WITH TELL-ALL ABC expose The Killing Season rolling e’er onward last night, viewers were treated to character assessments of Bill Shorten, from his own colleagues, that suggest a deeply ingrained sense of treachery and self-obsession; The Killing Season reheats a tale of grimy backroom machinations and ruthlessness that reflects poorly on its participants in the unions and the ALP. But if his colleagues couldn’t trust Shorten, neither should voters.
I am on the run again this morning, so this post will be fairly succinct; we still haven’t discussed the issue of paying people smugglers to return boatloads of asylum seekers to Indonesia, although with the emergence of revelations yesterday that Labor did it in office as well, the mindless attack on the issue by “leader” Bill Shorten irrevocably loses most of its political potency. I still think some kind of rationale for the practice must be offered, although I readily accept the government’s reticence to detail operational matters relating to “stopping the boats.” We’ll keep an eye on all of this and come back to it.
But I wanted to quickly posit on the second (and penultimate) of the ABC’s dirt-dishing account of the Labor leadership wars between 2007 and 2013, The Killing Season, which screened last night; it does remain my intention to more fully comment on this extraordinary production in sum once it has concluded, but what it has served up to viewers to date is astonishing.
That Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard quickly became adversaries after Labor’s return to office in 2007 ought to surprise nobody; in the run-up to the defeat of the Howard government, neither of them could be accused of lacking ambition, and those of us who had had anything at all to do with Rudd in Queensland (which, once removed, I certainly had prior to my move south in 1998) were well aware the guy was an obsessive megalomaniac who refused to brook any dissent.
About the kindest thing I have heard uttered publicly to describe him — by those who also knew what he was like — was former Labor leader’s abrupt put-down in an email to Rudd during the former’s tenure in Parliament which opened with “Hey, knucklehead:” it isn’t the worst thing Rudd has ever been called, of course, but it was succinct. And accurate.
I was sick the day Labor won the 2007 election, but a few days later an old confidant from Queensland called me to discuss the lay of the land. “How long do you think it will take for the (leadership) fun and games to start?” he asked me. My associate gave it six months; I said I’d give it twelve. Both of us shortchanged the ALP in hindsight as it turned out, but for a fight to break out over the prize assets of electoral victory as soon as it did over the ALP was unprecedented and, as was the case with Rudd and his faults, it didn’t really surprise anyone who knew what the beast was truly like.
Politics is no game for those who think everything should proceed on deep principles of honesty and loyalty and fidelity to one’s word; of course, in an ideal world this would be so, but in practice things — for better or for worse — simply don’t work that way.
Even so, the indecent boasting on all sides that The Killing Season has thus far elicited in relation to plotting and scheming and treachery touches new levels of brutality for even Australian politics or by the Labor Party’s notoriously robust standards.
I don’t think anyone would be particularly wise to bet the house on the authenticity of the accounts presented by either side; when it comes to the fracas between Rudd and Gillard, it is impossible for both to be as lily-white as they claim but to listen to them both last night — again — I found it impossible to doubt the validity of either of their stories.
What did come as no real surprise, however, was a warning (repeated in both the Fairfax and Murdoch titles this morning) to Julia Gillard from her ally, Sussex Street backroom boy and NSW Labor powerbroker Mark Arbib, not to promote Bill Shorten.
(Update, 12 noon: reports are circulating on Twitter this afternoon that Arbib is denying ever warning Gillard, directly or indirectly, that Shorten couldn’t be trusted, or making the claim as bout him directly. We’ll keep an eye on this).
Shorten, whose name most had never heard before he milked the rescue of two gold miners at Beaconsfield in Tasmania in 2006 for all it was worth in personal publicity, was spoken of as a future Labor leader (and Prime Minister) virtually from the day he entered Parliament in the Rudd landslide in 2007, although how widespread that particular sentiment was is — being kind to Shorten — at best debatable.
Yet if Rudd was a creature of vaulting, tasteless, off-putting ambition, Shorten was even more so, and as recent events and the proceedings of the Royal Commission into the unions tend to support, the sense that Shorten would say and do literally anything in the interests of his own advancement is impossible to dispense with.
Readers and political observers will recall his “leadership” ticket, featuring current deputy (and perhaps knife-wielding replacement) Tanya Plibersek, for no better reason than the trumpeted tokenism that he could “boast” a female deputy and his opponent, Anthony Albanese, couldn’t.
Or his tasteless posturing and brown-nosing to minority communities at the expense of the majority in a brazen stunt designed to help him secure the Labor leadership: little, of course, has been heard from Shorten about any of these communities since he triumphed over Albanese 18 months ago.
Or, to use a more recent illustration, Shorten’s willingness to mount economic “arguments” that advance his own ambitions and interests, but which if ever realised would inflict shattering damage on Australia, is not a marker of an individual whose politics could be described as remotely principled, responsible, or even decent.
In this vein it is little wonder that people who knew him were able to comprehensively warn Gillard off either trusting Shorten and/or rewarding him with promotion.
Yet Gillard ignored this advice to her peril, with the inevitable consequence that just as Rudd ended up sporting Shorten’s blade between his shoulders, so too did Gillard once the offending implement had been retrieved and the blood polished off.
Bill Shorten now holds the dubious distinction of being the only major party “leader” to have knifed two incumbent Prime Ministers from his own side of the fence and emerge at the top of the greasy pole; that he has done so is no cause for admiration or acclaim, but for alarm and extreme wariness.
After all, if Shorten’s own colleagues can ‘t trust him as far as they can throw him — and ample evidence already exists that the man himself will say and do literally anything in the furtherance of his own petty delusions — then how can the voting public ever trust him with the welfare, prosperity and astute management of the country?
Like Gillard, voters have been warned about Shorten, and they don’t need to wonder whether the warning is fair dinkum: both Rudd and Gillard were knifed by the Labor “leader” at the very earliest opportunity he could engineer. The thought of what he might be capable of if — God forbid — ever elected Prime Minister is truly horrifying.