t be voting for (or against) Shorten, mainly because I do not live in the electorate of Maribyrnong, Victoria..

  6. Ella miller

    As always love your pieces Mr. Lord.
    Just a few thoughts;
    We need a leader with a moral compass, BS has this in spades. Only a second hand car salesman needs charisma.
    Bill has done a lot of good work to get Labor ready for government.He has developed policies, which he should have kept under lock and key till the election is announced.
    Having listened to many of Bill’s speeches, they were inspirational. The sad thing is that the public at large only got to hear snippets because it was not in the MSM’s interest to do otherwise.
    I for one, can’t wait to hear his speech to the National Press Club. Hope you will be one who will report on it widely.
    May the force be with Bill and the Labor Party.

  7. John Lord

    Wam. I find it difficult in Trump to find any redeeming features at all. If I start with Climate Change the beginning becomes the end. Still I remain with hope that genius can prevail.

  8. Terry2

    I heard Prime Minister Turnbull at a press conference – Noon on Tuesday 23 January 2018 – saying that since the New Zealand offer [originally made in 2013 by New Zealand PM John Keys and renewed by new PM Jacinta Ardern] to take 150 asylum seekers and refugees a year from Manus Island [and Nauru], most of the boat turnbacks undertaken by Operation Sovereign Borders were boats heading to New Zealand. According to Turnbull we are actually assisting New Zealand in their border protection and we will not be taking them up on their offer as it will only encourage people smugglers to take advantage of New Zealand [and presumably Australia].

    Last year, 54 refugees from Australia’s two offshore immigration islands, Manus Island and Nauru, were resettled in the US. This week a further fifty-eight refugees will fly from Manus – most after more than four years held on the island. They will fly to the US east coast, from where they will be resettled, individually and in groups, across the country. Around 130 refugees on Nauru have been accepted for resettlement in the USA and are expected to leave the island in the next days or weeks.

    So according to our Prime Minister, the prospect of being settled in New Zealand excites people smuggling activity but the prospect of being resettled in the USA doesn’t.

    The problem is that the assembled media did not question this rationale, they did not ask him how many boats, over what period of time and what had happened to the boats. What does seem clear is that the PM was having a crack at New Zealand and implying that they should be thanking us for keeping their borders secure.

  9. Andrew Byrne

    Yes a complaint Neo-Liberal corporate media, and a brow beaten ABC have made the discourse of public policy one sided. The LNP get a free ride and asked no real questions. I remember when Labor had power last every Gov’t announcement was followed by a “what does the opposition leader think” snippet. Why aren’t we hearing this now with a Gov’t that is in disarray. Objective or at least a somewhat impartial media is needed, there are always more than 1 story to each arguement!

  10. townsvilleblog

    John, whilst we all understand that nothing can be done at this late stage to oust Shorten, especially following his performance in winning 14 seats at the 2016 election, we can encourage him to be more upbeat and go out and sell Labor’s policies at every turn. He is so dour and conservative but from last elections results a great many people are content with that impression.

    After the pasting the low income Australian community has taken in the past 5 years, Attila the Hun would look good. Shorten should throw some energy into his role, and make himself available for interview at every major announcement this extremist capitalist government makes, to explain in layman’s terms what Labor would have done and why. The three million plus people surviving below the poverty line, and the number growing every day want to hear a fired up Shorten as he was in the 2016 election campaign, they need to know that he and his party are on their side.

    Terry2 from an initial intake of 50,000 muslims during the Labor years, we now have in excess of 500,000 do you glean anything from that?

  11. Michael Fairweather

    I love reading John Lords articles, he write the way I would love to write but my lack of education stops me, But what I say I say form way within me , I am passionate on the subject of who is good for Australia, and I mean the Australian people, Labor is far out in front for the Australian people they do more than their best and they do it all for the People , Australia has had some very fine Labor Prime Ministers, with Gough , Bob. Paul, Rudd, and Julia as examples and the Liberals have not had one who could match Labors Prime Ministers. The only way I see why we lose election is the Media will lie , distort the truth about Labor and obviously the Liberals lie to their supporter who cannot see the lie’s for what they are. We will see more lie from Turdbull than you can every expect from a human being but we do expect that so lets be ready for them.

