Watch this space: Bill’s ambition burns on
Bill Shorten got in first yesterday — his ambition is undiminished. In a statement filled with import, he defended his achievements as Labor leader and leaves nobody in doubt of his availability to resume the leadership down the track.
Many twice-defeated opposition leaders might decide their time has come and gone. Not Shorten. After listing his achievements as Labor leader, the 52year-old said he would remain in public life for the next 20 years, a message to Anthony Albanese, the ALP frontbench and his supporters.
Shorten’s soft apology is wrapped in hubris. In his statement on Thursday morning, he conceded some mistakes but they pale into insignificance alongside the findings of the Emerson/
Weatherill review of Labor’s election defeat. This document is a lethal indictment of Shorten’s leadership and his office.
While the report identifies Shorten’s unpopularity as one of the three “overriding reasons” for Labor’s loss, the case against the leader is far wider and devastating.
The report says Labor behaved like “a government in exile making itself the issue”.
It found that “no body was empowered to discuss and settle on a strategy” to win the election. How incredible is that?
It says the parliamentary leadership group received reports from the national secretariat
“from time to time concerning research but did not itself settle on a strategy”.
New spending — basic to the failed campaign — was agreed by the leader, his office and senior colleagues but “these decisions were not informed by an overarching strategy”.
Moreover, no formal campaign committee was established, which meant there was no forum for generating an effective election strategy.
Shorten and his office must assume prime responsibility for such fatal mistakes. The review says it was therefore “unsurprising the Labor campaign lacked focus, wandering from topic to topic, without a clear purpose”.
The report says the No 1 reason for Labor’s loss was “weak strategy”. While this involves a collective failure, it also involves a specific leadership failure.
Running through the report is a sense of Labor complacency, reflected in Shorten’s campaign performance. It says: “High expectations of a Labor victory led to little consideration being given to querying Labor’s strategy and policy agenda.”
Expectations and arrogance were basic to Labor’s campaign atmospherics.
The report acknowledges that Shorten led a united party, saw off two Liberal PMs and claims he won all three campaign debates. Yet what is the point of seeing off two PMs if, as the report says, Labor failed to “adapt to the change in Liberal leadership” in August last year that brought Scott Morrison to office?
“Were the universe to grant reruns, I would campaign with fewer messages, more greatly emphasise the job opportunities in renewable energies and take a different position on franking credits,” Shorten said.
The former leader said he was “proud” to have united the party and nearly snatch victory at the 2016 election and that he accepted responsibility for the loss in May.
Shorten said the defeat was “a shock and surprise”.
His big message, however, for those contemplating his future was his statement that he was “personally committed” to continuing to contribute to public life, to serving his constituents and, critically, the “people of Australia”.
And for how long? “For the next 20 years,” Shorten said.
How credible is this? Anyone remotely familiar with Shorten’s ambition would recognise the import of his statement. The recent leadership revivals of John Howard, Kim Beazley, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull would only cause Shorten to ponder: “Why not me?”
Perhaps the campaign review report provides the answer.