The Politics    Friday, July 10, 2015

Difference of opinion

By Sean Kelly

Everyone can’t be right

Earlier this week I wrote about the limitations of political commentary: the snap judgments that need to be made with our noses pressed right up against the glass of history, rather than the more considered judgments of trends and seismic drifts that come from being able to stand back with the distance imposed by time.

This week Bill Shorten faced the Royal Commission into Trade Unions. Say what you want about the inquiry being a political witchhunt – and I have – the alternative prime minister being asked questions before a royal commission is a significant event.

It’s interesting, then, to see where various commentators fall on the question of how Shorten did and what it all means.

I don’t mean this as a contest between commentators – inevitably some will be right on this issue and wrong on others – nor as an examination of “bias”. The contrasts are instead a reminder of the diversity of opinion in the moments immediately after an event. With time, a consensus often emerges, often quite different from those early drafts.

And look, at worst, you’ll know what different people think about the biggest issue in politics this week.

Dennis Shanahan at the Australian believes questions remain unanswered, and suggests the hearings may undermine Shorten’s claims to fight for workers. Chris Kenny at the same paper says Shorten is now a lame-duck leader. Their stablemate and Labor figure Graham Richardson says Shorten is damaged “not mortally but severely”, that he will survive but slide in popularity.

Simon Benson at the Daily Telegraph says Shorten took a significant hit, but that there was no smoking gun. He also says Shorten will survive as Labor leader, if only to keep the left wing of the party at bay.

Over at Fairfax, James Massola at the SMH and the Age says Shorten took a hit just by having to appear, but does not know if the damage will be fatal. Laura Tingle at the Financial Review balances some criticism of Shorten for evasiveness with some reservations about the process to which he was subjected, concluding that the problem for Labor is that the Commission is so drawn out, and that this allows the government to keep union problems in the news.  

Katharine Murphy at the Guardian says Shorten survived the week but has other landmines in his path: the ALP national conference and the now-legitimated raking over of his union past. Michelle Grattan at the Conversation is of a similar view, saying the wounds are not mortal but will set his leadership back, and that he cannot afford national conference to turn bad.

ABC’s Insiders host Barrie Cassidy writes that Shorten held up well under the inappropriately disrespectful approach of counsel assisting the Commission, Jeremy Stoljar, and says revelations this week about the mafia’s infiltration of politics should throw Shorten’s interrogation into perspective. 

And for the record, I wrote that Shorten had had a bad couple of days, despite showing fight on the first, but that the injuries were unlikely to linger (depending on the final report of the Commission, not due until the end of the year).

Obviously, we can’t all be right – which is part of what makes commentary so imperfect, and politics so fascinating.

Have a great weekend.

 

Today’s links

Sean Kelly

Sean Kelly is a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, and was an adviser to Labor prime ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.

@mrseankelly

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