AMID THE FALLOUT from the ABC’s airing of Labor’s filthy laundry — The Killing Season — has emerged a tawdry piece of duplicity by (now) Labor “leader” Bill Shorten that might damage him more than a first glance suggests; outed by a radio host in Melbourne as having lied publicly about his involvement in the overthrow of Julia Gillard, Shorten now presents as the most untrustworthy and dishonest candidate for the Prime Ministership in decades.
It’s an article of faith among the general public — often wrongly and mostly unfairly — that politicians are nothing more than rank liars; that the group of people elected to go off to Canberra (or to Spring Street, Macquarie Street, North Terrace and so forth) morph into the most unethical, dishonest, self-obsessed bunch of corrupt gutter dwellers the country boasts the dubious ability to spawn, and that elected representatives will literally say and/or do anything to anyone in the interests of self-advancement with a total and cavalier disregard for whom they might walk over in the process.
It’s an assessment I fundamentally disagree with: having spent a lot of time over the past 25 years or so in and around politics I know there are many, many good people on all sides of the political divide who find their way into public office, and whilst there are always a few bad apples in any barrel (and yes, politics has its fair share of them) the obfuscation of most MPs is limited to and dictated by quaint concepts such ministerial solidarity and other forms of official confidentiality that are actually contrived in the interests of the public benefit.
Whether people agree with those strictures is a valid matter for debate, for those so inclined.
But public esteem for politics and politicians is not helped by the kind of brazen lying opposition “leader” Bill Shorten was caught engaging in yesterday by 3AW morning anchor Neil Mitchell; the fact Shorten’s transgression related to precisely the kind of behaviour voters seem to find the most distasteful about politics — subterranean machinations and doing hatchet jobs on people, in this case former Prime Minister Julia Gillard — only compounds such perceptions, and reinforces the utter self-obsession of a specimen like Shorten, whose reputation for disloyalty and wielding the knife against his colleagues is already well entrenched and apparently well deserved.
For those who don’t know, Mitchell — who interviewed Shorten two days after the 2013 parliamentary Mid-Winter Ball, during which Shorten told Rudd in a secret side-meeting that he would knife Gillard and bring the support of those MPs’ votes he controlled to the Rudd camp — realised whilst watching the final instalment of The Killing Season on Tuesday night that Shorten had lied to him on air two days later; and yesterday, having “asked questions” of Shorten, Australians were gifted a grubby little insight into the man masquerading as a candidate for the Prime Ministership.
And people should watch the interview Mitchell taped with Shorten on 21 June 2013, during which — despite attempting to squirm his way out of giving iron-clad commitments around his support for Gillard — Shorten nonetheless gave explicit denials of any involvement of leadership machinations when we now know he was in it up to his neck, and in the course of which he had the nerve to berate Mitchell for persisting with trying to get to the bottom of Shorten’s agitation on Rudd’s behalf and his private commitment to stick his knife between Gillard’s shoulder blades.
Is it any wonder Liberal frontbencher Bruce Billson, seated alongside Shorten, could barely keep a knowing smirk off his face.
Shorten, at the time that interview was taped, was already battling unfavourable publicity over the fact he was instrumental in knifing Rudd three years earlier; now, of course, he was reprising his role by doing the same thing to Gillard.
Accusations of loyalty are never going to be something Shorten is burdened by.
But what this episode shows is that Shorten is apparently an individual prepared to literally say and do anything in his pursuit of his own political ambitions: he benefited from promotion after the elevation of Gillard as Prime Minister and, as history shows, he would benefit from promotion under the restored leadership of Kevin Rudd. In the absence of those undeserved promotions it is unlikely Shorten would have had any coherent case to make in seeking the Labor leadership after its thumping election defeat later that year.
When caught out by Mitchell, Shorten’s response was deeply unsatisfactory for a man purporting to present as a Prime Ministerial candidate; his apology was to Mitchell only, not to the audience of several hundred thousand Melburnians who were listening the day he lied on air — to say nothing of the wider Australian public, who were made aware of his denials through other media during the day — and came in the form of a phone call during a news bulletin when Mitchell was on a break. Shorten refused to be interviewed on air or for his apology to be broadcast.
His excuse for lying — that he didn’t want to make “a diabolical situation (ALP leadership speculation) worse” is disingenuous, fatuous, and an utter hypocrisy, for away from the 3AW microphone he had been doing precisely that, undermining his leader behind her back and garnering support for the termination of her tenure.
The idea he had been caught “on the hop” and by implication, unprepared to answer questions on Labor leadership rumblings and his role in them, means he is either an idiot, or totally oblivious to any concept of honesty in his public discourse, or (more realistically) both.
As recently as yesterday morning Shorten was holding the line that his hands were clean when they were not, remarking that it was not his job “to be the curator of the museum of Labor (sic)” in relation to questions around his involvement in matters oxygenated by The Killing Season when in fact, he was a central — even pivotal — player in them.
This column has been scathing of Shorten and utterly dismissive of any alleged merit he offers as a political leader, public figure or (God forbid) as a theoretical Prime Minister: episodes like this one, whilst perhaps innocuous viewed in isolation and from a purely clinical perspective, are becoming more frequent, and as I am fond of observing from time to time, where there is one there are usually others. This seems a truism and a self-fulfilling prophecy where summary analysis of Shorten is concerned.
Evidence that the Labor “leader” is a disloyal, treacherous, scheming, opportunistic and self-promoting charlatan — and now, unequivocally, a liar — is mounting. It is no wonder Shorten’s public approval numbers are collapsing, not that they were anything startling to begin with. As a “leader,” I think it’s fair to say Shorten is a red herring, and a fraud.
Nothing about this sordid little incident paints politics and politicians in a particularly rosy light but, happily, it makes Shorten look worst of all: and the point I most want to make this morning is that aside from betraying Gillard — like Rudd before her — Shorten has actually betrayed the men and women of Australia he expects to vote for him, demonstrating that they, like everyone else he encounters, are entirely instrumental to him.
Very soon, Shorten will front the Royal Commission into the trade union movement to answer and explain allegations that the Australian Workers’ Union — during his tenure as its Victorian and/or national chief — received substantial sums of money on numerous occasions from a raft of companies whilst striking industrial agreements with those businesses that stripped away the same workplace entitlements Labor and the unions (and Shorten) have been so viciously outspoken about the need to protect, most notably wherever any mentions of workplace reform and the Liberal Party are made in the same sentence.
To date, the explanations that have been offered from all interested quarters on these matters have been vague, inconsistent and unconvincing; the only conclusion to draw is that the companies involved were buying industrial peace and freedom from the threat of union-led industrial anarchy, and I can only remark that the monies involved might as well have been handed over in brown paper bags.
Shorten’s appearance at the Royal Commission probably represents his last opportunity to salvage his reputation and convince people he is able to be trusted as a prominent senior figure in affairs of state in Australia.
If the tawdry little episode revealed by Mitchell — which Shorten wilfully attempted to conceal — serves as any kind of indicative reference of what to expect, then good luck with that.