July 28th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The Strange Case of the Vanishing Safe Schools Resources

EDITORIAL By-elections will test Shorten's 'politics of envy' strategy

ASIA-PACIFIC AFFAIRS A modest proposal for Australia's regional security

CANBERRA OBSERVED Odds are that Labor won't Albo Bill aside

TECHNOLOGY Wonder carbon material on cusp of commercialisation

ENVIRONMENT Electric vehicles still only for elitist planet savers

ENERGY SECURITY Steam rail backup could get us out of hot water

ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT NEG papers over crisis behind energy price hikes

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Beijing goes 'boo', Qantas gets in a flap

EUTHANASIA Death with dignity, or putting Death to death?


MUSIC Aural wallpaper: The background hiss to our lives

CINEMA Ant-Man and the Wasp: Downsized superheroes

BOOK REVIEW Timely essays on religious freedom

BOOK REVIEW Fraudulent father of psychoanalysis



No question about it: the Don is in charge

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Odds are that Labor won't Albo Bill aside

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, July 28, 2018

Labor’s problem going into the next federal election is to what degree Bill Shorten’s unpopularity with voters will risk the party’s chances of winning government on the back of strong and persistent electoral momentum in favour of Labor.

Mr Shorten’s unpopularity as an alternate prime minister is worsening rather than improving as the election approaches, and it is now apparent to all but the most rusted-on Labor pundits that he is a drag on the Labor vote.

But this does not mean anyone in the Labor Party is hitting the panic button.

Labor has been ahead in The Australian’s Newspoll for 36 straight polls and, in normal circumstances, it would be assumed to be the odds-on favourite to win the next election.

Sportsbet currently has Labor at $1.55 and the Coalition at $2.05. In other words, Labor remains favourite but by no means odds-on favourite to win.

Of course, all this could change if the coming by-elections turned out badly for Labor.

However, Labor’s hard heads know that getting rid of Mr Shorten will also create a raft of new problems for an Opposition that has been, by and large, united since Mr Shorten assumed the leadership in October 2013.

After all, the main reason Malcolm Turnbull cannot get back into the lead is because the Coalition conservative vote dropped off when Tony Abbott was politically assassinated and has never come back.

After a decade or more of knifing leaders, both parties are realising that its short-term sugar hits do not solve the underlying problems inside parties.

Removing Mr Shorten would be problematic for several reasons.

First, Kevin Rudd, in what he held to be his great legacy for the Labor Party, but which was probably misguided, changed the rules to make it exceptionally difficult for a leadership change to happen.

Under the Rudd dictum, any move against a Labor opposition leader requires support from 60 per cent of the parliamentary caucus (this rises to 75 per cent if the vote is against a sitting prime minister).

In other words, disillusionment with Mr Shorten would have to be very deep, and that is not yet the case.

Second, while Anthony Albanese is far more popular with the Labor base (remember he beat Mr Shorten in the Labor membership portion of the leadership ballot), it is not clear that he would be popular with the Australian people more generally.

Mr Albanese is more authentically Labor than Mr Shorten. He grew up with his mother in an inner-Sydney housing commission flat, and was “adopted” by the Labor Party, which helped him with his education.

Mr Albanese is also more consistent policy-wise than Mr Shorten and certainly far more loyal. But this does not guarantee that he would be a better campaigner.

Third, and probably most importantly, the unions that fund the Labor Party and that put troops on the ground during election campaigns definitely want Mr Shorten to stay. They know they will have in Mr Shorten a prime minister who will do its bidding.

So, the odds are that Mr Shorten will remain in the job.

The only scenario in which Mr Shorten might go would be if the leadership team, led by the NSW right, asked Mr Shorten to fall on his sword, as Bill Hayden did in favour of Bob Hawke prior to the 1983 election.

But things would have to get a lot worse for him before that scenario arose.

A loss in the seats of Braddon and Longman would be very bracing for Labor and, at a minimum, force some hard thinking about Mr Shorten’s strategy of trying to create class warfare in a country where none exists.

Mr Shorten has been forced into several policy backflips over recent months that have enhanced widespread perceptions about his weakness as a leader. Labor wins on the other hand will ensure that the party will stick with Mr Shorten through to the election regardless of his unpopularity. It will buoy Labor’s spirits and send the Coalition back to despondency.

Mr Shorten carries the baggage of knifing not one but two Labor Prime Ministers, but his populist politics and talent for turning virtue signalling into an art form have put his party in a winning position.

But just as the Labor Party weighs up the risks of dumping another leader and the so-called “transactional costs” involved, the Australian people will be doing their own risk calculations on what a Shorten government would do to the Australian economy.

And the more they focus on Mr Shorten’s policies, the closer the coming election will be.

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Last Modified:
April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm