SHORTEN’S SNAP­SHOT

It may be short on pol­icy de­tail, but Bill Shorten’s man­i­festo shows us where the La­bor leader stands, writes Richard Fer­gu­son

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

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