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Shorten’s ‘New Labor’: policy and the challenges of leadership

In his pitch to Labor’s rank and file for the right to lead the federal parliamentary party, Bill Shorten declared that his aim - should he become prime minister - would be to serve on behalf of: … the…

What do we know so far of the policy positions of new opposition leader Bill Shorten? AAP/Lukas Coch

In his pitch to Labor’s rank and file for the right to lead the federal parliamentary party, Bill Shorten declared that his aim - should he become prime minister - would be to serve on behalf of:

… the powerless, for the disempowered, for people who don’t have a voice in society.

Shorten returned to this theme in his first speech as party leader and reiterated his commitment to “develop(ing) the right policies, which are then explained with persistence”.

But how might such sentiments translate in a policy sense under Shorten’s leadership?

You would not be alone in wondering how Shorten actually intends to resurrect the Labor brand. Very little of policy substance was debated during the leadership contest between Shorten and Anthony Albanese, even though Shorten lauded the process for encouraging the party to “talk about ideas”.

The lack of specificity from both Albanese and Shorten is not all that surprising. How adventurous can we expect any leadership aspirant to be when every utterance is captured by reporters and potentially used against them at some later time? Perhaps Shorten won the contest not because of what he said he would do, but because he appeared to more “prime ministerial” in his manner of saying it.

Having said this, Shorten has provided some clues about those areas (as against policies) that he intends to emphasise as opposition leader.

Shorten has indicated that he will oppose the Abbott government’s plans to abolish the carbon tax. He has signalled his support for same-sex marriage, and even said that he would “actively consider” creating a shadow ministry for equality.

Shorten has vowed to be pro-immigration and more sympathetic to the plight of asylum seekers, including a willingness to revisit the issue of extending working rights to those found to be refugees “at the first pass”.

Shorten remains open minded about the new government’s paid paternity leave scheme. He has waxed lyrical in a wonderfully unspecific way about the virtues of internal party democracy and of the need to “modernise” the ALP’s relationship to the union movement.

There is, it seems, a little something for everyone in Shorten’s new Labor: from party members to disgruntled Labor voters, small business owners, farmers and professional women.

However, in order to make good on his promises, Shorten must find a way to conquer the electorate, the party and the government. All three present their own unique threats.

One of the biggest challenges for Shorten will be to traverse a policy course that satisfies both Labor’s traditional base, composed largely of working class voters, and its more affluent constituency.

Both segments of Labor’s base are often excited by many of the same policy issues but often for very different reasons. Take, for example, the issue of asylum seekers. Whereas the ALP’s traditional base is much more inclined to support a hardline stance on asylum seekers, its middle class supporters reject such a position.

There is no easy fix and both constituencies are important to Labor. While the party’s working class supporters are in the numerical ascendance, the middle class base dominates the trendy inner metropolitan seats held by Labor MPs.

In the context of the party caucus, Shorten is likely to find his colleagues fairly compliant: Anna Burke’s break with discipline is likely to be an isolated event. Part of the reason for this is because the recent federal election result has thoroughly subdued caucus. But another reason is that the party is now led by the same person who was at the centre of much of the intrigue that fatally wounded two Labor prime ministers. Shorten possesses the necessary guile to extinguish any serious ill-discipline before it can surface.

This is not to say that factional considerations won’t prove to be tricky for Shorten to manage. While caucus might be on its best behaviour, it doesn’t automatically follow that factional chiefs sitting outside of parliament won’t complicate matters. We got a taste of what this might mean when Joe de Bruyn, leader of the powerful Shop, Distributive & Allied Employees Association, intervened unilaterally to qualify Shorten’s position on the issue of parliamentary quotas and same-sex marriage.

Finally, there is the question of Shorten’s strategy in opposition. Shorten says that he will not replicate Abbott’s tactic of being “relentless negative”. While this is a virtuous position in principle, it may not be possible in practice. Shorten has not been gifted the situation of minority government that was served up to Abbott when the latter was opposition leader.

And while the incoming Senate crossbench is complex, it is unlikely to present a serious obstacle to the implementation of much the Abbott government’s agenda. In order to be relevant, Shorten may have to go out much harder against the government than he might otherwise wish.

The role of opposition leader can be a poisonous chalice. But Shorten is smooth, smart, articulate and wily. Importantly, he is different from both of his predecessors. Unlike Rudd, Shorten earned his political stripes in the cut and thrust of trade union politics. He truly comprehends the importance of keeping his friends close and his enemies even closer.

And unlike Gillard, he has the happy luck of being a man.

