March 2019

Essays

Laura Tingle

Bill Shorten: between fear and ideas

Bill Shorten. Photograph by Dr Christian Thompson AO

The Opposition leader talks about the road ahead for Labor

It’s a regular complaint, and, depressingly, so often a legitimate one.

“Why doesn’t the media concentrate on the serious policy issues instead of all this personality stuff?” people ask.

And while there is a whole book in the answer to that question, the reality is you can almost guarantee it will be followed by a declaration reflecting how those very people vote or at least look at politics.

“I just can’t stand the way he walks,” people would say to me repeatedly about Tony Abbott.

“Bloody smug bastard,” they would say about Kevin Rudd.

Six years into the job of Opposition leader, and now so close to the prime ministership, Bill Shorten must still overcome the emotional reaction Australians have to their political leaders, as all leaders must.

It comes up everywhere you go if you write about politics: a professional hazard, like economists who are asked where the currency is headed.

In Shorten’s case, it is no longer a visceral dislike picked up in the days when he was seen as the face of the faceless men who had brought down two prime ministers. Now it is more a sort of antipathy. Sometimes some curiosity.

Taking a stand on issues such as the banking royal commission, when the government wouldn’t, has earned him some brownie points with the public.

Labor’s decision to support crossbench moves to give doctors control over medical evacuations from Manus Island and Nauru has revealed a preparedness to stare down the Coalition and its scare campaigns on border protection.

It’s been a while since people made jokes about Bill’s “zingers” or he was predominantly a source of ridicule. That has become the lot of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as he mounts a fair dinkum battle to be regarded as fair dinkum.

It’s probably good that Shorten’s problem now – a couple of months out from the federal election campaign – is that he is being attacked by the government, and contemplated by voters for his policies, not his past.

When I sit down to talk to him in Canberra in late January – and travel with him through Queensland for ABC’s 7.30 – it feels like the Labor leader is at one of those tipping points in politics.

With the Coalition in one form of meltdown or another since the overthrow of Malcolm Turnbull in August, and Morrison struggling to cut through, Shorten is finally being seen as the alternative prime minister.

Yet at the very same time, a government with more internal policy brawls than you can name – and fighting for its political life – has started ramping up the negative attacks on Labor and its policies on both tax and asylum seekers. And it is taking the edge off Labor’s clear polling lead.

We talk, therefore, at a time when it is not clear what the prevailing narrative of this election year will be.

Is this just going to be a battle between Labor and the Coalition? Between Morrison and Shorten? Will it just be a test of whether negative campaigning on controversial Labor policies can move attention away from the government’s dysfunction and policy shutdown?

Or will the ensuing campaigns become blurred by all those seats where the Liberal Party is effectively fighting itself: fending off independent candidates of a Liberal persuasion in its heartland?

Beyond the policy divides, the questions about or interest in one leader rather than another usually shape the election coverage. In 2016, voters were still trying to work out what they thought about Turnbull and why he seemed such a disappointment. In 2013, Tony Abbott polarised voters. In 2010 it was all about Julia Gillard and how she had become prime minister.

Maybe at last it is Bill Shorten’s turn.


“The times favour me.”

Sitting in the Opposition leader’s office in Parliament House, Bill Shorten is answering a question about his sense of the public mood on climate change, and how willing voters are to listen to arguments about policy changes.

“The times favour me,” he says. “The times favour us on climate change,” he says. But it feels like it has a wider application. “People are just fed up. They are fed up with the broken political system where you can’t get real progress, and the people are going to take it out of the hands of the government and fix it themselves at the next election.”

Shorten notes there are now two million households with solar energy.

“You know, the Australian people are so far ahead of what happens here [in Parliament House] it is not funny. They’ve already worked it out.”

He contemplates what he is seeing as he travels around the country.

That morning, he had been to the small NSW town of Tathra to promise a community power hub. And he had noticed the growth of solar while travelling on the “Bill Bus” the previous week.

