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If I were Bill Shorten – on a vision for the nation

What would you say if you were Bill Shorten? Respected blogger Ad astra has some ideas that Bill would be wise to heed.

Last week Jon Faine interviewed Bill Shorten on Melbourne 774 radio. I wonder what Labor voters felt about that encounter. My guess is that they would have been disappointed; a feeling expressed by many talkback callers and text messengers.

Faine gave Shorten close to half an hour to state what Labor stood for, and what plans he had. He asked Shorten repeatedly how he would pay for them.

Bill hesitated, stumbled, repeated himself, and obfuscated over the revenue issues. It was not a confident or impressive performance.

Defeating an incompetent and untrustworthy government with a spent leader takes more than sitting back and waiting for the Abbott government to implode. Labor and its leader need to be out there offering a positive vision, plausible plans and cogent strategies to pay for those plans. Malcolm Turnbull is doing this piecemeal in his inimitable style; why can’t Bill Shorten?

While not being vain enough to pretend to have all the answers, this piece attempts to put together some ideas about how Labor and Shorten might proceed. “If I were Bill Shorten…’

It’s easy from the coziness of a comfortable chair, free from the pressure of a live interview, to be a smart aleck about what one would say, so I kept this front-of-mind while writing.

Shorten could learn something from Abbott, who seems to be able to learn his lines, albeit simple ones of just a few words, and repeat them endlessly. I’m not suggesting he become the mindless automaton Abbott has become. I’m simply saying to him: formulate your lines carefully and learn them so well that you can spontaneously give them out, with suitable variations, in response to the right stimulus.

If I were Bill Shorten, I’d structure responses in a commonsense sequence, beginning with a vision, then plans, and then how to fund them.

In this piece, I’ve interspersed (in bold) the sort of comments and interjections that radio interviewers seem unable to suppress. It’s almost 2500 words, but at the usual rate of speaking, 100 words per minute, the words could be said comfortably in half an hour. In places I’ve extrapolated from existing Labor policy; you’ll be able to detect where. I’ve used bolding liberally to denote oral emphasis.

So far, you’ve succeeded in being a small target Mr Shorten, but sooner or later you’ve got to tell us what you stand for, what you intend to offer, and how you’ll pay for it. So here’s your chance.

Thanks. I’m ready, but before getting down to the nitty-gritty, I’d like to talk about the sort of country I want to live in. Then I’ll talk about to how I intend to achieve my vision. Bear with me.

Frankly, I want to live in a country that’s fair, just, equitable and harmonious, one that gives everyone the opportunity to get a good education and to have a decent, rewarding job. Unemployment is far too high at 6.3%, and sadly youth unemployment is much higher. Jobs for all are central to my vision.

I want a country that values all its citizens and cares for the environment in which we live.

I want my country to have a productive, prosperous economy that seizes its opportunities and shoulders its responsibilities in the global economy.

I want fairness in the workplace, where workers and employers enjoy harmonious relationships, which we know results in higher productivity. The call for more ‘flexibility’ from business is simply code for poorer work conditions. Fairness to all must be at the centre of any change in industrial relations.

I want a society where all, the well off and the less well off, pull their weight, pay their taxes, and support those who need help.

I want to live in a country where good healthcare is accessible to all, and where the disabled, the aged and the infirm are properly cared for.

I want a tolerant, just, cohesive society where there’s religious and cultural freedom and where ethnic diversity is valued and preserved.

I want our unique Indigenous and multinational culture to be preserved, and the arts treasured.

I want to live in a country where science is valued, where research and development is fostered, where innovation is encouraged.

That’s the sort of country I want to live in. That’s the country most Australians want to live in.

OK, so how are you going to make that sort of Australia?

Let me tell you my plans.

First, we must have a strong economy. So I’ll be talking it up, boosting confidence among businesspeople and consumers. There’s been too much talking the economy down, and that’s become a self-filling prophesy. We’ve got a great future; let’s tell everyone.

