Bill Shorten: the ac­ci­den­tal Prime Min­is­ter?

It will be a tri­umph of pol­icy over per­son­al­ity if La­bor’s Bill Shorten ends up liv­ing in the Lodge, be­cause polls con­sis­tently rate the Coali­tion’s two most re­cent chair-warm­ers as pre­ferred PM,

The Courier-Mail - - NEWS - writes Paul Toohey

BILL Shorten does pol­i­tics the hard way. He does not ask to be loved. Which is for­tu­nate, be­cause – fam­ily and friends aside – he’s not too love­able, or even widely liked. He’s not even trusted.

It is re­mark­able, there­fore, that Aus­tralia ap­pears re­signed to in­stalling Shorten as the 31st prime min­is­ter.

Peo­ple are wor­ried, the warn­ings are sound­ing, yet no one’s run­ning for higher ground. This feels like a pre­or­dained event for which there’s no stop­ping.

Newspoll has been telling the same story for a long time: peo­ple don’t like Bill but they will vote La­bor. So, should Shorten win, hav­ing con­tin­u­ally rated as the less pre­ferred PM to Mal­colm Turn­bull and Scott Mor­ri­son (al­though not to Tony Ab­bott), La­bor will el­e­vate him to a spe­cial place in its pan­theon – the man who won with­out love.

La­bor will sell it as proof that peo­ple want pol­icy over per­son­al­ity, and if he de­liv­ers clear ma­jor­ity rule, Shorten will not be plagued by ques­tions of le­git­i­macy like so many other re­cent PMs.

The decade of rolling-door lead­ers could end with a Shorten prime min­is­ter­ship.

Of course, a lot can hap­pen be­tween now and the likely May 2019 fed­eral elec­tion.

Scott Mor­ri­son has been smil­ing lately, a lot, pre­sent­ing as the ac­ci­den­tal PM who never asked for the job.

Now that he’s got it, weirdly enough, it’s as though a weight has been lifted from him.

This is in di­rect coun­ter­mea­sure to Shorten, who through a taut grin car­ries what some­times looks like con­tained aloof­ness.

This may just be his man­ner­ism of rais­ing his chin, es­pe­cially when tak­ing fire. It may be his seething am­bi­tion, which no man­ner­ism can con­ceal. He has the stony aura that all de­ci­sions are be­yond dis­cus­sion.

This is where he could strug­gle if he is to lead the coun­try rather than a party: mak­ing a con­vinc­ing case that he rep­re­sents all Aus­tralians, of all in­come lev­els, rather than just those he per­ceives as liv­ing on low wages or with in­fringed work­ing rights.

As he gets closer to the Lodge, mak­ing sure all young Aus­tralians have ac­cess to qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion has be­come a key pledge and takes him on to his pre­ferred bat­tle­ground.

He has promised $14 bil­lion for pub­lic schools over 10 years, and $1.75 bil­lion to get three-year-olds into the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

This is an as­sault on what he sees as pri­vate school priv­i­lege and an at­tempt to as­sure lower in­come fam­i­lies that La­bor has their back.

It’s a coura­geous long-term play, be­cause it is mid­dlein­come Aus­tralians who will be asked to pay for these mea­sures as Shorten abol­ishes neg­a­tive gear­ing for all but new home builds and ends frank­ing div­i­dends for re­tirees.

As to whether three­year-olds need to en­ter for­mal learn­ing just be­cause other coun­tries do it, that’s some­thing par­ents will have to de­cide. Says Shorten: “The num­ber of Chi­nese three­year-olds in preschool is greater than the en­tire pop­u­la­tion of Aus­tralia.”

Be­ing more like China is an in­ter­est­ing as­pi­ra­tion.

The deep­est worry is for those who have worked hard and saved a bit, whether tak­ing decades to buy a fam­ily home or hold­ing modest in­vest­ment port­fo­lios. The fear is that Shorten wants to strip those as­sets and send peo­ple off to fade away in a half-pen­sion, half-su­per half-life.

He cer­tainly be­lieves in wealth re­dis­tri­bu­tion, but pin­ning him down on such

mat­ters is hard. The Aus­tralian noted re­cently in an ed­i­to­rial that Shorten de­ploys guerilla tac­tics by mak­ing an­nounce­ments af­ter which he “melts away into the back­ground to let the Gov­ern­ment deal with his traps and chal­lenges”. The strat­egy causes max­i­mum con­fu­sion be­cause there are no half mea­sures and lit­tle ac­com­pa­ny­ing per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment. It’s all or noth­ing.

Shorten’s plan to abol­ish neg­a­tive gear­ing for in­vestors on ex­ist­ing prop­er­ties is such a case. It does seem ob­jec­tion­able that peo­ple can neg­a­tively gear eight or nine prop­er­ties, but why not al­low one or two? Af­ter all, many peo­ple do not con­sider them­selves so­phis­ti­cated in­vestors and have lit­tle faith in fi­nan­cial ad­vis­ers. They only trust bricks and mor­tar.

For five years, Shorten has en­joyed the ben­e­fit of the Lib­eral lead­er­ship dis­trac­tions, al­low­ing him to stay low and de­bate lit­tle.

There will un­likely be any 11th-hour makeover, where he tries to in­vent a more mod­er­ate ver­sion of him­self.

He’s go­ing with what he’s got. He’s the pol­icy guy, and he’s com­ing at Mor­ri­son hard.

Turn­bull tried to address Shorten’s easy run in a 10minute par­lia­men­tary maul­ing in Fe­bru­ary 2017, when he ac­cused Shorten of sell­ing out union work­ers while he dined with and ac­cepted free travel from bil­lion­aire mates.

“So­cial-climb­ing syco­phant,” roared Turn­bull. Shorten’s chin raised on cue as Turn­bull got his own back for all the har­bour­side man­sion digs. It was an un­re­strained and vi­cious flog­ging.

“This sim­per­ing syco­phant,” said Turn­bull, “blow­ing hard in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and suck­ing hard in the liv­ing rooms of Mel­bourne.”

Turn­bull was off the dial. To the av­er­age punter, the words car­ried sex­ual in­sin­u­a­tion.

Barn­aby Joyce was in hys­ter­ics. To his credit, Josh Fry­den­berg, now Lib­eral Party deputy, looked un­com­fort­able.

Shorten ab­sorbed it, wear­ing his tight smile. It was one of those mo­ments that make you won­der why peo­ple en­ter pol­i­tics, and what kind of men­tal-health dam­age such bru­tal ex­po­sure might bring. Though you never won­der or worry about Shorten too long. His de­sire to run the coun­try, and to change it is too vis­ceral.

What you re­ally won­der is how much he feels at all.

paul.toohey@news.com.au Bill Shorten was in­vited, over a fort­night, to pro­vide his views for this story. His staff said he did not have the time.

Shorten has en­joyed the ben­e­fit of the Lib­eral lead­er­ship dis­trac­tions, al­low­ing him to stay low and de­bate lit­tle

CHIN UP: ALP leader Bill Shorten (main); Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son (in­set top); for­mer PM Mal­colm Turn­bull (below). Pic­tures: Tim Hunter, AAP, Kym Smith

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