“They are doing it everywhere. We went through Childers. Every second house had solar … If in Childers, a relatively small Queensland town, they’re already going solar … what are we arguing about here? [But instead], you’ve got the current prime minister brandishing a lump of coal as if it were a pet rock.”

Certainly, there is a sense of Labor becoming both much more emboldened in the face of the Coalition’s decline, and aware that the political centre is up for grabs, as the number of conservative independents like Wentworth MP Kerryn Phelps has demonstrated.

For Shorten, though, there is a distinction between the political centre – as in the space between the left and the right – and what he thinks should be the centre of his political focus: the people abandoned in the push to free markets and policies, which has increased inequality.

“People love to talk about the centre,” Shorten says. “That’s the new political catchphrase. But for me [what’s important is] the centre of political gravity and it’s not for the very well off. If there are a lot of people who feel the system doesn’t work for them, I want to put them back in the centre.”

“It’s not my job to be a commentator on the government,” he says. “It’s to put forward my views. But [the government is] becoming a parody. You can tell they must wait every morning for the previous night’s focus group to rush out the word of the day, like Sesame Street. They’re just disappearing up themselves. They have lost, in my opinion, any interest in governing.

“But that actually puts more pressure on us. I’m interested in how a government I lead makes a meaningful difference in the lives of people.”

Like many of his frontbenchers, Shorten has experienced being in government, and being a minister, as well as the travails of Opposition.

Being in power may be sweet, but in the modern world it is often the case that you can feel just as besieged, just as lacking in control over where the debate is going. So the question becomes how you escape that trap – one that particularly affected Malcolm Turnbull.

“Momentum,” Shorten answers, with barely a pause.

“It’s all about the big mo. Momentum is a crucial factor in politics, in my opinion. And the only way you gain momentum is by doing your homework, by talking to people, by getting out there.

“My best days in this job are when we are out there putting out positive ideas, not, actually, when we topple conservative leaders. The 250,000 social housing [units] that we are going to do over 10 years; three- and four-year-old universal kinder; the national hydrogen policy [the initiative to develop the hydrogen fuel industry centred in Gladstone]. I loved our rivers policy announcement: the idea that we can renew the blue veins, the blue arteries of our cities, the waterways.”

Bill Shorten talks a lot about ideas, and a lot about the role government can have in making people’s lives better.

Labor’s past terror at being seen as a big spender and a big taxer has receded. Its leader is promising more government, not in the sense of spending more money and increasing taxes, but through interventions in marketplaces, most notably the labour market.

Shorten’s pitch runs squarely against the deregulatory tide of the past few decades, at a time when dissatisfaction about low wages growth is ripe. He is talking about bringing back penalty rates and cracking down on labour hire rules, for starters. There is also a clear promise that Labor in office will lift the wages of the feminised industries (such as aged care), whose workforces now form the majority of the trade union membership.

Perhaps most provocatively, he has been tentatively leaving the door open for a return to industry-wide, rather than enterprise-based, bargaining.

It was something pushed hard but kept largely out of sight at Labor’s delayed national conference in Adelaide in December. The really big message from the conference was that Labor was unapologetically re-embracing the idea that government is good, picking up the zeitgeist of voter disillusion about growing inequality and a breakdown of trust in politics.

“Our opponents at the next election are not just the Liberals and the Nationals, One Nation or the Greens,” Shorten told conference delegates. “Our deeper opponents are distrust, disengagement, scepticism and cynicism … Around the nation, we must breathe new life into an idea that we gathered here in this hall hold as an article of faith, the idea that government has the power to bring meaningful progress into people’s lives.”

When I ask about this more aggressive role for government, a swing back in the pendulum after decades of being told government should get out of the way, Shorten becomes more precise.

“We’re looking for a smarter role for government. People don’t want, and I don’t seek, to be in people’s lounge rooms, telling them what to think and what to watch. That’s not a role for government.

“What I do want to see is people being able to fulfil their potential. An economy can only work if everyone’s participating. Our approach is a blend of fairness and opportunity: the best way you get opportunity for all is a fair go for all. Fairness is an economic plan; it’s not just a slogan for me.”

