Shorten’s perceived unpopularity

By April 14, 2019Australian Politics, Society

It is ironic that an article attempting to explain Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten’s perceived unpopularity has appeared in a Newscorp media outlet1, when it is Newscorp which has been at the forefront of the attempt to damage Shorten’s ‘image’ among its readers ever since he became opposition leader. The only conclusion that the article came to, was that, as Shorten himself said: “When you’re the Opposition Leader, the only time you get on the media is by opposing. When you’re prime minister, you can be constructive.” This may be part of the problem, but it goes much deeper than this. It goes back to his connection with the union movement.

Conservative governments, with a great deal of help from Newscorp, as well as big business and their lobby groups, have been waging a propaganda war against unions for almost as long as I can remember. This went into overdrive under the prime ministership of John Howard2  and all came to a head with Prime Minister Tony Abbott instituting the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption under the clearly biased lead of Dyson Heydon. Even the name of the Royal Commission (…and corruption) suggests prejudice, and it was clear that this was mostly a fishing expedition. Indeed, Heydon’s report said: “It is clear that in many parts of the world constituted by Australian trade union officials, there is room for louts, thugs, bullies, thieves, perjurers, those who threaten violence, errant fiduciaries and organisers of boycotts.” But despite the best efforts of Abbott and Heydon, who referred just over 40 individuals and organisations to various authorities, including the police, the various directors of public prosecutions, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Fair Work Commission, very few people have been convicted of any criminal activity3. Subsequently, whenever the Morrison government refers to members of unions, they tend to associate it with the epithet ‘thugs’ just so the populace are constantly reminded who the baddies are. Contrast this with the abbreviated Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry which, despite its limited timeframe, uncovered malfeasance on an industrial scale. Unions do corruption; bankers only do misconduct. It pays to wear a tie to work, so that despite your criminal activity you’ll never be called a thug.

Bill Shorten and Julia Gillard were both called before the Union Royal Commission in an unsuccessful attempt to smear them4. Subsequently, the raid on the Australian Workers Union offices by the Australian Federal Police, seemingly at the instigation of the Registered Organisations Commission5, also drew a blank for the federal government. This turned out to be such a disaster for the government, that it seems crimes may have been committed by members of the federal government, or their staffers, in covering up their activities in relation to this raid6.

I was a member of a union for almost all my working life, as were many of my colleagues. Our union negotiated our workplace agreement, and despite the best efforts of assorted federal governments, they were reasonably successful. I was happy with the union that represented me and did not see a thug among them; just fairly adept negotiators.

I have never met Bill Shorten, so I don’t know him or what he is like. Like most people, I have only seen him on television and, in politics, this is always stage-managed, so you do not get to see what the person is like. Some time before Shorten entered politics, there was a cave in at the gold mine at Beaconsfield on April 25th, 2006, which killed Larry Knight and trapped Todd Russell and Brant Webb underground for 14 days7. Shorten was there almost all the time and was often the go-to person for the media when they needed information. This was, in part because, as he said: “The reality is, unions often know what’s going on before other people because these are our members”8. No ministers from the Howard government ever came down to Beaconsfield.

This anti-union propaganda has been constant for decades and continues today. There is no doubt it has infested every part of Australian society, much to the glee of conservative political parties. And it has been one of the tools used by them to attempt to smear Shorten. So, I doubt that it is only being opposition leader that has led to Shorten being ‘unpopular’. It is the association with the union movement which has been demonised by conservative governments ably abetted by Newscorp and other media, and big business’ lobbying organisations. However, the tide is beginning to turn, and despite the intention of the government in setting up both the Union Royal Commission and the AWU raid, the failure of both may hasten the process.




  • Arthur Baker says:

    I agree with everything you write about the LNP’s endemic demonisation of unions. It’s in their DNA. I agree that Bill Shorten may be a really nice guy, and his Beaconsfield record was exemplary. He has a lot to offer, and will, in time, make a fine Prime Minister.

    But his presentation in public is nothing short of a shocker. Yes, I know, it’s unfair to judge people on appearances, but in a general election, that’s precisely what millions of voters, from the moderately-engaged right through to the totally unengaged, will do in deciding how to cast their vote. It’s a well-known principle of job interviews (and this is the biggest job interview in town right now) that if you haven’t made the right impression in the first ten seconds, you’ll struggle to get the job. Totally unfair, trivial, shallow, anti-intellectual, yes, all of that, I know. But in politics, appearances are (almost) everything.