Business needs encouragement to employ people and take on apprentices, so we’ll make it easier by providing subsidies that support business, industry and apprenticeships. We’ll boost TAFE and training courses, not take them away.

We know that industry and business needs infrastructure to function: roads, rail, and ports. We’ll make it easy for private and public sources to invest in them. We’ll have Infrastructure Australia guide us throughout.

We’ll encourage developing industries, such as the renewables industry, which has a very bright future as we reduce our use of fossil fuels. They must be given strong support and encouragement.

As our reliance on mining activity diminishes, we’ll put our weight behind the move to service industries, such as in finance, in communications, in health and in education, where there’s enormous potential. Small business employs 7 million workers. It’s the powerhouse that must drive this move to service provision.

In the Asian Century there are countless opportunities for Australian business and agriculture to supply the needs of the expanding middle class in countries in our region; needs that include food, consumer goods, communications, and services. We’ll help them to grasp those opportunities through trade delegations and by removing trade restrictions.

We’ll help the transition from car manufacturing to other forms, and assist those making the transition – workers and businesses alike. We won’t chop them off at the knees! South Australia must be involved in building our next submarine fleet.

But you haven’t told us how you’ll pay for all these grand intentions!

I’ll come to that. But let’s talk first about what we want, what our nation needs.

On the health front, we’ll throw our support behind primary care so that anyone can see a doctor when they need to. The AMA strongly supports the GP workforce because it’s the backbone of our health system. It does not want a GP tax that puts barriers in the way. Labor will never vote for a GP tax.

Labor wants quality education from pre-school right through to university. It will support schemes to make child care affordable; it will throw its weight behind the vast network of public schools; it will not support high university fees that put students into heavy debt.

You still haven’t told us how you’ll pay…

I’ll come to that…

What about our older folk? We want all our citizens to have a decent retirement. So we won’t be fiddling with the aged pension; we won’t be making people work longer when they’re not able. We’ll be shielding aged pensions from government interference; we’ll index pensions to wages annually so that pensioners get a fair go. We’ll steadily increase employer contributions to superannuation so that workers have enough to comfortably live on in retirement.

What about climate change? We’ll reintroduce penalties for those who pollute our atmosphere; we’ll reduce carbon dioxide emissions with ‘action plans’ that actually work, as we did in the past. We’ll scrap the useless Direct Action Plan that hasn’t even started yet, and won’t work if it ever does. We’ll stop erosion of the renewable energy target, the so-called RET, and encourage investment in renewables. The industry is being strangled by the current uncertainty about the RET. We’ll restore confidence.

So you’ll re-introduce a carbon tax?

We believe the climate scientists when they warn us that global warming is dangerous and threatening our way of life. We must protect our planet for the next generation. To not do so would be culpable ‘intergenerational theft’. We’ll do everything we can to reduce pollution, even in the face of yet another scare campaign.

Research and development will attract our vigorous support, so that Australia can stay at the forefront in health, in education, and in business and industry. It’s vital; without R&D we’ll fall behind our neighbours and the rest of the world.

Above all, we want to give our young people hope for the future. Their aspiration is for a satisfying and rewarding job. We’ll back them all the way.

Will you now PLEASE tell us how you intend to pay for all of these high-sounding ambitions!

Let’s start at the beginning! Australia has a revenue problem, not just a spending problem, as our opponents insist.

The government has foolishly forfeited a lot of revenue when they abolished the carbon and the mining taxes, so we must look elsewhere.

To begin with, we won’t avoid talking about taxes and levies – governments shouldn’t be scared to give our unfair tax system a big shake.

First, all should pay their fair share of taxes. We propose to stop multinational corporations evading tax through shifting profits overseas. The G20 forum has the same aim. We’ll clamp down on them, but we can’t expect strong tax compliance if the staff who collect tax are reduced, which is what this government has done. We’ll strengthen, not weaken the tax office, and relentlessly pursue tax evaders.