In January, the New Statesman published a rather glowing piece about Shorten and the ALP under the headline “What the Left Can Learn from Australian Labor”.

“Under Labor leader Bill Shorten, a lawyer and former trade union national secretary, the party has moved left on the economy, welfare and work while remaining moderate on many social and cultural issues,” the author, Adrian Pabst, noted. Whereas 20 years ago the majority of Western governments were centre left, social democrats and socialists, he despaired that now “the left” governed in just six, predominantly small countries. “By combining a radical vision for economic justice with a commitment to patriotism and social cohesion, the ALP’s ideas and strategy hold key lessons for those out of power and struggling to forge a majority coalition, not least UK Labour and the US Democrats.”

If this is what assessments are from overseas, what does Shorten see, and what lessons does he take, from progressive politics in other democracies?

“You’ve got to coalition-build,” he says.

“You’ve got to bring people with you. You’ve got to explain to people where they fit in, in change. You’ve got to talk about looking after the less well off and the working people.

“I’m a big admirer of Hillary Clinton, but something which may be apocryphal was the idea she didn’t visit Wisconsin [a move widely seen as taking the state – one of three that could have delivered her the presidency – for granted]. The idea of me not visiting an area is anathema [laughs]. It is the direct opposite of how you coalition-build … I just use that as an illustration.

“The only vote you are not going to get is the one you don’t ask for. And you also have to not get distracted.

“There was a debate, wasn’t there, in Australia a few years go,” he notes. “Would Labor implode? You had the green inner-city, progressive highly tertiary educated and the blue-collar working class. What’s ironic is it’s the Liberals that have split and not us.”

In the US, the Democrats have long been seen to be juggling a “rainbow coalition” of interests: trying to have a bit of everything that will appeal to individual groups. Labor’s tradition is more firmly in finding trade-offs that work for everyone. If that means Shorten is attacked by the Coalition for his trade union background, and even for his links to the union movement, so be it.

Having endured six years of these solid attacks, including at a royal commission, the Opposition leader clearly thinks there is not much more they can throw at him.

There is also a bitter reality behind perceptions of the power of the trade unions: except in a couple of crucial industries, such as building and construction, the portrayal of unions as major powerbrokers in the economy does not accord with the reality of the modern workforce.

“I actually think a lot of young people don’t even know what unions are,” Shorten says. “Yeah, people in the sterile back pages of the financial papers have an obsession about unions, but private-sector union membership is down to about 10 per cent. I don’t think unions have the ability to drive wages in the way that the critics of unions think they did 30 or 40 years ago.

“Unions are changing: an Australian trade unionist is more likely to be a woman in education or health services. It’s up to the unions how they organise themselves going forward, but when you’ve got weak unions, low membership, deregulated labour market, labour hire and casualisation, you are damaging wages.”

The age-old link between employment and wages, he says, which once dictated that if there was a fall in unemployment there would be an increase in wages, has been broken.

“Society is becoming more unequal. That’s my starting point … Once upon a time, having rich parents was useful. It’s always been useful. But now, for the next generation, it’s becoming almost the most important thing. I think that’s a shame.”

So how do you address that?

“Education, education, education; a safety net; better wages, more permanent work; more secure work; making sure that your postcode and your wealth aren’t the determinants of success in life. That means good services in the bush, real jobs outside the big cities; making sure that your gender isn’t a predictor of your wage.”

Shorten’s ambitions for wages policy would have once unleashed a massive Coalition scare campaign. But with wages failing to rise in recent years, perhaps the government feels vulnerable. It keeps its attack primarily for Labor’s tax proposals.

“In terms of wages, you can’t run an economy unless you have a wages policy,” he says. “No one thinks you would go to an election without a policy on agriculture or a policy on tax. But the Coalition seems to have a mental blank when it comes to wages. They seem to think: Wages policy – just leave it to the market and that’s all you have to do.

