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

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - - Opinion - SHARRI MARK­SON

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

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