Bill Shorten took over as leader of Australian Labor Party in 2013 and resigned in 2019 after taking the party to two elections.
He won the leadership in a two-horse race with Anthony Albanese (Albo) under revised party rules: Rules that gave Albanese little chance of winning.
In 2016 he came within one seat of becoming Prime Minister after adopting a strategy of prematurely revealing major policies well before the election.
He also adopted a benign approach to the everyday swings of Australian politics. An approach that was seen as sensible by some and too light on by others.
He wasn’t expected to win in 2016 so his narrow loss was seen as exemplary. In 2019 he was in better shape and given the dreadful performance of the Coalition in office was expected to win in a canter.
Labor had led in the polls for the better part of three years. Shorten had turned the conventional wisdom on its ear by going early with new policies and shirt-fronting the government at every opportunity.
In many ways it was a radical approach to electioneering taking from the rich to accommodate a fairer and more equal society. Having said that, there were many Labor die-hards who wanted policy to be even further to the left. Conversely, others wanted more centre-right policies.
In short, Labor had done everything right. They were disciplined and loyal to their leader but when the crunch came, even with a set of policies that would make for a better society, their campaigning was terrible.
“The campaign, not the issues, was Labor’s Achilles heel, with the Coalition’s personal attacks on Shorten the final nail in the coffin,” wrote Peter Lewis in The Guardian.
A leak, however, from the committee appointed to reason why Labor lost, seems to lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Shorten.
It is now almost 6 months since Labor experienced its night of soul-destroying darkness. All the untruths and scares told by a prodigious teller of fabrication by Morrison wasn’t enough to unseat him.
The accrued mistrust of Shorten together with union association and unpopularity reigned supreme over the lies and scare campaigns of the Coalition. It must have run deep.
Once again Labor was to experience the loneliness of opposition.
Having had a right-wing Opposition Leader who took them to the left they elected a left-wing leader in Anthony Albanese who seems intent on taking them to the right.
In the months that have past, Albanese has given members the chance to publicly speak up on policy. Some have, and I feel sure more will once the report into their election loss is released in the next week or so.
Moreover, this point in time Albanese seems to be taking the rather old fashioned tactic of laying low unless its otherwise necessary, upping the anti in the third year and releasing policy with only a few weeks or months to go before the election.
At this point it would be wrong not to release a climate policy, very wrong.
The perception of Albo was that he could ‘tuff’ talk to any conservative leader. He indeed unlike others knew how to lay a decent shirtfront on the government.
Initially, Party members wanted him instead of Shorten. Now that they have him and the shirt-front is nothing more than a powder-puff to the left cheek, they want more aggression. As if it resolves everything.
As the theory goes, Labor only ever wins when a person of charisma enters the fray. Whitlam, Hawke and Rudd were men of their time who had vision, excited the people with the possibility that they could achieve great things.
All had one thing in common. They dared to be different, even radical.
The common good should be at the centre of any political philosophy. However, it is more likely to be found on the left than the right.
There are those in the Party, and those who support it, who long for the socialism of days long gone without a thought for the changes that have occurred in society. As if one thought suits all.
People scream out “retaliate with the truth”, but the fact is that accessibility or exposure to do so in opposition is limited to a 15-second grab on the nightly news.
Taken in totality, and in my view, there was nothing wrong with Labor’s policies for the recent election. It was just the way they were presented that was deplorable. A Hawke or Keating would have held society in the palm of their right hand and mellifluously told them the facts.
Had as much thought been put into how they were to sell them, and indeed defend the complications in them, they might have stood a chance.
As it was there were so many impediments that you could drive the proverbial truck through them.
Just as the government has a list of talking points to defend its policies, so too should the opposition have had to defend its own.
For example, when employment raises its head every Labor MP should know the following:
“In September 2013, there were 706,400 people unemployed (trend) or 697,100 (seasonally adjusted).
In September 2019, there were 718,000 people unemployed (trend) or 709,600 (seasonally adjusted).
They aren’t keeping up with population growth. Why does no one ever say in response to the jobs growth claim, that there are 12,000 more people unemployed now than when they took over?”
Tell it straight, tell it as it is and fix it.
I have gotten a little ahead of myself so let’s come back to the present. Labor is going through a period of self-examination with a new leader who hasn’t yet found his feet.
Albo is, however, making overtones of doing politics of the past whereas what is needed is something purer than the abrasive manner of the mouth that roared.
Albo should be using the phrase; “He’s loose with the truth” (about Scott Morrison) on every occasion he can, and keep on doing it until it sinks in.
And he should add; ”Just a clone of Trump” to a collection.
It is reasonable to assume that after his sucking up to Trump, Morrison is telling us that it will be the path of Trumpism he will be taking in the future.
At the moment Morrison is having a ball portraying Labor as a party of the past and that it is he and his party that are for the workers.
