It may be short on policy detail, but Bill Shorten’s manifesto shows us where the Labor leader stands, writes Richard Ferguson
Bill Shorten has a decent chance of being Australia’s next prime minister, yet to say as much would have got you sectioned a mere six months ago. In the most recent Newspoll, the Labor Party was leading the Coalition 51 to 49 per cent in two-party preferred terms.
Although Malcolm Turnbull was rated the better prime minister (by a margin of 49 per cent to 27 per cent), his halo has well and truly dropped off. Shorten is looking less than an accident-prone, political no-hoper and more like the kind of bloke who could be a worthy successor to the likes of Bob Hawke and Ben Chifley, and even to aspects of Gough Whitlam.
And here are the Opposition Leader’s articles of faith, his manifesto. For the Common Good is his new book on the kind of Australia he wants to lead and how he plans to lead it.
We have a healthy culture of political books in this country and we’ve been blessed with insightful — and sometimes gorgeously gossipy — memoirs from Canberra big names in the past few years. And we’ve had plenty of pollies write up their visions of the future, though usually when power seemed far away (think Tony Abbott’s Battlelines).
But Shorten has taken his cue from America in using the book form to fully outline his vision for the nation he hopes to lead.
US presidential elections usually begin with candidates doing a test-run book tour as they flog their guides to leadership. None is more famous than Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope, the book that got him on The Oprah Winfrey Show and introduced him to the masses.
So, is this Shorten’s Audacity of Hope? Well, no, but it’s an essential bit of reading for this election season.
Shorten has always been labelled a faceless For the Common Good: Reflections on Australia’s Future By Bill Shorten MUP, 184pp, $27.99 man, the kind of Labor hack who believes in nothing but power. And while the policy details — and the cost of those policies — are still a bit slim, this book shows him putting his beliefs on the line and marking out his vision of a bigspending, big-taxing, and (in his view) bighearted federal government.
It’s also certain to cause some controversy during the campaign, with Shorten backing the Rudd-Gillard regime (which he twice brought down) to the hilt and putting forward his side of the story of the bitter war between two prime ministers. And no doubt some people will gasp when they read Shorten aiming his cannon at no less a figure than John Howard.
But we begin with Shorten’s childhood. He says he never dreamed of being a politician when he was at Melbourne’s Xavier College, and his narrative is full of lines about suburban life and reminiscences of “how things used to be” that sound like a concerted effort to deny his normal, Aussie bloke manner is in fact the mask of a calculating political operator.
And then we get to Shorten’s parents: there is a frank, clearly at times painful, portrayal of a father who struggled with life and an extraordinary mother who succeeded against the odds. Shorten’s mum, in particular, gave him a bedrock from which he built his vision of Australia — where he sees government playing a big role in all aspects of Australian life and backing those who need help the most. Here’s the Labor leader on his mother, Ann: Mum taught me that merit is the measure by which we should all be judged — not birth or gender, or the accumulation of wealth. Merit is defined by hard work, attainment, taking responsibility and doing the right thing.
HE UNDERPLAYS HIS EXPERIENCE IN THE POLITICAL DARK ARTS
The book’s most talked-about passage has been Shorten’s promise that he will run Australia like a union boss.
Of course that means something slightly different to Shorten than to old timers — heck, the slickness and modernity of his idea of what a union boss is made him infamous. Shorten wants to “bring people together”, to use his experience at making deals with business and with workers to fix the nation’s problems.
The downside is that he underplays his experience in the political dark arts to appear all