“But clearly in the last few years, where everything’s been going up except wages, that’s not good enough. A wages policy is what ensures everyone feels they’re getting a fair go. A wages policy linked to productivity growth is how you drive productivity.

“So we’re not going back to any old system, but we recognise that wages have to get moving again because wages are inextricably linked to confidence.”

The biggest question on wages policy is what Labor does with the ACTU’s aggressive push to move away from enterprise bargaining to industry-wide bargaining. Labor still hasn’t quite said how far it will go on this.

“I think there’s several levers we’ve got for wages policy: one is penalty rates restoration, two is [addressing] the gender pay gap, three is putting fairness back into enterprise bargaining,” he says.

“Four is, we’ve got a two-tiered economy developing where you’ve got secure workers and insecure workers, so giving insecure workers more rights. All these measures, plus investing in education, will help increase wages.”

Shorten again pushes his point that politicians who leave it all to the market create “a whole lot of unintended or indeed negative consequences”.

“You can’t leave our health system just to the market. You can’t leave our education system just to the market. You can’t leave our wages safety net just to the market. You can’t leave emerging industries just to the market.

“So there is a role for government, but that doesn’t mean you have to increase government’s footprint. Why should we be a country that spends more taxpayer dollars on giving shareowners a top-up to their dividend than we do on higher education?

“I think we need to be strategic about where we use our allocation of scarce assets. When a government spends money on tax concessions to buy investment properties, you know, negative-gearing policy, or allows income-splitting in discretionary trusts, or doesn’t sufficiently police the tax bill that multinationals pay, it’s making a choice, and governing is about choices. We will put people back in the middle of that.”

So Shorten is saying we don’t need a bigger government, in the sense of government starting to run industries, or massively ramping up the proportion of spending it does in the overall economy. But he is definitely talking about a more interventionist government in a regulatory sense, and a government that spends more on education, health and services, funded by tax changes that seek to address some of the inequality issues, such as housing affordability through the changes to negative gearing.

The question of how much larger the government sector of the economy will be – the ultimate day-to-day test of the size of government – hasn’t ever really been specified.

The impression is: not much. It’s more about the reallocation of resources rather than a huge change in them. For example, the contentious proposal to stop investors getting dividend imputation franking credits as cash payments – instead of as offsets to other tax paid, as they were originally designed to be – would claw back about $5 billion a year. That frees up a lot to spend on hospitals and schools, but at the cost of angering self-funded retirees who have built their financial plans around the cash refunds.

Spending and taxes might rise marginally from their current levels of around 24 to 25 per cent of GDP. We will find out when the final numbers in Labor’s economic plan are tallied and presented just before the election. Whatever these numbers are, they will still be framed on the basis that Labor wants to be presenting a better set of books than the government’s, offering a much clearer path to paying down government debt.


For those who lived through the Bob Hawke era, being a union leader would once have been seen as a positive. And whatever your current view of trade unions, leading one hones political and organisational skills. What skills did Shorten learn?

“I learnt that workers can’t get a wage rise unless their employer is doing well,” he says. “I learnt the employer can’t do well unless the workers are safe, well remunerated and committed to their jobs. I learnt that we all need each other.

“I learnt the same when I was a leader in the disability sector, where not looking after people with disability and their carers didn’t save money but materially had an impact of excluding a big portion of our population.

“I’ve learnt in the Labor Party as a leader that I don’t have to win every argument. My colleagues are capable and smart. I’m part of a much bigger movement. I’ve learnt that to lead you’ve got to be willing to listen, you’ve got to be willing to give some ground. You’re not always right.

“My movement, and the party, constantly need to stress test their ideas with experts. So we have a golden rule, whenever we have a policy submission: who are the third-party experts who are backing this?

“Evidence-based policy, and that actually brings people with you.”

This is humble and consensus-building Shorten on display here. And there are several layers to the sales pitch. The man aiming to be our next prime minister wants to reassure us that he has been growing in the job, that he is not just the impatient man on the way up.