There’ve been many calls for the removal of superannuation and capital gains tax concessions and negative gearing, all of which favour the wealthy. We know the revenue lost through these perks is massive; for example, if super concessions were able to be removed, that alone might pay for our aged pension. We’ll review all of these. But it’s not as simple as some make out.

Superannuation rules have been in place for years and many have planned their retirement under these rules. We can’t rip them up overnight. So we’ll change them gradually, and give plenty of time for those depending on super in retirement to adjust.

Take negative gearing. There’s a connection between it and the housing industry. Because many have based their investments in housing on the current rules, we can’t make sudden changes. That wouldn’t be fair. But we’re determined to gradually reduce the generous concessions that now operate. We’ll move slowly and give time to adapt, so as to not damage investment and the housing industry.

The same applies to capital gains concessions. We’ll phase out these concessions slowly and give plenty of time for adjustment.

The key to all these changes, which must be made on the grounds of equity, is to make them slowly with adequate notice so that all can adjust gradually.

The eventual savings to the budget could be almost $80 billion, which is enough to fund pensions and much of the cost of healthcare and education.

Will you include the family home in any asset test for the pension?

We have no plan to do that. The family home is sacrosanct. But it does seem unfair that some people have a two million dollar home and as much in super, and can still get a part pension. We need to work out how to avoid that situation and bring some reasonableness back into the aged pension system.

Can we talk about GST? Everyone seems scared to talk about it. If one side dares to mention it, the other side pounces and starts a massive scare campaign. That’s immature and it’s detrimental to our economy! We must face up to what we should expect of the GST!

Some say the amount of the GST should be increased, perhaps up to 15%. Some say the scope of the GST should be extended to include food, healthcare and school costs.

The problem is that if the GST is increased on an article we all use, it costs the poorest and wealthiest exactly the same. For example, if the GST on fuel rises, the poor and wealthy pay just the same for every litre of fuel. We all need fuel. We all drive cars! So when the GST is reviewed to see how it might generate more revenue, we must make sure that we don’t make life harder for the less well off. It’s not beyond the wit of man to work out how to avoid this. We must ensure that the cost of the essentials for living don’t soar beyond the reach of the poorest among us.

Labor won’t back away from tackling these hard issues. A complete review of the tax system is needed. It won’t be easy, but we’ll do it, and we’ll make sure we end up with a fairer and more equitable system.

When it comes to funding health, which will cost more as our population ages, we’ll gradually increase the Medicare levy until it covers the costs of health and disability care. We’ll raise it slowly, year by year, so that everyone has time to get used to it.

We’re not keen on increasing income and company taxes; no one is! We wouldn’t want to increase the burden on families or inhibit investment and innovation. But we need to acknowledge that it’s been the tax cuts handed out when the nation had rivers of revenue flowing in that have got us into the situation we now face, a problem we must now fix. We ought not to put tax increases into the ‘too hard basket’. If we want the services we enjoy to continue, there may be no better alternative.

You haven’t once mentioned cutting expenditure! So will Labor go on another spending spree?

We realize that on the other side of the ledger is spending. Of course we won’t be going on a spending spree; we’ll be cutting expenditure wherever we can without reducing services. We did that in government, and made billions of dollars of savings. We’ll do it again.

Everyone knows that in the long term the budget must be brought back to surplus, but rushing at it is bound to result in unintended consequences, as we have seen so starkly with last year’s budget, where the least well off were unfairly targeted. We’ll move carefully to iron out the budget issues, and we certainly won’t ask the lowest income earners to do the heavy lifting.

You’ll have your work cut out selling that package!

Well, we’re up to it. We believe strongly that if the people want the government to provide them with infrastructure such as roads and public transport; if the people expect services such as quality healthcare and education, if they want to have a decent retirement, they’ll be willing to pay for these benefits one way or another. But governments must explain carefully what they’re offering, what it will cost, and how we can all fairly share the burden of paying for it. Governments must ensure the people really do understand. Vague, confused, weasel words are useless.

