Labor champing for government as discipline proves the perfect cleanser for Bill Shorten’s deficits
For months now, years even, the Coalition has obsessed over questions of character, willing the next election to be a public trial of Bill Shorten.
But as the 48th Labor Party national conference has shown, whatever deficits Mr Shorten may be accused of having as the alternative prime minister, they are more than compensated by the professionalism and discipline of the Labor machine around him.
Mr Shorten’s personal ruthlessness and his proved capacity for consensus-building has been reflected in the management of the conference floor — helped, it must be said, by the sobering proximity of the federal election.
Sure, big concessions were won by the left to secure peaceful resolution of the party’s border protection platform, but Mr Shorten ensured no unpicking of support for boat turn-backs and offshore processing.
This certainly won’t stop the Government asserting Labor’s talk about ending “indefinite detention” and the fast-tracking of medical evacuation processes from Nauru and Manus Island amount to an undermining of its Operation Sovereign Borders policy.
But the public dial has switched back towards the politics of compassion and the Labor leader’s been quicker to respond, just as he has in identifying the aching demands of workers starved of decent pay rises.
Workplace proposals in focus ahead of election
On industrial relations, Labor has shaped a policy war chest pitched squarely at these burgeoning resentments.
Consider the array of workplace proposals the Opposition now supports.
It promises significant intervention in the “independent” Fair Work Commission to lift wages in female-dominated industries, such as child care, aged care and disability services.
It pledges to restore Sunday and holiday penalty rates.
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus was supportive despite her push to scrap enterprise bargaining being scuppered. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
And while Labor has rebuffed union demands for economy-wide pattern bargaining, it proposes allowing sector-wide bargaining where wages are low.
And on Newstart, which at $278 a week for singles is $175 below the pension, Labor is promising a review within 18 months, with a view to “reform”.
Labor rides shifting voter sentiment
Bill Shorten and Labor have adeptly read the waves of voter sentiment and the Coalition looks like being left behind in their wake.
Indeed, ALP President Wayne Swan used his opening address to the conference on Sunday to observe that the Government’s mischievous decision to hold the Super Saturday of by-elections on July 28 — thus forcing the ALP to reschedule the event to December — had done Labor a great favour.
The conference, he said, was a “springboard for government”.
A prominent frontbencher told the ABC the extra five months had allowed the Opposition to fine-tune its policy alternatives, as well as tame those in the ALP who’d be prepared to cause more trouble had there been more distance to the election.
In Adelaide, the mood among ALP delegates has been positively buoyant. Many have practically locked in victory come May. Some can’t contain their glee.
For his part, Bill Shorten may be telling himself not to be expectant, but it was telling that his address to conference made barely a mention of the Coalition.
In Government ranks, the frustration is frothing over.
“The last time I’ve seen the Labor Party this cocky about the upcoming election, and the last time I remember senior representatives of the press gallery declaring the election result five months out, was 2001 when Kim Beazley was Opposition Leader,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told reporters on Monday, as he and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg delivered some rosy economic numbers in the mid-year budget update.
“Everybody knows how that turned out. And Mr Beazley was much more electable than Mr Shorten.”
Coalition may see further consequences from 2018 infighting
But Scott Morrison’s no John Howard.
And what of character?
The slaying of Malcolm Turnbull will prove difficult for Scott Morrison to overcome. (ABC News: Matt Roberts)
The sleaze surrounding Nationals MP Andrew Broad has once again put the Coalition’s brand in the noose, just when it was hoping to hang Shorten’s.
A dismal end to a dismal year for the Coalition.
The slaying of Malcolm Turnbull, the Coalition’s best electoral asset, was a shocking act of self-harm and there’s a sense the Liberal Party hasn’t fully paid the price for his slaughter.
Some in Government grumble they’ve been luckless. Then again, luck eventually runs out.
Next year’s election story hasn’t yet been written, but the tale of this political year has been the Coalition’s ever-retreating fortunes, bookended by sex scandals by the Coalition’s junior partner.
But if the Coalition has committed one political cardinal sin, it is to have serially underestimated Bill Shorten.