To be fair to him, he has developed a reputation for building effective partnerships with people on issues, forming them into a coherent grouping, and then pushing through their cause.

The most effective example of that is the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The impatient Shorten was given the disability portfolio when he entered parliament in 2007 on the Rudd Wave, with some sniggering from his colleagues. That nightmarish portfolio of complex, disparate issues would keep him occupied for certain!

Instead, Shorten looked around for a policy that would unite the fractured disability sector – which traditionally often fought against itself as different groups competed for funds – and championed the idea of the NDIS.

And of course everybody points to the apparent unity of Labor during Shorten’s time as leader. Nothing is perfect: not everyone in the parliamentary party loves Bill or thinks everything he does is just great. But his colleagues will generally tell you that he does consult, and that he certainly gives his frontbenchers the room to develop policy, and backs them.

The sales pitch about consensus and evidence-based policy also speaks to the administrative flaws of our recent governments: think captains’ calls, and a lack of proper process (as seen with the Jerusalem embassy decision).

Does Shorten also have to sometimes push forward an idea that hasn’t come from the group?

“That’s true. In disability, there was no NDIS but a few of us pushed that forward. So individuals can make a difference, but before you push through, you’ve got to have done the listening.

“One of the challenges for the current government is they’re on their fourth and fifth ministers in ministries. Even if they were brain surgeons, it takes a while to learn your gig. My colleagues on my side have basically been doing the same job for the best part of six years. You learn.”

This revolving door of ministerial portfolios is a corollary of the instability of our adversarial politics of the past decade – often at its most egregious within parties themselves.

How would Shorten overcome this?

“Oh, we’d reach out,” he says. “I’ve made clear that in the first week, if we got elected, I would speak to the then Opposition and invite them to provide us with a shortlist of appropriately credentialed infrastructure experts to go on the board of Infrastructure Australia.

“I will sit down with employers and the unions and small business and say, ‘All right, let’s just keep moving this along.’ It’s not ‘either or’.”

Shorten says there is a difference between adversarial politics and what he calls “the politics of destruction”.

“Adversarial is okay. It’s the Westminster system. It has served us well. You must test ideas. The problem is with the politics of destruction, you know, the total warfare which, to be fair, Abbott pioneered … [that says] you can’t ever accept anything good which the other side say.”

Shorten cites the reaction to the Murray-Darling fish kill as a recent example. The government seemed unable to explain or respond. The Opposition saw an opportunity. It wrote to the Australian Academy of Science and asked it to write a report on the causes of the fish kill, which could be released publicly.

The government subsequently initiated its own report.

Facts are still facts, Shorten says. However much people may want to put spin on them, if you have got a set of facts and a clear set of options, the best thing to do is release them for discussion. Instead, he says, the government just attacked Labor’s move to get a report as a stunt.

“The best way the government should tackle us is just less aggression and more facts,” he says.

“If they put together a careful policy, fine. What do I do about that? That’s good, if they have a good proposition.”


One particular group Shorten has committed to listening to is Indigenous Australians. He has committed to legislation for the Voice to Parliament, which was called for during the First Nations National Constitutional Convention at Uluru in May 2017, only to be almost immediately rejected by the Turnbull government on the grounds that it would effectively represent a third chamber of parliament, which could veto virtually any government decision.

“We think this idea that you should consult First Australians about policies affecting them is pretty sensible. We already do this with monetary policy. Monetary policy has a voice: it’s called the Reserve Bank. It’s not another chamber of parliament.”

He is largely leaving the development of the policy to Linda Burney, the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives, and long-time Indigenous leader Senator Pat Dodson.

Shorten’s general proposition is that his government would aim to establish regional decision-making structures for Indigenous Australians as part of setting up a national Voice.

“It’s sound. I’m confident that we can tell Australians that it’s not a third house of parliament but rather a much better way to involve people in decisions that affect the people who are making the decisions.”

In discussing the idea, Shorten is clearly aware that such a move remains contentious.