All we’re asking is for the people to give us the prospect of giving them what they want and what they need. We know what to do, and how to do it. All we want is the opportunity to get on with it.

Readers, what do you think? What would you say if you were Bill Shorten?

Ad astra is a retired medical academic, concerned that the alternative PM makes such a poor fist of outlining what Labor is offering. More about Ad astra here.

This article was first published on TPS Extra.

28 comments

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  1. totaram

    The reason that he makes such a poor fist of explaining it, is that he is also an economic neocon, and so are most of the morons in his party. That is why you had Wayne Swan promising to deliver a surplus, as if that is the high point of good economic management. They don’t even realise that they can’t guarantee a surplus because they can’t control what the private sector will do. And they realise even less that repeated govt. surpluses are often followed by recessions.That is what the historical data shows. It was only the “profligate” stimulus spending by the Rudd govt. that ensured we didn’t have a recession after the GFC, which happened to coincide with the end of the run of budget surpluses of Peter Costello. Instead of pointing that out these idiots keep saying they will bring the budget back to surplus and fall into the “framing” which suits the neo-liberals. Until they get out of this narrative which is “owned” by the IPA neocons, they cannot do anything different from what the IPA demands.

  2. Rosemary (@RosemaryJ36)

    I wish some of the contributors to this Network were advisers to the ALP!

  3. Jake Hodgman

    A well thought-out article. Might also be worth adding in a commitment to our responsibilities under international and human rights law, as another point of difference from the Libs, who seem to have taken a ‘so what?’ attitude to our commitments on that front. Maybe a line like “Where the government has seen fit to denigrate certain members of our community based on difference and diversity, we will return the right of every citizen to be treated equally and with respect under the law. Rather than being mocked on the world stage, we will once again take our place as a progressive and leading country, championing the qualities that gained us respect in days that now seem so long ago. We can no longer rely on luck to make us great. We must instead be known for our decency, respect, intelligence, and willingness to do the work that it will take to overcome the challenges of being part of a global community.” Just off the top of my head…

  4. Jake Hodgman

    @Rosemary, I was just thinking the same thing 🙂

  5. crypt0

    If I were Bill Shorten …
    I would simply contact John Roskam (for whom I was best man at his wedding) and ask him to remind me what I was supposed to say.
    I’m sure John has the answers … after all look at the fine job Tony has done with a list of suggestions from the IPA !!
    Go Bill !!

  6. Kerri

    In my humble opinion the task for Bill Shorten should not be hard. The elegant simplicity in developing policies in the best interests of the Australian people and taking those policies to the voters should garner considerable favour. But sadly I believe Shorten, like Abbott, is not looking to what will be best for all Australians. Unlike Abbott he is not wholly and idealogically bent on pleasing the wealthy he is however desperate for votes and will say and do whatever gets the best reviews in the press. Sadly there appears to be no one on the left of parliament interested in principle above popularity. If you don’t believe in the principles and you are shit scared of being criticised you will find it very difficult to string together a fair and reasonable narrative that you can present to the voters without skipping a beat. It is this lack of conviction that sees Shorten stumbling over words. He is not saying what he believes in. He is saying what he thinks will get votes. If only Labor would recognise that their traditional voter base may not have the funds of the Miners and the Big End of town but they have way more votes.

  7. lawrencewinder

    I think crypt0 nailed it…. I think Shorten should retire to the back-bench. Plibrersek or Albanese as leader with Wong or King / Burke as deputies. Start talking VISION, paint broad brush pictures that envision a future that is not just monetary and economic but socially cohesive and positive…forget detail talk vision and tell the “Blot’s on the Landscape” (Bolt, Hadley, Laws, Jones, Mitchell et al) to sew their lips together.
    Energise this moribund nation, excite, inspire and unify this bogan country before its taken from us all.

