THE CRITICISM frequently made by this column — that Labor cares about power, not people — has found plenty of validating evidence this week; now, “leader” Bill Shorten heads to his first ALP national conference armed with a bag of conflicting promises aimed solely at election victory, but which — aside from provoking bitter fighting within his own party — would be disastrous if implemented. If, that is, anyone is silly enough to believe them.
First things first: I have been distracted this week once again, and have a partly written article from Wednesday about the GST (and so-called “alternatives” to reforming it put by two Labor Premiers) that I have held over and will complete and publish tomorrow; the GST conversation isn’t going to go away at any time soon, and I think it important to blow the attempt to hoodwink people that Daniel Andrews and Annastacia Palaszczuk are trying to make to bits: it’s just more vapid ALP spin that would do more harm than good if implemented.
And certainly, vapid political spin is the flavour of the week where the ALP is concerned.
I’ve been watching Labor this week, as it adds ridiculous new “policy” positions to an already dubious-looking platform under “leader” Bill Shorten, and I can only say that if the ALP is looking to provide reasons for people not to vote for it then the week’s handiwork should be regarded as a stunning success.
Shorten — who the temptation to permanently caricaturise as “Billy Bullshit” is becoming irresistible, so devoid of credibility have his utterances grown — has now taken his penchant for saying and doing literally anything to become Prime Minister so far that he heads into his first ALP national conference as “leader” armed with a bunch of conflicted “policies” that can only set various groups within the ALP at each other’s throats, and if voters assess the Labor offering purely in terms of its believability and its capacity to improve Australia, then Shorten has probably doomed his party to another hefty election loss.
Stop The Votes: it might as well be the theme for the ALP national conference.
Prior to his appearance at the Royal Commission into the unions, Shorten Labor made a huge splash with fatuous declarations that “It’s Time” on gay marriage to divert attention from the terrible press that duly materialised, as expected, in the wake of Shorten’s disastrous stint in the witness box.
With deputy and leadership aspirant Tanya Plibersek running hard on the issue and trying to bind Labor MPs to voting for the measure in Parliament, it probably seemed to Shorten that he was killing two birds with one stone, but — in a sop to the party’s Right — it quickly became evident that it would only be time if a conscience vote deemed it so.
And right now, that prospect, based on the current complexion of the Parliament, remains unlikely.
Having appeased the Right on gay marriage, the Left was thrown two massive bones on climate change: not only would there be a new, triple-whammy carbon tax under a Shorten government (that would make anything attempted or introduced by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and their masters at the
Communist Party Greens look mild by comparison) but the renewable energy target — the source of so much consternation where energy costs are concerned, to say nothing of the actual efficacy of efforts to undo climate change in Australia — would be more than doubled under Labor in office to 50%.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Shorten had the bald nerve to claim publicly that this would drive power costs for consumers and businesses down; no research to back the contention was offered, and in fact with all anecdotal evidence suggesting the RET has been a prominent culprit in driving energy costs through the roof over the past decade, the Shorten pronouncement is — and deserves to be seen as — ludicrous.
But in case the Right got its collective nose out of joint over the Left being given such a sop, Shorten overturned more than a decade of obstinate Labor posturing to announce the party would now back the turnback of asylum seeker vessels at sea; and whilst it is unclear whether this extends to the full suite of Abbott government measures including the continuation of mandatory detention for new arrivals and temporary protection visas, the turnback backflip alone is enough to ignite a virtual civil war in Labor ranks.
Invisible for the moment is Shorten’s promise, announced last year and hurriedly stepped on to hide it, to abolish the private health insurance rebate: such a doctrinaire left-wing measure is music to the Medicare-obsessed Left but anathema to the cost-aware Right, which is all too mindful of the apocalyptic impact it would have on both public health budgets and the capacity of an instantly besieged state hospital system to deliver services at all, let alone cope.
Crackdowns on “the rich” through ending tax concessions for self-funded retirees and “taxing multinationals” might sound nice to Labor types, and certainly those on the Left of the party, but ignore the reality that forcing some at the lower end of the self-funded retirement community onto part-pensions will cost money overall rather than save it. The mad plot to force multinationals to “pay their share,” meanwhile, is a potent recipe for driving large numbers of Australian jobs offshore.