  12. Joseph Carli

    ” Terry2 from an initial intake of 50,000 muslims during the Labor years, we now have in excess of 500,000 do you glean anything from that?”….er..there’s something to be said for the aphrodisiac qualities of Halal food?

  13. Andrew Smith

    Heard AFR’s Laura Tingle on her weekly guest spot on ABC RN’s LNL, hosted by Philip Adams, with her sounding like Michelle Grattan. She got the boots into Shorten and Labor factions, no response from Adams, and ignored the biggest early week story in politics, ie. Frydenberg being attacked by his own LNP ‘fossil’ factions for daring to support electric cars.

    I also hope that Labor with well grounded policies for all Australians, including rusted on LNP, have the opportunity for government and manage to hold off our MSM and influential fossils wishing to replicate, by stealth, corporatist Italy and nativist Germany of the 1930s (or is that the present day US/UK?).

  14. Ricardo29

    One issue which isn’t discussed is the diminishing quality of political journalism and reporting. In newspapers particularly, huge losses of journalist positions have predominantly seen the most experienced and seniors lost. This leaves younger, less experienced, more malleable or easily intimidated reporters covering politics. It is also why the LNP leadership, those like Turnbull, Morrison, cash and others can spout bulls hit without being challenged. Add to that the dumbing down and intimidation of the ABC, not to mention its increasing employment of commercial media people (Ten’s Hugh Riminton being the latest) and we can see the mountain Shorten and Labor will have to climb to get coverage either outside or inside an election campaign.

  15. Joseph Carli

    Ricardo29..” This leaves younger, less experienced, more malleable or easily intimidated reporters covering politics.”…This same tactic was used against the more senior Academics in the universities back in the Howard years, where there was a push to “retire” those older lecturers who were more inclined to “lean” toward the “left” in scholarly interpretations…bringing in younger, more “malleable contract people who could be stood over with the threat of “no more contracts”..

  16. Andrew Smith

    Agree, while lower median has voter demographic is more internet bound the solid state MSM has the more influential conservative leaning upper median age voter demographic stitched up for reach and influence. Hence scare campaigns on Africans or Sudanese in Victoria, now the electorate is primed for LNP’s new policy on Australian values… Howard’s old template.

  17. Phil

    The broad issues that will decide where my vote lands include:

    Serious reform of political donations laws to eliminate the corrupting influence on politics,
    Serious reform of anti corruption laws and proper.y resourced policing of corporate and political corruption, Toal rewrote of the terms of reference for the banking RC,
    Reinvigoration of public education and greater transparency in expenditure of public money by private education,
    Stringent enforcement of the separation of powers and the end of prayers in opening parliament.
    Ending any further privatisation of public services,
    Legislation on gender equality
    Treaty(s) with indigenous peoples
    Abolish negative gearing and capital gains concessions that have distorted housing markets and made house affordability an issue bordering on inter generational theft.

    Got that Bill?

  18. Terry2

    Hearing Sciobo talking up the revised TPP which now includes Canada, we are led to believe there is absolutely no downside for Australia in this deal.

    Maybe that is the case but without any critical analysis coming from the media or, so far, the opposition how do we know this to be the case ?

  19. Kaye Lee

    Not sure if this is a sign of anything but yesterday they removed my comments from months ago from Malcolm Turnbull’s facebook page – “marked as spam”. Why now?

  20. Jan

    noun: spam; noun: Spam
    irrelevant or unsolicited messages sent over the Internet, typically to a large number of users, for the purposes of advertising, phishing, spreading malware, etc.
    unwanted or intrusive advertising on the Internet.
    “an autogenerated spam website”
    a tinned meat product made mainly from ham.
    verb: spam; 3rd person present: spams; past tense: spammed; past participle: spammed; gerund or present participle: spamming
    send the same message indiscriminately to (a large number of Internet users).

  21. Joseph Carli

    This is how Ciobo’s TPP works: Goods made/produced o/s w/cheap labour flood our country, putting people here out of jobs…So too do farming/mining produce from here go overseas making the exporters rich, but 457 visa workers come here to do the agricultural/mining/manufacturing work because they are cheap labour..Oz workers lose-lose unless work for zilch.