  8. Rossleigh

    If I were Bill Shorten, I’d brush my teeth and use a breathe freshener.
    But what would I know…

  9. Jake Hodgman

    Personal experience Ross? 😉

  10. eli nes

    bill was good at beaconsfield but hit the top job too quickly for his ideals. labor blew the chance on the debt lies and are frightened of using slogans to show the coalition lies, they shy off robb when plibersek and wong would make mincemeat of his FTAs and his appointment of him as minder for bishop at climate change but nothing from these women???? the sharpest criticism of the fixer came from abbott loving nikki savva on insiders.
    labor ignores the academically challenged to champion their university intelligent ilk. the former will be unlikely ever to pay back debt and incur compounded debt of half a million by 50 (who knows what pressure that will cause should they seek a personal loan?) Of the latter, only women have family commitments that impinge of repayment of hecs??? If billy is not a modern day blunt he is a beasley nice man but PM no thank you..

  11. Jake Hodgman

    I think @eli nes is right that Bill Shorten was promoted too soon on the back of Beaconsfield. Where he stood as a voice and representative of the workers in that case is exactly what was lost when placed as a chieftain for Labor – an easy and populist choice but not necessarily as a leader of the party. His strengths as an ‘everyman’ are better suited to being an important part of the party’s values, but as a party head, they need someone with more communication and leadership ‘nounce’. A more politically experienced figurehead such as Penny Wong would provide them with a strong political voice that could then refer to Bill as a leader amongst the workers, with others fulfilling economic and environmental roles that together form a triumvirate led by a political communicator that can articulate the overall party agenda. The time for change is NOW, in order to achieve cohesion and a point of difference. And, to play (reluctantly) the gender card, they could achieve another point of difference if Wong was chosen – plus the ‘rights’ card to show support for the right of sexual choice. Maybe not an easy sell to the conservatives, but also a challenge for them (the conservatives) to show they can respect the law and Human Rights Charter – any argument against gender or sexual bias would be seen as petty and ‘old world’, thus further alienating the Liberal Party from a great percentage of Australians who don’t care about who you choose to be, but instead, what you do. Fear of difference seems to be holding the ALP back from being a true opposition. It’ll take integrity and courage, but isn’t that what we want from our ‘leaders’? Wong vs Bishop (The Libs are too right wing for Turnbull and most of the other men come across as arrogant pretenders) would (besides get the ‘Asian’ vote, if I may be forgiven for being so crude) nullify the gender argument proposed by those stuck in the past, and put us back on the path towards showing tolerance for diversity, which has been sorely lacking under Abbott. Take the challenge, dare the people to have their own integrity, face the intolerance of the conservatives openly and publicly, and explain how being different and brave is a much better choice than intolerance and disrespect. It would be representative also of the multicultural and multinational Australian history that is so often covered up by ‘white’ prejudice. No guts, no glory. It’s their election to lose.

  12. Pingback: If I were Bill Shorten – on a vision for the nation March 22, 2015 – Written by: The AIM Network | winstonclose

  13. Cleanlivin

    Maybe the reason for silence is that he does not want to signal to the new PM, when Abbott goes, his strategy, for this person to attack. Best keep your powder dry until you know your enemy!

  14. stephentardrew

    Bill needs a serious makeover or go under.

  15. trishcorry

    This is the same radio interview where the Interviewer acted like Casper Jonquil on amphetamines in parts. I think Bill Shorten made a very valid point – Why should Labor be bipartisan on bad policy?

  16. John Fraser

    <

    Labor is still bipartisan on refugees, Howards Middle East War part 2 and meta data.

    All 3 are "bad policy".

  17. astra5

    I thank you all for your thoughtful comments.

    Jake Hodgman, your additional words about diversity fit well into the ‘If I were Bill Shorten’ narrative. I wish we could now say: “We must be known for our decency, respect, intelligence, and willingness to do the work that it will take to overcome the challenges of being part of a global community”, instead of being seen as pariahs.

