Bill Shorten re­ceives the Quar­terly Es­say treat­ment

Al­ter­na­tive prime min­is­ter Bill Shorten emerges from an in-depth pro­file as a man with the job ahead of him, writes Troy Bramston

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

Fac­tion Man: Bill Shorten’s Path to Power By David Marr Quar­terly Es­say 59 Black Inc, 128pp, $22.99

At the end of David Marr’s 100-page es­say on Bill Shorten, it is clear the au­thor is un­der­whelmed. He set out to try to un­der­stand who the La­bor leader re­ally is. He set­tles on the well-worn trope of an am­bi­tious fac­tion man, shrewd deal-maker and tal­ented net­worker who des­per­ately wants to be loved and is yet to de­fine his lead­er­ship with bold ac­tion.

Marr, who has writ­ten re­veal­ing and dam­ag­ing Quar­terly Es­says on Tony Ab­bott and Kevin Rudd, comes up short on news this time. He re­lies on pre­vi­ous news­pa­per and mag­a­zine pro­files, sources school and univer­sity publi­ca­tions, uses ev­i­dence pre­sented to the trade union royal com­mis­sion, and talks to some of those who know Shorten well. But he does not tell us any­thing sig­nif­i­cant we didn’t al­ready know.

Even an in­ter­view with his sub­ject does not yield any­thing note­wor­thy. Is this the fault of the writer for fail­ing to probe his sub­ject with an eye to dis­cov­er­ing some­thing fresh? Or is it the fault of Shorten for fail­ing to take the op­por­tu­nity to en­lighten his pro­filer with the story of who he is? It is un­clear.

Marr is one of Aus­tralia’s best long-form writ­ers. His finest jour­nal­ism has been pub­lished in The Bul­letin, The Na­tional Times and The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald. He is a ter­rific bi­og­ra­pher, most no­tably of Pa­trick White (1991) and Garfield Bar­wick (1980). And he is an in­vet­er­ate critic of the con­ser­va­tive es­tab­lish­ment, the Coali­tion and News Cor­po­ra­tion, pub­lisher of The Aus­tralian.

In this, his fifth Quar­terly Es­say, Marr pro­duces an in­ter­est­ing dis­ser­ta­tion on the man who wants to be Aus­tralia’s next prime min­is­ter. He sifts through the thicket of claim and coun­ter­claim to tell the story of Shorten’s life from school­boy to univer­sity stu­dent, lawyer, union sec­re­tary and min­is­ter, and his two years as Op­po­si­tion Leader.

He care­fully probes Shorten’s pri­vate life: the strained re­la­tion­ship with his fa­ther, Bill Shorten Sr; the lov­ing and in­flu­en­tial re­la­tion­ship with his mother, Ann McGrath; the pre­vi­ous mar­riage to Deb­o­rah Beale; the mar­riage to Chloe Bryce; uned­i­fy­ing ru­mours of mar­i­tal in­fi­delity; and the al­le­ga­tions of rape that threat­ened his ca­reer. Some of this makes for un­com­fort­able read­ing.

The es­say is topped and tailed with a cur­sory men­tion of new Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turnbull, hastily added af­ter the his­toric lead­er­ship chal­lenge. If time had per­mit­ted, the piece would have ben­e­fited from a more de­tailed anal­y­sis of what Turnbull’s po­lit­i­cal as­cen­dancy means for Shorten’s lead­er­ship.

It is true, as Marr tells us, that La­bor was head­ing for a likely elec­tion vic­tory un­til last week. This is what the polls told us. It is why Ab­bott was ruth­lessly cut down by his col­leagues. Shorten was cer­tain he could de­feat Ab­bott at the next elec­tion. Ab­bott was Shorten’s po­lit­i­cal gift. Now he is gone. Some of Shorten’s col­leagues fear Ab­bott’s woes made the La­bor leader com­pla­cent.

Now the po­lit­i­cal land­scape has been trans-

Bill Shorten with

Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turnbull;

and, right, ad­dress­ing the media dur­ing the Bea­cons­field mine

dis­as­ter in 2006

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