This impression is reinforced by responses to questions in this week’s Essential Report designed to get the first real take on peoples perceptions of Anthony Albanese’s Labor.
Morrison’s marketing experience – based mostly on slogans – comes through in everything he says and does. He understands the value of lies, repetition and misrepresentation.
It is a pity that Australian politics has degenerated to such a level, but it does however; give Labor an opportunity of rebirth, maybe as a “Common good party.” Dare to be different, and above all be progressive.
It would be a grave mistake to re emerge as just another centre-right party.
It seems to me that everyone wants an economy that is performing well.
However, when you are asking those who can least afford it to disproportionally support it you are not serving the common good.
When Joe Hockey was Treasurer he told the National Press Club: “The average worker works one month every year to pay for the welfare of others.”
At the time I wondered how many months the average worker worked to subsidise farmers, miners, tax breaks, negative gearing, franking credits, private and religious schools (religions don’t pay taxes), and retired politicians.
Fairness and equality of opportunity must be central to any Labor Party platform.
It is difficult to get a grip on just how Albo might rebrand Labor after its period of self-examination given that the opposition leader, given his confusing support for so many Coalition policies.
At the moment he is less popular than Shorten himself. If he doesn’t survive they could end up with a future leadership team of Queensland’s Jim Chalmers and former deputy leader Tanya Plibersek.
So much depends on the attitude of the leader that it is even more difficult to predict how the party will brand itself without it being settled in leadership.
Let’s put that aside for a moment. Before any re-branding can take place the party has to be satisfied that the reason or reasons for the defeat have all been exposed.
Was it the unpopularity of Bill Shorten? Was it the policies or was it entirely the campaign itself?
For me it was the trifecta. Yes, Shorten was unpopular. No, there was nothing wrong with the policies – it was the leaders inability to articulate them, which of course bleeds into the conduct of the campaign.
Ask yourself would Labor have won with Albo?
A hypothetical question indeed. And truthfully I don’t know what Labor should do. It is too early. All I can do is offer some comments, ideas and suggestions, but I have always felt that cleaning up our democracy would be a noble pursuit and the first step toward regaining government.
I note that as I write the news community today, 21 October, are asking for more transparency in our government. It is true that we have a government of a “need to know” mentality, that hides things from us and is about as transparent as a black glass window.
When a political party deliberately withholds information that the voter needs to make an informed, balanced and reasoned assessment of how it is being governed. It is lying by omission. It is also tantamount to the manipulation of our democracy.
Here are some thoughts on a Labor revival based on repairing our democracy:
- The Labor Party needs to rid itself of out-dated social objectives and invest in a social philosophical common good instead.
- And recognise that the elimination of growing inequality is a worthwhile pursuit.
- In terms of talent, both parties are represented by party hacks of dubious intellectual liability without enough female representation and worldly work-life experience.
- Labor’s pre-selection processes are rooted in factional power struggles that often see the best candidates miss out.
- There is a need to select people with broader life experience. Not just people who have come out of the union movement. Fix it.
- Our Parliament, its institutions, and conventions was so trashed by Tony Abbott and those who followed that people have lost faith in the political process and their representatives. Fix it.
- Ministerial responsibility has become a thing of the past. Fix it.
- Question time is just an excuse for mediocre minds that are unable to win an argument with factual intellect, charm or debating skills. Fix it.
- The public might be forgiven for thinking that the chamber has descended into a chamber of hate where respect for the others view is seen as a weakness. Fix it.
- Question time is the showcase of the Parliament and is badly in need of an overhaul and an independent Speaker. Fix it.
- Recent times have demonstrated just how corrupt our democracy has become. We have witnessed a plethora of inquiries all focusing on illegal sickening behaviour. Fix it.
- Light frivolity and wit has been replaced with smut and sarcasm. It has debased the parliament and all MPs, as moronic imbecilic individuals. Fix it
I cannot remember a time when my country has been so devoid of political leadership.
In recent times we have had potential, but it was lost in power struggles, undignified self-interest, and narcissistic personality.
The pursuit of power for power’s sake and the retention of it has so engulfed political thinking that the people have become secondary and the common good dwells somewhere in the recesses of small minds lacking the capacity for good public policy that achieves social equity.
People on the right of politics in Australia show insensitivity to the common good that goes beyond any thoughtful examination.
One cannot begin to discuss the decline of Australian democracy without at the same time aligning it to the collapse in journalistic standards and its conversion from reporting to opinion.
Murdoch and his majority-owned newspapers; with blatant support for right-wing politics have done nothing to advance Australia as a modern enlightened democratic society.
On the contrary, it has damaged it, perhaps irreparably. Fix it.
Bloggers more reflect the feelings of grass-roots society.
Truth in government as a principle of democratic necessity needs to be reinstated.
Fix it first and common good policy will follow.
My thought for the day
Leaders who cannot comprehend the importance of truth as being fundamental to the democratic process make the most contribution to its demise.
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