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A Shorten government would make the Gillard Government look conservative

By Tim O'Hare - posted Friday, 1 July 2016


A plan to let in 30,000 refugees, introduce a treaty with indigenous Australians and unashamedly increase the deficit? The Greens up to their usual tricks again?

No, this is the leader of the Labor Party and the person vying to be the next Australian Prime Minister.

A persistent myth amongst Australia's political class is that the Labor Party has moved increasingly to the right in recent decades. This couldn't be further from the truth. Where Hawke and Keating believed in markets as a mechanism to create social change and espoused the virtues of aspiration, Rudd and Gillard presided over a controlled economy and ended Keating's enterprise bargaining.

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Although the Howard government's vote buying through middle-class welfare didn't help reduce government spending when the mining boom ended, Rudd's spending like there was no tomorrow was a significant catalyst for the mess we're in now. This was recognised by Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan who at least announced that they would put the budget back into surplus, before realising the challenge was too big.

Shorten on the other hand isn't even trying to fix the mess. He's not even acknowledging it as a problem. If fixing the mess is going to get in the way of becoming Prime Minister then he will stridently defend the mess, own the mess and become the Prime Minister of the mess.

Shorten probably won't win the election, but he'll be in striking distance for 2019. I'm not one of those alarmist commentators who thinks that Bill Shorten personally would be disastrous for the country, but do I think that he has the character and intestinal fortitude to stare down his own party in the national interest? The answer has got to be no.

The paradox of the Australian Labor Party is that its leaders have succeeded in spite of it. Whitlam fought against the faceless men in order to modernise the party, Hawke and Keating were despised by the grass-roots of the party for their pro-market and pro-America polices, Rudd was the enemy of the union movement throughout his entire leadership. Similarly they have failed because of their party. Ben Chifley wasn't able to successfully distance himself from the Bolshevik elements of his party, Calwell failed to stand on his own two feet and appear to be independent of the party machine, the Rudd story is all too familiar.

The Labor leader who has been the most successful is undoubtedly Bob Hawke with his four election victories. But he's nowhere near as lauded amongst the Labor faithful as Whitlam, with his kid in the lolly shop approach to governance, or Keating with his Redfern Speech and the Republic. Aside from Medicare, most Labor people remember Hawke for sculling a Yard Glass. They are unenthusiastic towards him because of their romanticism towards electoral losers (Whitlam, Keating) and their contempt for Hawke's mainstream, pro-US, pro-family, pro-US alliance appeal. Yet Hawke has a common touch that has long been missing in the contemporary Labor Party.

The comparisons between Bill Shorten and Bob Hawke, as union leaders who have become party leaders, are inevitable. But the similarities seem to end there. Bob Hawke ran in 1983 on the platform of 'Bringing People Together' whereas the Shorten campaign is beset with division. Division between rich and poor, the aspirational and the non-aspirational, business and workers and indigenous and non-indigenous. Shorten seeks to introduce a treaty with the Indigenous Australians as though they were a separate nation and not the First Australians who have lived alongside non-indigenous Australians for almost two-and-a-half centuries.

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The best historical parallel for Shorten is Doc Evatt. Like Evatt, who came to the leadership in the shadow of the recently-deceased Ben Chifley, Bill Shorten was not the popular choice to lead the Labor Party compared to the Left's Anthony Albanese. The Left have the narrative that Evatt was prevented from becoming Prime Minister due to the right-wing splitters who became the Democratic Labor Party. That may be true, but what's also true is that the split did not come from nothing, numerous ordinary Labor supporters abandoned the Labor Party because of a militantly left-wing executive which Evatt failed to stand up to.

Shorten similarly has let the Left set the economic, social and cultural agenda. His performance as the sole panellist on Q&A looked like something out of the West Wing. He talked about first-class, government sponsored internet, ending the gender pay-gap through scholarships for women in STEM, not raising university fees, and indigenous reconciliation. This wasn't the election platform of a pragmatic statesman like John Curtin or Robert Menzies. There were no winners or losers in Shorten's plan for Australia... except of course the taxpayer. But when most Australians receive more in benefits than they pay in tax, that taxpayer is a forgotten constituency. Bill Shorten is going to this election with the solution of throwing more money at everything from education to disability to indigenous disadvantage to women's rights. This isn't nation building, it's economic vandalism.

Why then is Shorten not beloved by the far Left in the same vein as Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders? With the exception of immigration, Shorten has chosen the orthodox left-wing position on most issues. He has opposed any structural reform into trade union governance while proposing a Royal Commission into the Banking sector. Instead of tackling the deficit he has agreed to continue it. Rather than adopting the company tax cuts that he himself recommended as Financial Services Minister, Shorten has waged a campaign of class warfare. This is old Labor politics which would have had no place in the Labor Party of less than a generation ago.

The fact that Shorten is not championed by the Left speaks to the toxicity of the contemporary left-wing zeitgeist. This is a narcissistic culture borne out of identity politics where individuals virtue signal and favour a leader who encompasses their values 100%. They favour Corbyn and Sanders for their stubborn individualism and refusal to budge on their Cold War era arguments. They resent the poll-driven Blairism or Clintonism that is driven by public opinion, just as they resent ordinary people and their mainstream concerns.

The crisis of modern Labor is that the era of social media slactivism has given a disproportionate voice to those with radical and post-material values, leaving Labor (and other parties of the Centre-Left worldwide) without an anchor. Where Hawke and Keating fought great battles internally to extol the virtues of markets against those who advocated the nationalisation of industry, the Shortenites seek only to move incrementally to greater state control. The destination of a government that provides for every want and need is the same... the only difference is the pace at which we get there.

When Bill Shorten decides to stare down his party and advocate policies in the national interest I'll be the first to commend him. In the mean time, I may as well get a coffee as I fear I'll be waiting a long time.

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About the Author

Tim O'Hare is a Brisbane-based, History graduate from the University of Queensland. He is a freelance commentator on political and cultural issues with specific reference to economics, education and free speech. Along with his commentary on social media, online publications and blogging he also finds creative expression in stand up comedy in a variety of bars in and around the Brisbane CBD.

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