Join the conversation

36 Comments sorted by

  1. Ella Miller

    retired

    Narelle, a worth while read ...thank you.
    I only wish Mr. Shorten's body language was as positive as his words. Perhaps he was tired.
    He will have to have a hide as thick as an elephant if he is to deal with what he gets from the Government ,
    over the Rudd , Gillard issues...not to mention the internal destabilization of the Labor party that went on. You can bet that the Government despite Mr. Abbott's call for more respectful conduct (how hypocritical) will most certainly use the past to test the notion of being a positive opposition.
    They will need the wisdom of Solomon to come up with amendments to the Governments agenda and some how get them through parliament . Then how to regain the trust of not just the working class and the working poor but the struggling middle....a steep climb ahead for Labor !
    Then there are the Factions. Who would want to be in politics?

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  2. Jon Wardle

    NHMRC Research Scholar, School of Population Health at University of Queensland

    I think Shorten's sentiments from the leadership pitch have done their job getting him in the role and will now be discarded and forgotten and replaced with whatever is needed to elevate him to the next stage of his career. I'm reminded of video that circulated from the speeches where Shorten began speaking "I believe..." and then had to glance at his notes.

    Bill Shorten may have said he will serve on behalf of "the powerless, for the disempowered, for people who don’t have a voice in society" to win the role, but on previous form he will only continue to do so if he can serve himself at the same time.

    I hope I'm wrong about this, but unfortunately currently he represents everything people voted Labor out for, rather than being the right pair of hands to move the power forward. He has a lot of transformation to do.

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    1. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education

      In reply to Jon Wardle

      Shorten is the doubly-treacherous chap now leading the ALP. His time is short, indeed. He claims to champion the poor,the working man, the marginalised (typical union talk) but only as long as he gets to be the leader with all the trimmings and perks.
      I am reminded of Gillard (also from the union) and her "working class people", "real people don't live in North Shore" nonsense. She gets to travel first class (for life), private/personal secretary (for life), car-driver for life, hefty super, south sea pearls to compete with the women of the North Shore, and all the trappings that real 'working class people" (who ever they are) can't even dream of. LOL!!!!

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    2. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Jon Wardle

      What I find fascinating here is the vaulting pretense at minor royalty; mother-in-law vice-regal, all with "children under six", trying to resemble Will and Cath, and Frederik and Mary no doubt - Gen X and all that stuff - with yet another Labor generation growing up in the back of comm cars, as Lindsay Tanner described them the "political class", the new aristocracy.

      What? It must surely be by now not the children or grandchildren but the great-grandchildren.

      No accident that the wishes of…

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  3. Frank Moore

    Consultant

    Shorten is about as sincere as a bargain basement funeral director at his 6th service for the day.
    He doesn't fool me.
    And he only cares about: Bill Shorten.
    Am I harsh?
    Bill Clinton has a lot qualities similar to Shorten.
    He has a practised air of sincerity about him.
    And Bill C is a lot better at it than Bill S. [BS for short-en].
    And to all those Sydney Property Developers: When Labor's Fearless Leader starts talking 'Big Australia' - what's really going on is please give Labor: 'Big Donations'.
    They'll oblige - no doubt...

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    1. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank ,
      It seems to me that G R did not pay for the trip to India out the goodness of her heart either so what price will the Liberals pay big business for their support? To use your words "They'll oblige no doubt"
      what ever the price.

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    2. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Ella Miller

      John, we are all self serving to various degrees ...are we not?
      I hope Labor will continue the reform they have started and one day the Labor Conference will have a greater input into policy making.

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    3. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to Ella Miller

      So Ella, are you cheesed off with both major parties putting their hands out? And up and every which way for the odd bit of payola? Or are you greenlighting the LLeft when they do it?
      And to focus your mind, the above article is about BS not TA.
      So, do you accept that 'Big Australia' talk is about being friendly with developers?
      Or did the whole NSW thing - just pass you by?

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    4. Frank Moore

      Consultant

      In reply to Ella Miller

      Ella, i'm not aware of any 'reform' - has someone gone to gaol?
      I'm aware of BS trying his best to practice his 'reasonable' man driving a reasonably priced car / party act.
      Or are you referring to Comrade Rudd's election legacy?
      You know the guy everyone in the party hated - but told everyone that they loved him - even though they spent some time previously getting on camera to tell everyone that they hated him - but loved Julia. Although they then set about shafting her in short order.
      What was the reform you were referring to?

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    5. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank, no! the NSW thing is a disgrace...
      I am a Labor supporter , BUT I am not greenlighting the LLeft.
      But being a supporter does not mean we can't discuss issues problems as we see them, warts and all. How will change come about if we have a code of silence? And this means discussing both parties and leaders.

      PLEASE have a listen to N. Roxon's Button lecture and then come back to me.
      What a breath of fresh air it was and she is RIGHT IN ALL SHE SAID ...had this lecture been give when JG become PM and had there not been a code of silence she would still be PM today!
      Ms. ROXON thank you you have restored my faith.
      As the article is about BS please Mr. BS listen to the lecture.

