Last Monday I watched Bill Shorten’s press conference with the Canberra press gallery, covered lovingly in every excruciating detail by the ABC. You really have to watch one of these performances from beginning to end to see just how bad they are and how grievously the gallery lets down the public who expect to see some penetrating questioning and some straight answers, but who never get either. There was not a single difficult question, no follow up, no sign of initiative or curiosity among the journalists and such an unprofessionally cosy relationship between media and politician that the gallery did not even seem to care that their questions were not being answered. For instance, as Shorten was leaving with his leadership team, Stephen Conroy gave a friendly pat on the back to one of the Labor party’s sycophants from the Sydney Morning Herald as if to say: ‘I know we are batting on the same side, mate, and thanks a lot for going easy on us.’ Shorten’s modus operandi is pretty clear already: there is no need to answer the question you are asked; just answer a different one; better still, just mouth some inane cliché, because the press gallery do not have the spunk or the intellect to challenge or correct you. Shorten’s gem was, ‘Northern Australia is a very important part of Australia.’ I was waiting to hear him say, ‘The children of today are the citizens of tomorrow.’
Worse than letting him get away with this rubbish, the gallery did not even seem to appreciate or react to the enormity of some of the things he was saying. For instance, when asked about the absurd policy that he was promoting during the leadership contest that the ALP should have quotas in its parliamentary ranks for minority groups like women, Aboriginals and even down to the micro-detail of the intersex community, he replied that it was disgraceful that such minority groups ‘are not represented in the parliament’. Really? I thought MPs represented everyone in their electorates. It is an insult to minorities to say they are not represented in their own parliament and it is an insult to MPs to say they are not representing minority groups already. But of course, no one in the press gallery was astute enough or courageous enough to question him about the false premise in this bizarre policy. I suppose the policy itself comes from the mindset that induces a senator in Melbourne to have plastered over his office window ‘Labor Senator for Victoria.’ He may as well have added: ‘Everyone else, keep out.’
Having watched Shorten in action over the past few years and, now, during his acceptance speech on Sunday and the press conference on Monday, I doubt if he will be a formidable opponent in the parliament. He presents as an earnest schoolboy repeating the lessons he has learnt by rote and now has to recite before his elders and betters at the end of term, so he knows he must repeat all the popular and meaningless mantras about workers and ordinary people, about the real lives of whom he would know as much as the man in the moon. Moreover, he has a real problem about his believability and why, when he lied in professing loyalty to two leaders in succession, with the same pathetic excuse that he did it for the good of the party, would anyone believe anything he said in the future?
Another oddity about the press conference, although par for the course, is that no one put the question that must surely occur to more people than me, namely: before the so-called reforms, the brothers who control the Labor party manipulated the election of the leader so that the factions always won; after the reforms, the brothers who control the Labor party manipulated the same election, so that even a candidate with 60 per cent of the party’s members could not get elected and the nominee of the factions won; so, what is the difference, other than that the brothers now have more power? Anyway, after watching the press conference, we were then returned to the studio and yet another of those uniquely incestuous ABC analyses where, just after watching the ABC-embedded press gallery at work, you then have a discussion where an ABC anchor person interviews an ABC journalist about what she thought of the answers that, in this case, Mr Shorten, gave at his press conference.
After all that, you might wonder why, in fact, I am glad that Mr Shorten has been elected as leader of his party. Quite simply, it is because he will not last and cannot succeed. He is not bright enough and not secure enough. My prediction is that he will survive for 18 months or so. During that time, the party will be in ever increasing turmoil and Shorten will eventually be forced to take refuge in the time-honoured plea of all desperate leaders as they walk towards the gallows: now is the time to show loyalty! His plea for loyalty will sound as disposable as those he gave to Rudd and Gillard. The brothers profess their loyalty today, but as Machiavelli observed, no one in politics can be expected to live up to promises they make to people who would never dream of honouring their owns promises and who, he might have added, never did so when they had their chance, like Shorten. Meanwhile, the sisters will have had 18 months of plotting Julia’s revenge, her book will be out, young Bill will be the obvious and well deserved target and the party will be looking, not to Albanese, but to Tanya Plibersek to lead them into the next election. As Machiavelli also said: the opera’s not over till the tall lady writes her autobiography.
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