Shorten’s hell week
An own-goal on citizenship and Sam Dastyari’s China problems have seriously rattled an Opposition Leader who was riding high and buoyed Malcolm Turnbull
Bill Shorten’s long-held upperhand over Malcolm Turnbull ended this week. The Labor leader has outmanoeuvred Turnbull on tactics for most of this year, leaving the PM trailing in his wake. But Shorten’s political advantage came to a crash in the final week of Parliament. Astonishingly, the year ended with a reversal of fortunes. The PM’s stocks are up. And Shorten’s are down. Turnbull, who should have harboured concerns over the fate of his leadership just a fortnight ago, has resuscitated his authority. This week, he showed renewed vigour and an energised command over his team. Even his darkest rivals thumped their desks and cheered along with Turnbull as he slayed Shorten in Question Time over his deception on dual citizenship. Rival leadership aspirants have, for now at least, packed away their knives. Unless the government suffers a defeat in Bennelong, Turnbull is no longer heading into a summer of discontent and trepidation. The turnaround is not due to one singular factor. It’s the size of Barnaby Joyce’s victory in New England, with a sizeable near-12 per cent swing towards him. It’s John Howard’s public expression of confidence in Turnbull’s leadership. It’s the improved standing in Newspoll (bearing in mind the result would still be a crushing electoral loss). It’s knocking down the rogue Nationals. It’s last night finally legislating gay marriage and removing it as a divisive issue in the thorn of the government’s side. It’s being on the front-foot attacking senator Sam Dastyari’s links to Chinese donors. It’s the pay-off of being upfront on dual citizens, with Labor only now sending its potential dual nationals to the High Court. The parliamentary year ends with momentum firmly in the government’s favour and Shorten’s credibility seriously dented. Shorten was successful in persuad- ing the public that his own team had no questions to answer on citizenship. The press gallery swallowed his message, defending Labor figures like Katy Gallagher, when we at The Daily Telegraph revealed she was a likely both a British and Ecuadorean citizen.
Shorten has a proven ability to cut through that will stand him in good stead through his political career.
However, one of his messages that cut through was how watertight Labor’s vetting processes are. Voters couldn’t miss the point, delivered day after day after day, that Labor had better vetting processes than the Liberals. Recall the intimidation tactics by staff when I investigated Katy Gallagher’s citizenship and that of other Labor MPs in a front-page story.
I was told my story was “wrong and embarrassing”, “fanciful” and fed the line “this is so f…ing stupid”.
This isn’t simply a case of hypocrisy. This will have rocked voters’ trust in Shorten. Perhaps even decimated it.
His behaviour was supercilious and against the advice of some within his shadow cabinet.
Never mind journalists — voters’ trust in a politician is highly fragile, particularly in our current era of distaste for authority.
Shorten’s loss of authenticity comes in stark contrast to Turnbull’s declaration that he’s never broken a promise to voters, which he is reiterating in the context of having delivered a same-sex marriage postal plebiscite.
Turnbull will for the foreseeable months continue to attack Shorten over his misleading protection racket of foreign MPs in his ranks.
Already, Turnbull has privately made the point to colleagues that either Shorten lied to voters by saying Labor’s vetting processes were bulletproof when he knew they weren’t, or, if their vetting processes were proper, he lied about David Feeney’s citizenship. Turnbull’s point: either way, Shorten lied.
Shorten will need to work hard to regain the faith he has lost with voters. A full-blown mea culpa would have helped this week. Instead, he continued to protect his MPs from the scrutiny of the High Court.
Turnbull can breathe easy at least until the Bennelong by-election, buoyed by his delivery of gay marriage through the Parliament yesterday — a remarkable achievement for a conservative government — as his attention turns to a reshuffle and creation of a Home Affairs portfolio.
The past week in Canberra shows politics is impossible to predict and can change course faster than a twisting tornado.
It also shows that for all the skills and experience a politician might bring to the job, it is ultimately instinct that gets you through. And this week, Shorten’s was shown to be sorely lacking.
A full-blown mea culpa would have helped. Instead, he continued to protect his MPs from High Court scrutiny