  18. townsvilleblog

    What Bill Shorten should say is “I resign for the good of the party, and to make way for a true Labor man with fire in his belly like Anthony Albenese who won the members 30,000 vote by 58.6%” This would give Labor a fighting chance at the 2016 election, as things are Shorten is far too bipartisan on too many topics, instead of expressing Labor’s policies.

  19. M-R

    Shorten is never going to be able to shake off the cloak of the midnight plotter who destroyed the careers of both Labor PMs who followed the hideousness of the Howard years.
    Give me Chris Bowen any day.

  20. John Fraser

    <

    M-R

    Bowen is never going to shake off the perception of the rat running down the back alleys of parliament delivering Rudds poison missives.

  21. Harquebus

    The old joke. How do you know when a politician is lying. A: Their lips move.
    What I wan to hear Bill Shorten say is, an admission that his ideology of infinite growth is fundamentally flawed and will be abandoned.

  22. Jake Hodgman

    Yes, pollies seem to forget about being human don’t they? Any leader who denies an opportunity for improvement because they’re scared of admitting an error is not a real leader of people. To quote Marcellus Wallace, “That sting in the back of your neck? That’s pride f*cking with you”. They’re so caught up in being ‘perfect’ that they lose the flexibility required to approach anywhere near that unachievable target. Lose the pride, work for the common good. It requires sacrifice of the ego. Let us see you as humans because none of want to be ruled by robots.

  23. Gabrielle M. Rose

    Thanks, good idea. Focus on good policy. Don’t go to the centre where the Greens are pushing you. The Greens have their policy platforms better known than Labor. Why is that? How much longer can you tolerate this bad, bad government and its appalling leader and far right wing policies. No more mr nice guy Bill, go get them!

  24. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I think Bill would do well to acknowledge our enlightened comments. Intelligent, skilled and experienced people in the community like us are crying out to be heard.

    His inability to speak up on important issues, beside the obvious no-brainers like the need for increased women’s domestic violence refuges, and to engage with our informed dialogues on how to identify and strategically address various issues, is frustrating and the best way to lose the hearts, minds and spirits of his supporter base.

    Stand aside Bill and let Albo take over and I like the earlier suggestion of Catherine King as Deputy. I admire her strength of character, dedication to her Health shadow portfolio and poise in parliament.

  25. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks Michael and Carol for neuting Zeik’s comment.

    Thanks also Zeik for reading the numerous comments I have made.

    Strange as it might be, there is satisfaction knowing Rabid’s scurrilous, little social media spongers like you, are watching. That means you’re reporting back to Rabid himself!

    Make sure you let Georgy Porgy Brandis know that his Metadata legislation stinks too.

  26. doctorrob54

    totaram is spot on,I can not for all wonders understand why Shorten is even there,Albanese has more runs on the board than Shorten ever will have.But that’s another story.This is a wonderful article and someone should make sure the Lab.Party gets a copy or ten.If they sack abbrott and replace him with either bishop or turnbull,Labor can back up and go home.

  27. John Armour

    “Let’s start at the beginning! Australia has a revenue problem, not just a spending problem, as our opponents insist”

    These are words I wouldn’t be putting in Bill Shorten’s mouth.

    Revenue in aggregate does not have to be increased for the simple reason we don’t have an inflation problem. The purpose of tax is the management of demand.

    If there is a problem with revenue it’s the unfairness of the distribution of the burden. And similarly, if we have a problem with spending, it’s that it’s not enough. The deficit needs to be a lot bigger.

    The albatross around Shorten’s neck is that having embraced neo-liberal ideology he has to continue playing by the rules of their game, no matter how stupid.

  28. townsvilleblog

    If Bill Shorten needs to explain how he will pay for the expenditure he is planning all he need say is “we will make sure that corporate Australia pay at the very least 15 cents in every dollar they make so the tax system is fairer to the PAYE taxpayers. Problem solvered. Of course big business will hit back but that would be Shortens chance to stand tall on “our” behalf and insist that the terrible inequity does not remain under a Labor government.

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