  22. diannaart

    @ Kaye Lee

    A bit of tidying up before the election? Which, I believe, can be called any time now.

    Besides some people just can’t deal with any criticism.

  23. Egalitarian

    Joseph: And we sell all the best food produce- vegetables/meat overseas and sell all of the rest of garbage to Australia Supermarkets.

  24. Joseph Carli

    Egalitarian..and are passed on to the public at exorbitant prices !……Joe Stalin was too soft..

  25. Egalitarian

    Australians should be protesting; but won’t because we are all too cool or dumb.

  26. Joseph Carli

    Egalitarian…We ; the Australian cultural collective, are preserving our “revolutionary virginity” for an event more worthy of its sacrifice…Like when the Grand Final of the AFL gets suddenly shifted from “The “G” ” to Bellerieve Oval under Peter Dutton’s orders to make way for a “One Direction” concert to raise money for Sen. James Patterson’s re-election campaign.

  27. Matters Not

    Understanding how political corruption works in the US. Clear and present danger here as well. Something to look forward to.

  28. jimhaz

    [And we sell all the best food produce- vegetables/meat overseas and sell all of the rest of garbage to Australia Supermarkets]

    I’m expecting this to be 100 times worse in 20 years with the economic rise of Asia. They will also take over service provision leaving us with no jobs.

  29. Terry2

    Kaye Lee

    Scott Morison said yesterday that personal income tax cuts to PAYG workers would be first, during 2018, followed by corporate tax cuts soon thereafter.

    I thought then that you don’t start flagging tax cuts too far before an election and the personal income tax cuts have so far only been a thought bubble from Trumble.

    Debt and deficit have now become but a distant memory or perhaps more accurately were used by the coalition as a pre-election scare campaign. As Trump has demonstrated, you can’t go wrong with the electorate when you are giving away tax cuts. People very quickly overlook that cutting taxes will also lead to cutting services.

    The ducks ar all being lined up and very soon we can expect announcements on defence and border security.

    Perhaps an election in September is in the offing.

  30. John Lord

    September is when the planets a-line.

  31. Jack Russell

    I’ll be watching National Press Club next Wednesday (someone mentioned Bill’s on in another btl somewhere). Looking forward to having my hopes confirmed, by what he says … and how he says it.

  32. Frederick

    Being an opposition leader does not necessarily suck. Especially if as in the case of mister NO (sometimes referred to as the budgie smuggler) his 24/7 self-promotion CIRCUS and his constant stream of emotionally manipulative sound bites you are backed 100% by the Murdoch lies/spin/propaganda machine.

  33. corvus boreus

    I believe that, next Woden’s-day, Bill Shorten will stand up and make make a speech ranging somewhere between thoroughly competent to outstanding (with exciting new policies!) at next week’s press club address..
    I hope that Bill Shorten will take the opportunity to announce that, after much review, the ALP now support establishing a federal anti-corruption commission (details of model forthcoming)..

    Belief should be based upon realistic expectation.
    Hope often lies elsewhere..

  34. Jack Russell

    Corvus, I hope to watch him effortlessly wipe the floor with the fascist bastards. He said he was ready to roll and I believe him. :))

  35. Matters Not

    CB re:

    will take the opportunity to announce that, after much review, the ALP now support establishing a federal anti-corruption commission

    You mean he really wants to win. But perhaps he doesn’t want it to a Pyrrhic victory?

    Lots of skeletons?

  36. corvus boreus

    Matters Not,
    I know little to nothing of Shortens future policy intentions, his views regarding tactical victories vs strategic costs, nor much about any bits of bone stashed in dusty boxes, so I will not speculate on such.
    Bill Shorten already shoulders the burden of being LOTO, and doesn’t need the added weight of me on his back.

    Besides, I have been earnestly, if not particularly reliably, informed that Bill Shorten will, on matters he has thus far obfuscated and fudged over, in due time ‘address everything in detail with openness and honesty’ (a personal trademark, I am told.)..
    In fact, I have been assured that I can ‘bank on it’.

    However, being something of a ‘nasty’ cynic with regard to politics, I won’t assume that broody ovulation means impending birth.

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