The Politics    Thursday, June 18, 2015

A bad week

By Sean Kelly

Source
Bill Shorten hasn’t had many bad weeks, but this was one

Bill Shorten had a bad week this week.

He hit his lowest personal rating in Newspoll. After he decided not to back the government’s pension changes, the Greens decided they would back them instead, giving the government the numbers it needed. Having effectively prosecuted the issue of paying people smugglers on Monday, Shorten and his team abandoned the issue on Tuesday after it emerged Labor may have paid smugglers too (though not to turn boats around), which was a bit embarrassing. There was a reminder of his role in various political assassinations courtesy of The Killing Season and there were fresh allegations about workers getting dudded when he was head of a union.

It is easy, in politics, to get lost in the short-lived sine waves of political momentum, but it’s almost always worth taking the long view. The truth is that Shorten hasn’t had many bad weeks. Whatever you think of his overall performance – and he definitely has critics – he has done well in avoiding significant blunders or personal humiliations. It’s an invisible but crucial part of the job of party leader, only really observed in its absence.

Most of this week’s issues will pass quickly, too.

The one story that will last at least a few more weeks are the allegations about his time as union secretary.

It’s important to point out that this is exactly what the prime minister wanted when he announced the trade union Royal Commission. While there may (may) be other, worthwhile things that spring from the Commission, I doubt anyone really doubts that Tony Abbott’s aim all along was to drag Labor figures onto the stand, and thus through the inevitable media storm that accompanies such events.

The Royal Commission recently announced they would hear from Shorten in August. Shorten today did the smart thing: his lawyer requested the Commission bring forward the hearings, stating he had advised Shorten not to speak on the matter beforehand. Shorten has sent the message that he is ready and willing to be upfront about his role in the union, and the Commission has agreed to a date of 8 July.

Of course, the questions Shorten gets asked, and how he answers them, are what will count.

Are the allegations significant? It’s difficult to say. The reactions so far have been along predictably partisan lines. It’s a complicated trail. 

That is a blessing for Shorten. Complicated stories, like this one, are difficult for the media to explain in punchy headlines, and difficult for political opponents to attack. They don’t make for easy water-cooler fodder.

It may also be the case that the public have seen all this before, and are therefore skeptical. Julia Gillard was hounded for months by certain elements in the media about events that ended up before the Royal Commission – I was working for her at the time – and after all of that the Commission hearings were a dreadful anti-climax, turning up nothing of significance.

There’s an old adage in politics: hang a lantern on your problem. Let people know you can see the problem they see, and discuss it openly. Deal with it head-on. That is what Shorten is doing. He would like the matter dealt with sooner rather than later. The next move is up to the Commission. 

 

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

The Politics

Composite image of Nationals MP George Christensen and Greens leader Adam Bandt (both images © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images)

Friends like these

Labor distances itself from the Greens, while the Coalition does little to condemn the actual radicals in its own ranks

Image of former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian in September. Image © Dan Himbrechts / AAP Images

Gladys for Warringah?

In attempting to take down an independent MP, Morrison is helping pro-integrity candidates across the country

Image of Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese during Question Time earlier this week. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Go figure

How did Labor end up with an emissions-reduction target of just 43 per cent?

Tudge and go

Is Morrison’s standing down of Alan Tudge a sign that he’s listening to women or watching the polls?


From the front page

Composite image of Nationals MP George Christensen and Greens leader Adam Bandt (both images © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images)

Friends like these

Labor distances itself from the Greens, while the Coalition does little to condemn the actual radicals in its own ranks

Image of Abdul Karim Hekmat. Photograph © Sam Biddle

Australia needs to hear asylum seekers’ stories, in our own words

Our presence has preoccupied the nation, but our stories have been excluded from the national narrative

Image of Australian Bicentenary protest, Sydney, NSW, 1988

The stunted country

There can be no republic without constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians

Image of Oscar Isaac as William Tell in The Card Counter. Photograph © Focus Features

Debt burden: Paul Schrader’s ‘The Card Counter’

The acclaimed writer-director indulges his experimental streak in a thriller that inverts the popular conception of the gambling man