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Friday, 22nd August 2014

WOMEN, MEN, MEDIA, POLITICS

Bill Shorten's decision to yesterday name himself publicly as the focus of an historic rape investigation says something about the way politics and the media work now. The formal investigation has concluded, with Victoria Police and the Office of Public Prosecutions both agreeing that Shorten has no case to answer after an unnamed complainant made allegations some months ago. Shorten obviously hopes that's the end of the matter, and Malcolm Turnbull, Tony Abbott and Tanya Plibersek – who is very active on improving the political climate to encourage greater female participation – agree.

That Shorten outed himself at all is testament to the power of social media. It was known in Canberra circles that Shorten was the subject of the complaint, but the Canberra rumour mill is rife with all kinds of material which, traditionally, rarely makes it into mainstream news. It's not difficult to imagine a scenario whereby innuendo and rumour persists on blogs for months, building to a tsunami of sentiment which forces Shorten into an untenable political position. Talkback radio may have whipped up a frenzied opposition to Julia Gillard, for instance, but the vilest elements of that campaign were generated and sustained on the net.

As Plibersek says, nobody has any power to control what happens on the blogs. Shorten's political opponents have an obvious incentive to keep the talk going, and the decision by the Herald Sun to run the story under a front-page denial headline ("I didn't do it") will no doubt be read into in all sorts of ways. Despite Shorten's attempt to deny the rumour mill oxygen, it's possible that an alternative interpretation – one which sees the political class closing around one of its own against an outsider, a woman who is now being marginalised by the male-dominated power centre – may yet gain traction. There is, after all, an overlapping narrative here, a victims' tragedy about the near-impossibility of recording convictions in historical sexual assault cases.

Russell Marks
Politicoz Editor

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