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    6. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Frank Moore

      Frank, I think I am on the record in many of the conversations as having said...those in the Labor party who were involved in the destabilization of their own party should hang their head in shame. They have not only harmed a Great Party, but let down those people who voted for them, and Australia,
      I am not as one eyed as some.

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    7. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education

      In reply to Frank Moore

      You've taken the words out of my mouth, Frank. What reform, indeed. Roxon's latest public screeching of "bastard"-Rudd further confirmed my view that the current ALP mob is simply and completely carnivorous and thrive mostly on "eating their own".
      ALP: ha, ha, ha, ha!!. Shorten: hee, heee, heee!!
      Perhaps Palmer can save us?

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    8. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Raine..
      perhaps Palmer may save us and turn us into a carnivorous corporation
      and "good" education will only be for the corporate family and the rest of the plebs can be factory fodder....
      ah but all the factories are moving to Asia because the fodder there is more compliant and less expensive...

      Indeed bring it on the "carnivorous corporate mentality"
      Or is it here already???

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    9. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education

      In reply to Ella Miller

      " perhaps Palmer may save us and turn us into a carnivorous corporation"
      Really Ella? Good God, have I wasted my vote on Palmer? My disappointment with the ALP was so enormous that, like a rebellious teen, I went out of my way to vote for that (possibly) carnivore-loving Palmer. At least he has enough cash not to make unwarranted travel claims or abuse union funds, I reasoned. See how low I have sunk ... by rejecting the disastrously carnivorous ALP I am now in danger of becoming a carnivore myself via of Palmer. There is no redemption for me, to say the least.

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  4. wilma western

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Shorten needs time to prove himself . Presumably caucus decided his image was better than Albo's and his grip on the internal numbers seems stronger. He does not appear able to think on his feet terribly well .

    We need a strong Opposition as well as vision - so let's look at the team not just the figure-head . JG was a good team-leader - surely Shorten can at least deliver that , though dummy spits after the front-bench was selected are not a good sign.

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    1. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to wilma western

      Mr. Shorten ....I have just listened to the N. Roxon ...Button lecture..
      Please if you have not heard it and listen. Honesty from the Labor Party AT LAST.
      Good luck.
      Ms. Roxon come back the Labor Party needs people like you!!!!

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    2. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education

      In reply to Ella Miller

      Yes, please Roxon, please come back and continue to amuse us with more of your "bastard' speeches and public squabbling, and treacherous assassinations of sitting PMs. Please save us from the copious amount we spend on comedy theatre shows to entertain us via the ALP shows. Awesome!!

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    3. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to wilma western

      JG was a good team leader?

      Well, yes, no doubt, except to ants a roach always appears tall.

      Look forward to much more of the same old same old.

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  5. Peter Ormonde

    Farmer

    No more messiahs... one of Bill's more incisive comments during the leadership er contest. But our hunger for messiahs seems relentness... all this stuff that Bill is going to do ... he will oppose, he will establish, he will ...

    Enough of the 'I will" .... Only "we will Bill" Only use the first person when we are talking about Bill Shorten the bloke. But when talking of politics, strategies and issues make it a rule to only ONLY express a team view. We.

    Take a leaf from the footy players' script ... politics is a team sport and the skipper doesn't talk about how he will will the game for them.

    Same for you lot pundits and boffins. We must stop buying into this marketable messiah myth.

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    1. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter ,
      too late
      is not Mr. Abbott our messiah telling us to REPENT?

      The only thing missing is the OR ELSE.

      Has he not told his disciples ie cabinet that they must have their work vetted and approved

      and must have the people they are appointing vetted and approved.

      Ah we can't have infidels working in the LNP...now can we?

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    2. Peter Ormonde

      Farmer

      In reply to Ella Miller

      Ah yes indeed Ms Ella ... but you know what the good book says about false prophets. I have been collecting rocks and stones about the premises for some weeks now and have enough to take care of a goodly slice of the new Cabinet.

      But I must admit I began my anti-messiah agitation with the Kevin 07 campaign ... I was absolutely horrified actually ... standing for nothing other than not being John Howard... not so much a small target as no target at all. Made 'It's time" look like the Communist…

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    3. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Peter, You make my day! The fact that it is beautiful and warm and sunny, and my garden is full of fragrant flowers also helps.

      "some saw the error of their ways...reanointed Kevin to lead them forth"

      ....out of the wilderness into oblivion????

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    4. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Peter Ormonde

      Absolutely, Peter. Unfortunately politics in this country has been hijacked by the cult of personality. It is unnecessary to like a politician for them to do a good job. The two things are entirely independent - there is no correlation much less causality.

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    5. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Ella Miller

      What a load of unmitigated crap, Ella. Rewriting the Abbott narrative to suit your own ends doesn't make it the truth. ALL parties in government select who they want to represent them - you might remember the last six years when labor laboured over this very issue.

