DESPITE THE SEMANTICS, the spin and the tepid claims to Labor Party unity, the weekend’s ALP conference was an unmitigated disaster for Bill Shorten; effectively rolled by his deputy on key agenda items and abandoned by his leadership group over the issue he arrogated to himself to “lead” over — asylum boat turnbacks — it is now impossible to see how Shorten can remain “leader,” let alone stake any serious claim to the Prime Ministership.
…and to put not too fine a point on it, this has been a conference that damages Labor irrespective of who leads it.
Let’s start with what the ALP national conference didn’t feature (and/or was so unimportant to Labor as to evade public notice).
Nothing on the economy, economic management, balancing the federal budget, or reducing the $350 billion national debt pile the ALP is directly responsible for, courtesy of its most recent masquerade as a federal government.
Nothing on reform, or at least not in the orthodox sense: no tax reform, no labour market reform, no public debate over the relationship between Canberra and the states, nothing on fixing the Commonwealth electoral system, and nothing on reforming its own lethal association with the union movement.
Nothing more than a bit of lip service to those issues Labor arrogantly and misguidedly thinks underpins its “competence” — Health and Education — when the party’s idea of health reform is abolishing the private health insurance rebate, and its idea of education funding takes the shape of unlegislated 2013 election bribes whose currency expired the day Labor was hurled from government in an avalanche.
And nothing — speaking of the unions — of the indecent, improper and/or downright criminal misconduct the Heydon Royal Commission has been oxygenating for most of the past year.
Yet whereas this Labor conference lacked any cogent agenda that might have set out the ALP’s credentials to seek an election win and form a sober, moderate, rational government of the Centre, it made up for this deficiency in spades with a stunning indulgence of the party’s hard Left that all but destroys Bill Shorten’s case to remain Labor’s “leader” — if there ever was one, that is.
Coming on top of the ridiculous triple-whammy carbon tax announced by Shorten last week and the facile, fatuous commitment to increasing the Renewable Energy Target to 50% (and the accompanying, wholly unsubstantiated assertion this would drive down power prices), the only thing that can now prevent Labor from suffering a second consecutive landslide election defeat is the missteps of the Abbott government (whose capacity to deliver in this regard should not be underestimated).
But really, anyone who believes this conference is a political positive for the ALP is delusional.
To be sure, the ALP conference has sent Shorten out with something that on the surface he can claim provides him with a “win,” but that victory — buried as it is somewhere within the length, depth and breadth of the shaft into which his “leadership” has been cast — is an illusory triumph indeed.
Emerging with the ability to exercise “an option” in government to turn back asylum seeker boats, Shorten’s adventure in back-me-or-sack-me brinkmanship has elicited for him the worst possible outcome, with conference tepidly endorsing the stance, and with the three most senior figures on the party’s Left directly and indirectly defying their “leader.”
Former leadership aspirant Anthony Albanese had the decency to vote against the measure outright, so deeply held is his belief (with which I vehemently disagree) that the measure is wrong; this in itself is a bad enough look for the embattled Shorten as he tries valiantly and pointlessly to hold onto his position.
But worse materialised from the conduct of Penny Wong and probable leader-in-waiting, Tanya Plibersek, who breathtakingly handed their votes to proxies — who in turn duly opposed the measure — whilst claiming, po-faced, not to have opposed their “leader.” The chutzpah is astonishing.
The other big issue confronted by the ALP conference was gay marriage, with forces allied to Plibersek lining up to ram through a resolution making a vote in favour of the measure binding on Labor MPs, and the “compromise” — that MPs will instead have a conscience vote on any bill that appears before 2019, after which support for it will become compulsory, presumably after Labor thinks it will return to government — is ridiculous.
Other “initiatives” resolved by conference included the censure of party stalwart Martin Ferguson — one of the few sane voices left in its ranks — over his remarks earlier in the year favouring privatisation in some circumstances as part of a wider overall agenda for reform.
