Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Today by Eleanor Robertson

Labor woes
Policy vision is the only thing that can bring the ALP out of its slump


All sorts of phrases popped into my mind when I learned Bill Shorten’s latest preferred PM rating, which sees just 17% of voters giving him the nod over Malcolm Turnbull. “Shot bird” was one. “Utterly cooked” was another. Even Channel 9 newsreaders got in on the fun, saying Shorten “may well want to pull the blankets back over his head when he wakes up this morning”.

Without wanting to kick the man while he’s down – way, way down – Shorten’s leadership was baffling from the beginning. Did he not realise a lack of charisma might hinder his performance in a role with a crucial public communication component? Did his Labor colleagues have such an overreaction to the ebullient and aggressive Rudd that they swore off appointing leaders with a personality? Were they feeding Shorten the thankless job of first-term Opposition leader with the expectation that they’d get rid of him when the time came to present a credible alternative prime minister?

Under Rudd’s spill rules, 60% of the party room has to sign a petition calling for a leadership ballot. They can’t just raise their hands – it has to be their names on paper. Labor’s second problem is that, even if it does decide it needs regime change, it has nobody much better to replace Shorten. There’s Albo, but he’s from the smaller, weaker Left faction and could have trouble keeping the peace in the party room unless he were so wildly popular with voters that self-interest won out.

Turnbull’s natural charm, plus the terrible optics of another Labor spill, makes this an unlikely outcome. The party’s least bad choice at the moment looks like keeping Shorten on until after the next election, which they will almost certainly lose, and dumping him when there’s a clear rationale to do so. With leadership change off the table, it might be a good time to work on the party’s other major problem area: policy.

Their fumbling attack on Turnbull’s personal wealth shows how little confidence they have in their ability to compete with him on matters of substance. They can either attempt to improve this situation by having a long, hard look at their platform or stick their heads in the sand, continue the same-old-same-old routine and hope Turnbull makes some catastrophic unforced errors that take the shine off his halo.

Labor’s insistence this morning that the party is focused on policy rather than polls could be a start, but we’ll have to wait and see. Jim Chalmers, the shadow financial services minister, says they’re hard at work coming up with new superannuation approaches, but it’s going to take more than that – Labor’s vision for the country has been nonexistent for so long that the task will be to convince voters they’re still capable of thinking more than one election cycle into the future. After the twin disasters of the mining and carbon taxes it’s not hard to see why they might be reticent to explore bold options, but they must if they’re to have any hope against second-term Turnbull.


Today’s links

  • Malcolm Turnbull says a ban on coal exports would make no difference to carbon emissions. Bill Shorten disagrees.
  • Bruce Billson, until recently the small business minister, wants stronger protections against big business.
  • A report from KPMG suggests that indirect taxes such as the GST should be increased.
  • Treasurer Scott Morrison says he had no particular desire to become treasurer.

Eleanor Robertson

Eleanor Robertson is a freelance writer and comedian living in Sydney. She writes for Guardian Australia, SBS Comedy and Daily Life.



The Monthly Today

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building

Composite image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison (image via Facebook) and Industry Minister Christian Porter (image via Sky News).

The standard you walk past

Ministerial standards breach or no, there is something deeply wrong with the government’s principles

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the new AUKUS partnership alongside UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden (not pictured). Image via ABC News

Whatever it takes

Scott Morrison says we will spend whatever we have to on defence. Why doesn’t the same apply to climate change?

From the front page

Strange bedfellows

The battlelines are blurring as Melbourne’s lockdown protests heat up

Black Summer at Currowan

A community’s experience of Australia’s worst bushfires

Image of Charif Majdalani’s ‘Beirut 2020’

‘Beirut 2020’ by Charif Majdalani

The Lebanese writer’s elegiac journal captures the city’s devastating port explosion

Nuclear fallout

The waves from Australia’s cancelled submarine contract keep building