“We don’t need to be afraid of change. We’re not giving Indigenous Australians more rights, because already too many of them have less rights. This isn’t about giving them something special.”


If there was one area where Labor had been staying cautious in its messages, it was the fraught area of asylum seekers and border protection. The issue boiled up last year when there was a surge of community pressure for at least all the children on Nauru to be brought to Australia amid reports of rapidly deteriorating physical and mental health.

In the Wentworth by-election, independent candidate Kerryn Phelps made this a priority, and after winning the historically blue-ribbon seat vacated by Malcolm Turnbull she put forward a bill that sought to change the process by which people were assessed for medical evacuation.

The government insisted the proposal would tear down the entire border protection regime. The clear implication was that this was just a cover for getting everyone out of border protection on possibly dubious medical grounds.

Phelps and the other crossbenchers insisted that it was about putting doctors in charge of medical assessments and cleaning up a system that sometimes sees people stuck on Nauru and Manus Island literally waiting years to have medical conditions treated.

The proposal eventually entered the parliament – in a slightly modified form – via an amendment to an existing government bill in the Senate by independent senator Tim Storer.

Labor supported the amendment in the Senate in December. But in February, signs that independent MP Cathy McGowan might waver in her support saw Labor edging away.

“Why would we stick our heads over the parapet and start a new war on border protection so close to an election when the bill is going to be defeated anyway?” one senior figure told me.

But just a week later, Labor stunned the government – which believed it had the Opposition on the run – and backed the amendments in the House of Representatives. However, Shorten will not move away from the government’s position that an offshore detention regime remains one of the key pillars of border protection, despite arguments from some that boat turnbacks and temporary protection visas alone will now suffice.

Does the Opposition leader, who promises to treat the fate of those in offshore detention as a “first order priority”, believe there may still be some untried regional solutions to the nightmare of those detained without hope on Manus Island and Nauru?

“Yeah, I do. Governments set direction. If the instruction goes out around our region and to other first-world countries that the Australian government is telling its officials we are keen to resettle these people … I can’t put a timeline on it but I tell you that I can put a priority on it.

“Does anyone in Australia really think this government worked up a lather trying to resettle people? I give full credit to Malcolm Turnbull and the DFAT people who pulled off the American deal. We are very supportive of that. But I’m just not that sure it has had that priority.

“It has been too easy to just put them somewhere and forget about them.”


The gloomy history of Labor in power is that it almost always wins office just as the economy is going bad: 1972, 1983 and 2007 being the most recent examples.

As we speak, there has been a whole summer of alarming headlines about a slowdown in China and Europe.

“Oh yeah, there are some real challenges,” Shortensays. “Europe, China and America. Trump – well, the US tax cuts mean that US debt is going up and it is sucking a lot of capital in. We are now going to be in a competition for money with the rest of the world. You are already seeing it … a credit crunch with the Australian banks and residential lending.

“What worries me is that unless we help reduce the government’s national debt the interest bill goes up because I think global liquidity is a challenge. So it’s a big issue.

“Trade autarchy – the beggar-thy-neighbour policies of trade wars – doesn’t assist, either.

“The fact of the matter is that human progress, economic history, is testament to the fact that the more trade we do the better the world progresses.

“I worry about trade relations between China and America. But having said that, I’m fundamentally positive. There are paths through this.

“When you look at history – and I’m a student of history – the worst times the world experiences or nations experience is when politicians give up. When we assume you can’t unite the place. When you assume that it is too hard and there is no deal to be done. Sometimes you are going to have to say no to other countries or to particular sectional groups or interests in our own country. But I don’t start from the position that we can’t find common ground.”


Shorten says that it will be ideas that win the next election. So what ideas might they be?

“A vision for the future: explaining to Australians where this country is going to be in 2030 as opposed to Monday. I think the nation is hungry for ideas. I think they are over the personalities. Personalities and gossip and events will always make up some of the grist of politics, but I think they want to know where they fit in. They know the world is changing. They want some hope.”

