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The One Fatal Flaw That Could Topple Bill Shorten's Tilt At PM

Shorten's "policy pitch" is a clear union agenda dressed up as an attempt to deal with inequality.

04/09/2017 10:01 AM AEST | Updated 04/09/2017 11:37 AM AEST
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"For Shorten and his strategy to be accepted as genuine, he would need to break down the links with, and dependence on, the union movement."

When you cut through all the political hubris and rhetoric, Bill Shorten is about just one thing these days -- winning the next election, at all costs. But, of course, for credibility, he needs to be able to claim that he is working to a particular "strategy", to demonstrate that he "listens", that he "understands", that he has the "appropriate" policy responses.

So, he has embraced the challenge of "inequality". But, inequality in what? Whose inequality? Is it any more than yet another attempt to "wedge" Malcolm and his Government.

Of course, it is here that vagueness and imprecision creeps in. The essence of the new Bill strategy is "class", but which class is he claiming to "fight for"? Sometimes it is for the "middle class", sometimes the "working class", rarely really for the "under class".

In all this, he is attempting to tap into the recent global mood, the so-called "working class revolt" evidenced in the BREXIT vote, in support for Trump, and so on.

This is his fatal flaw. The "working class revolt" is not synonymous with the Labor movement. It's just a protest vote, not really in support of unions, but against the political "ruling class" that, unfortunately for Bill, also includes unions as major players.

The days are long gone where unions are accepted as genuinely representing the interests of the working class, especially the most disadvantaged of that class.

Shorten's "policy pitch" is a clear union agenda dressed up as an attempt to deal with inequality -- taxes such as negative gearing, capital gains, trusts and a higher top rate; "reform" of the Fair Work Act; protection of industry super from proper scrutiny, while attacking other super concessions. With no solution on low wages and rising electricity prices and other living costs, he seeks to "hit the rich", to pull them back to the "average".

In all this he is willing to risk the "socialist" tag, expecting some wash over from the sentiments that supported Sanders in the US and Corbyn in the UK. He is also willing to ignore the fact that many of those who used to be "workers" are now contractors and small business owners, who also use negative gearing (along with some "workers"), super tax concessions, and so on.

The days are long gone where unions are accepted as genuinely representing the interests of the working class, especially the most disadvantaged of that class. Union membership in the private sector is now less than 10 percent of the workforce.

For Shorten and his strategy to be accepted as genuine, he would need to break down the links with, and dependence on, the union movement, in policy development, finance, the supply of candidates, campaigning, and in broader control and influence.

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Moreover, unions, with the exception of some in the public sector, are now very much passe. They have lost relevance, as they have failed to reposition the movement in a world increasingly driven by technology and innovation, robots, and virtual and artificial intelligence, as workers motivations and imperatives have shifted, and as employers have developed a preference for casual rather than full-time employees. They have no direct answers to low wages growth, increasing underemployment, and job insecurity

Shorten's strategy may work to consolidate his position in a shrinking union movement, hoping through him to reestablish a significant, national, political presence and influence, but it is unlikely to resonate with the protesting voter.

Shorten is also desperate to create the impression that he is adopting a "risky" political path as a "Big Target", by advocating several policy initiatives in advance of an election. However, he is basically just picking issues where he hopes to "wedge" Turnbull, as well as to appeal to "workers". Also, what he is advocating in areas such as ad hoc tax initiatives probably actually make the imperative of broad-based tax reform even more difficult

Shorten's hope is that, compared with Turnbull, who has failed to match the electoral expectations of his arrival, he is seen as the "lesser of two evils". But, even then, he will be up against the fear that if he does win voters will have to live with the "evil of the two lessers".

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