The conference resolved that in the fullness of time, 50% of its MPs will be women, which invites the rather obvious charge that it will now preselect women just for the hell of it, rather than on merit and because female candidates are the best on offer. It is a dreadful, tokenistic, patronising look.
And just for good measure — and in a sop to the ultra-hard Left within and without — conference agreed to a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state in a move that will all but destroy Labor’s relationship with Australia’s sizeable Jewish community, and leaves it a footstep away from joining the disgusting so-called BDS campaign against Israel — Boycott, Divest, Sanctions — so bloody-mindedly pursued by the hardest of hardcore left-wing elements at the
Communist Party Greens, and by other lunatic left-wing fringe groups across the world.
Just what planet the Fairfax press is on, however, is unknown, with usually reasonable columnist Mark Kenny asserting Shorten “rises” and “shines” in the conference’s aftermath as Albanese and the Left “wane,” but it does seem Fairfax is doing its best to put a brave face on things on Shorten’s behalf.
Anyone who thinks the weekend’s events represent a point in time at which the “leader” hit his straps, or came into his own, or any other euphemism for fulfilling a “leadership” potential that never existed in the first place is kidding themselves.
The simple fact is that the overwhelming preference of the Labor rank-and-file for a left-wing leader — as indisputably evidenced in the silly leadership ballot farce the ALP engaged in late in 2013 — has now been reflected by a conference that was not empowered to remove Shorten from the leadership but has nonetheless seen to it that the gaping wounds from the thousand sabre cuts it inflicted are visible wherever Shorten now goes, and irrespective of what he says.
At the bottom line, his own senior colleagues — on whom he depends for whatever infinitesimal sliver of authority he may once have enjoyed — have deserted him.
On the positions Shorten wanted to carry, he has failed to score an outright win — see the “option” to turn back boats, which you can bet would never be used — or simply made to fritter his time away ahead of the Left’s position (and the opposite to Shorten’s) becoming binding on the Labor Party, as has been the case with gay marriage.
When you combine the flagrant and wilful defiance of Shorten on these and other measures with the issues the conference failed to consider at all, and add in the fancies like the censure of Ferguson and the foolish gender quota, it’s clear that far from providing a springboard from which to launch its attack on the coming election campaign, Labor has instead manoeuvred its way to the equivalent of the lifeboat dock on the Titanic: after the last boat on board had put to sea.
There is no compelling narrative for a Labor government to be elected after the weekend’s events, that much is obvious.
And Shorten — doltish and mindlessly vacuous as his “leadership” has been — is as good as finished, and finished at the hands of his own people, no less.
The final takeout for the voting public is that irrespective of what might coax a Labor vote from those in marginal Coalition seats, there is now no substantive issue at all on which the ALP has a position that is clear, unequivocal, credible, or even believable.
And the end result for the party itself has been that thanks to the manoeuvres of its leaders on the Labor Left, the party has taken a giant step toward the hard Left — and away from the ground on which elections in this country are always won or lost.
Tanya Plibersek will probably become Labor leader as soon as the 48 votes required to overturn Shorten’s “leadership” in the 80-strong caucus can be assembled: an enterprise that may or may not precede the looming election that could come as soon as October or November.
But lest anyone on the lunatic Left get too excited by the prospect, the damage inflicted upon the ALP at the weekend is such that its electoral prospects have been compromised — perhaps fatally so — irrespective of who might take on the role of its leader.
Labor has spent three days making itself an unelectable force of the hard socialist Left. No similar entity offering a similar agenda has ever been elected to government in Australian history.
That record is likely to be repeated unless an outbreak of common sense and sanity occurs somewhere influential in the ALP, and quickly.
But if it doesn’t — and you’d have to bet it won’t — then Labor will only have itself to blame, and if the consequences are that both Shorten and Plibersek are killed off politically, then neither will be able to proclaim themselves to be faultless.