Ideas have hardly shaped the past few elections.

“No, I think it would be generous to say it has been ideas shaping the last few elections. I think Kevin came in, in ’07, with a very clear ideas agenda. By 2010 Labor was on the back foot. In 2013, Abbott and his team – which included Turnbull and Morrison – had a very honed political model of basically setting everything in concrete, slowing everything down, doing nothing. In 2016, the reason we got so close is that [under] Malcolm Turnbull, for all his promise, nothing happened. So I’m hopeful this will be an ideas election, an ideas battle in 2019.

“I think one of the big problems in politics in the last few years is that … maybe this is a bit unfair but political parties when they win an election have been … or indeed leaders when they take office … they are like the proverbial dog that caught the truck. What do we do now?

“That’s the stunning thing about the Turnbull premiership of this nation. He had a plan to get the job but no plan to do the job. But it is not just him; it is a criticism you can make of both sides of politics.”

It is not an accusation Shorten intends will be levelled at him. No Opposition leader since John Hewson in 1993 has locked himself into a series of policies that risks such a political backlash.

Hewson’s “Fightback!” was a much more ambitious document – in the sense of the breadth of its plans for wholesale change to the economy – than anything Labor is putting forward. But the Scott Morrison strategy of trying to isolate tax measures unpopular with some in the community from the services and benefits they are supposed to generate, and paint the Opposition as a big taxing machine, is vintage Paul Keating 1993.

By waiting until it has delivered an April budget before going to the polls, the Coalition is hoping that Shorten has left himself exposed to a sustained negative attack, which can only work in the government’s favour: either Shorten sticks to the agenda, even if the scare is showing signs of working, or he modifies it, and leaves it open for the government to attack him for blinking.

The Coalition dream: Bill Shorten loses the unlosable election, just as Hewson did all those years ago.

But unlike Hewson, Shorten still has policy announcements to make, more attacks to launch on a weakened government, and a much stronger front bench.

It will be the year of fears versus ideas.

Laura Tingle

Laura Tingle is the chief political correspondent for the ABC’s 7.30 program. She is the author of the Quarterly Essays Great Expectations, Political Amnesia and Follow the Leader.

Cover

March 2019

From the front page

Illustration

You’re the voice

Helping trans and non-binary gendered people define their vocal identity

Joint pain

Is bipartisanship on national security cracking?

Illustration

Tear gas returns to Don Dale

Rolling back the reforms since the youth detention royal commission

Image of Buzz Aldrin next to flag on the Moon

Shooting beyond the Moon

Reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission as Mars beckons


In This Issue

Illustration

Trains, pains and Berejiklian

Will a big infrastructure spend help or hinder NSW’s Coalition government this election?

Image of Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, 2010

Rats, heroes and Kevin Rudd’s ‘The PM Years’

This memoir answers some questions about his deposal and return but raises others

Illustration

Tuckshop intervention

How did buying lunch in a Northern Territory school get so complicated?

Illustration

Screen addiction

As more of our lives are lived online, more people aren’t coping


More in The Monthly Essays

Image of Molly

The extinction rebels

Direct action protest and the rise of a new resistance movement

Photo of Elon Musk

Mining the Moon

The resources industry says it’s finders keepers in the new space race

Image of South Sea Islander women, 1891

Blackbirds: Australia’s hidden slave trade history

The racism that brought Australian South Sea Islanders here, and the racism that tried to send them back

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Family feud

A firsthand view of the nation’s new political faultlines


Read on

Image of Buzz Aldrin next to flag on the Moon

Shooting beyond the Moon

Reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission as Mars beckons

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and CFMEU Victoria secretary John Setka

Judge stymies Albanese’s plans to expel Setka from ALP

A protracted battle is the last thing the Opposition needs

Image from ‘Booksmart’

Meritocracy rules in ‘Booksmart’

Those who work hard learn to play hard in Olivia Wilde’s high-school comedy

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

The government’s perverse pursuit of surplus

Aiming to be back in black in the current climate is bad economics


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