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    6. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to John Phillip

      Que? "ALL parties in government select who they want to represent them"!!???

      Um, sorry, we held a general election on 7 September as I recall, when we citizenry out here in the real world selected who we want to represent us in the federal parliament. They don't represent their party, they represent us.

      The only thing the party and in some cases the independents have left to do ex post facto is work out among themselves how best they are able to do that work of representing us, that they highly…

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    7. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Gil Hardwick

      Yea, poorly worded. What I meant was that they all select who they want on the frontbench. Time will tell on your last point, Gil.

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    8. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to John Phillip

      Seriously I do hope so, John, for all our sakes.

      Having grown up inside the goldfish bowl myself, and in that light currently reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 'Antifragile', let's hope and pray they take the opportunity afforded them to grow into the task ahead.

      What I mean myself is, the task cannot be taken for granted. It will not be easy and should not be easy, or made easy.

      As a nation we are on an acute cusp tight now.

      The rest of them might well cut the inane chatter finally, and themselves sit back and ponder very very seriously on where all this is headed.

      Makes us all look stupid.

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    9. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to John Phillip

      grumpy ...you are grumpy aren't you?
      I am not re writing the narrative ...I just talk about it as i see it just as you do...slow down mate...
      just because you don't agree does not make it "crap"

      the latest on the NCP is that now they are refusing to give FIO requests.. Courtesy of Mr. Brandeis et al.
      NOW that IS CRAP John.

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    10. John Phillip
      John Phillip is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Grumpy Old Man

      In reply to Ella Miller

      Ella, by invoking some sort of religious metaphor you are writing a fiction with regards to Abbott and his cabinet. THAT is crap. (Who is the NCP? BTW)

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    11. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to John Phillip

      John ,
      I was not ignoring you comment...was busy with other things.
      The religious metaphor comes out of Mr. Abbott's own life.
      When he returned from Oxford he went into the priesthood. Which he did not find to his liking.
      Then he got involved with politics and B. Santamaria (sp) was his mentor.
      You will find the book "Abbott a man's man " a very good read.
      The facts that are irrefutable ;
      1. Mr. Abbott when referring to the labor party used the word "repent"
      2.his cabinet and staff have…

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    12. Gil Hardwick

      anthropologist, historian, novelist, editor and publisher at eBooks West

      In reply to Ella Miller

      I find this 'analysis' of yours obsessive, distorted and unfair, Ella.

      Tony Abbott did not enter the priesthood then found it not to his liking, he is a Rhodes Scholar.

      The Jesuits are not the Holy Office, or Sacred Hearts or Franciscans, they are intellectuals and scholars.

      Abbott merely entered a seminary where he may well have studied toward the priesthood, though becoming a priest is not a study program leading to a degree or a diploma, it's a vocation; as they say a calling. There are…

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    13. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Gil Hardwick

      Gill I beg to differ with you.. If my memory serves me right in the book I read about Mr. Abbott,

      on his return from Oxford he actually entered his own order.. because he felt homosexuality might be less pronounced there... to his horror when homosexuality was blatant he left the order and went into another order ...don't remember the name... he spent some time there and I can't remember exactly why but he had run ins with powers that be and decided he did not wish to become a priest after all…

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    14. Raine S Ferdinands

      Education

      In reply to Ella Miller

      Ella, I am sorry to say that you sound as if your "hatred" for Abbott is clouding you good sense. Why this obsession with good old Tony? He is not worth your time. This reminded me of myself and my hatred for Gillard. From this day forth, I shall be Gillard-free. Abbott is not a very popular man. I voted for him simply because I was repulsed by the ALP and their crass antics. Now I have learned to look upon Abbott as another PM that we had to have. He is a Rhodes scholar, with a strong wife and 3 lovely, well educated, and well mannered daughters. Having had a Jesuit background, he'll, hopefully, be a fair and decent PM. Thanks, for helping me see myself through you (with re to my hatred for Gillard). I am at peace!! Thanks, Ella.

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    15. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Raine S Ferdinands

      Raine.... I actually don't hate Mr. Abbott. Hate is a very destructive emotion.
      Angry... yes I am angry...
      angry at Labor that they forgot that they were not in Parliament for their own vested interests...and they forgot that they were there to serve Australia and its people... many of whom trusted them.
      Angry at Mr. Abbott that with all his intellect and education he has allowed his hunger for power to
      use his beautiful daughters like trophies on his arm..
      That he got into bed with vested interests to perpetuate lies ...he may have won the election..
      but has he sold his soul and with it Australia and its people.
      You are damned right I am angry... where are the STATESMEN/ women in this country?

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    16. Ella Miller

      retired

      In reply to Ella Miller

      Raine, I forgot to say I actually have a lot of respect for Mrs. Abbott, and her beautiful intelligent daughters.

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