But then again, given the jobs in question are mostly not unionised, Labor’s slave masters at Trades Hall get a win there too.
In fact, the unions — which every objective criterion suggests the ALP would be best served abandoning its links to — get a little more from Shorten as well; as journalist and blogger Michael Smith put it yesterday, Shorten unequivocally supports the Abbott government’s free trade agreement with China whilst unequivocally opposing it. The pithy catchphrase neatly sums up the utter contradiction in what is being kicked around by Shorten as the official ALP position on the issue.
Yet as Andrew Bolt detailed in the Murdoch press yesterday, this kind of posturing is nothing new to Shorten, who a decade ago expressed support publicly for a similar arrangement with the US, but solemnly assured Labor and union types privately that he was opposed to it, tooth and nail, in the interests of protecting jobs.
On and on it goes, with Shorten saying literally anything to whatever group of people is immediately within earshot, apparently oblivious to (or not giving a shit about) the irreconcilable contradictions he is articulating, just obsessed with being all things to all people, and desperate to become Prime Minister at any cost.
The list of issues is endless; the contortions to present opposing and incompatible positions to placate competing interest groups are impossible; and whilst a Labor government would have to do something in office — something, anything — the probability is high that a Shorten government would end up alienating every conceivable section of Australian society.
Except, perhaps, the unions: the one group to which it should give the metaphorical middle finger.
It is true the Abbott government continues to do all it can to stoke the fires of Labor’s electoral fortunes; the refusal and/or inability to make an example out of Bronwyn Bishop is merely the latest in a long series of own goals booted by the Coalition that is probably fuelling Labor’s continued lead in opinion polls even if, unsurprisingly, Shorten himself is growing daily more unpopular personally.
But even with this underserved free advantage from his opponents, Shorten remains apparently determined to serve up a garbled mishmash of half-baked commitments whose currency depends on where he is, who he is with, and what he is trying to promise or buy his way past to secure a pile of votes.
In the meantime, the natives are restless: Anthony Albanese is said to have “no further interest” in the ALP leadership, and that he had “one shot and he fired it;” Tanya Plibersek, the ever-loyal deputy, maintains she is not manoeuvring to displace Shorten. Both formulations are time-honoured euphemisms for scheming treachery under a cloak of open secrecy masquerading as disinterest.
Meanwhile, it is openly known in political circles that Plibersek and/or people close to her are canvassing Labor MPs to find the 48 votes to trigger a leadership spill in the 80-strong caucus. Neither Albanese nor Plibersek — both from the Labor Left — can be taken particularly seriously as candidates for the Prime Ministership.
The poster boy for the Right, shadow Treasurer Chris Bowen, is no more credible than a cardboard cut-out. Tainted by his association with Kevin Rudd and damned by his complicity in the economic dishonesty propounded by Labor for years, there are real questions about his viability as an alternative leader in the eyes of the public.
Whether the ALP likes it or not, it is probably saddled with Shorten until or unless he resigns or is slaughtered at an election.
In other words, little Billy Bullshit will keep on keeping on, making promises of anything and everything to anyone who will listen; with polls showing his personal popularity disintegrating to the point even Tony Abbott, faced with the viciously dishonest onslaught he copped from Julia Gillard and her handbag hit squad, look positively exalted by comparison, it is only a matter of time before Labor’s primary vote — and its two-party lead — follows suit.
There may be an argument that a significant portion of the electorate would like a return to Labor government; I don’t believe it, although redress of my criticisms of the Abbott government needs to go a lot further before I’m confident the government has fully recovered its position. Either way, it’s clear nobody expects Shorten to deliver what he says, and it’s fast becoming obvious that people are awake to the fact that nobody can believe a syllable he utters.
All of these competing policy positions, far from cancelling each other out, would add up to an absolute disaster if any attempt were made to legislate them but happily, the best efforts of Billy Bullshit should ensure that that insidious prospect never eventuates.
As Labor goes to its national conference this weekend, it will do so against a backdrop of an increasing number of floating voters abandoning their inclination to restore the party to office after a single term.
Such is the price of matey union loyalties and a refusal to say anything meaningful when responsible, sober and centrist ideas — entirely innocent of the union-obsessed, envious, class driven hatred that has lately characterised the ALP — are the key to Labor winning government in Australia.
It all makes for a fascinating weekend at the ALP conference. Stay tuned.