    Just look at the man on your TV, out on the campaign trail. This is how 99% of Australia’s population will see him. And they will base their decision on what they see and hear (if they base it on anything at all). The body language is woeful. Face screwed up, perpetually looking like he’s lost two bob and found sixpence. Head waggling back and forth and side to side, answering questions while looking shiftily out of the side of his eyes. While someone’s asking him a question, he’s staring at the ground and all you see is the top of his head. Couldn’t someone in the ALP, anyone, please, just give him a skerrick of media training and teach him to LOOK AT THE QUESTIONERS? Look them in the eye! Keep your head straight! Smile, for heaven’s sake!

    As for his speech, as a linguist words fail me. Cadence all wrong, intonation and stress patterns haywire, stumbling to construct a coherent sentence – I sit in front of my TV and feel like weeping. Peter Hartcher in the Herald the other day described him as “a sad sack who looks like he learned public speaking at a funeral parlour”.

    Hartcher also characterised Scott Morrison as “an angry dad figure in a baseball cap”. The fact that in the preferred PM opinion polls, Shorten can’t get ahead of an incompetent one-man disaster-zone like Morrison, who looks the complete nincompoop in his puerile hats, tells us heaps. With a leader like Albo, Plibersek, Bowen, Burke, or just about anyone you could name on Labor’s front bench, this election could be looking already like a lay-down misere. Instead, with the bumbling, fumbling, crumbling, mumbling stumbler Shorten up front, what should be the unlosable starts looking distinctly dodgy.

    Since my arrival in thie country in 1972, I’ve witnessed Labor take power from the Coalition just three times in over 46 years (Whitlam, Hawke, Rudd). Will I get to see a fourth one before I go to the great tally-room in the sky? I despair.

    • admin says:

      It is difficult to disagree with much of what you say. However, to me Morrison has the shiftiness of a race-course urger about him. Many people find it difficult to spot spivs, but I think enough people can, so that Morrison will lose. I also think that the ham-fisted reaction to the announcement of labour policies, any policies, is starting to make people realise that the Coalition are not playing with a full deck.

      • Arthur Baker says:

        I do hope you’re right. As far as ham-fisted reactions to the announcement of Labor policies, Michaelia Cash’s “we will defend our tradies and their utes” outburst was one which will be seen as one of the most over-the-top over-acted performances in history. She’s right up there in Razzie Award territory. But that’s who she is.

        • admin says:

          I originally was confident that Craig Kelly was the thickest parliamentarian, but Cash is certainly giving him a run for his money.

      • Maurice says:

        Ever since the Dec 1975 election that I thought would return Whitlam to a resounding victory but instead lumbered us with the dead hand of Frasernomics, I have never doubted the stupidity of the Australian voter.

  • Les Nutt says:

    I must agree with the comment on Bill Shortens body language; he should hire a choreographer for next week just to tidy up a few awkward moves. Michaelia Cash is an embarrassment and is way out of her field of knowledge with electric vehicles. Tradies will love electric trucks they plug in overnight, get to the job next morning, plug in while working and drive home for free, Australia’s free trade partner China has car companies working on electric cars as we speak. Great Wall motor company are making a 4×4; Japan’s Toyota a HiLux, as is Land Rover Tesla and Ford USA. The future looks interesting. Getting rid of petrol and diesel will give Australia more fuel security, as we have only about ten days of fuel in the country at any one time. Beside that, Michaelia, Western Australia has huge reserves of Lithium to make batteries. If we are very clever, we could make batteries in this country. So, Michaelia, research the subject before you gob off.

    • admin says:

      I believe we already do make some Lithium ion batteries in Australia, and there are plans, at least in WA, to increase manufacture of them.

  • Maurice says:

    As part of the same misinformation (scare) campaign, Morrison said something like: “Your weekends are gone. No more kids’ sport or family picnics. Bill is coming for your SUVs and 4WDs.”
    Then the chorus of Murdoch galahs joined in.
    Josh Freidenberg is already on record as saying Lib policy is to have 35-50% of Australia’s cars be electric by 2040. (Per Media Watch: 15 April 2019)

    One problem is, too many Australians watch MAFS, MKR, The Bachelor and other mind-numbing dross instead of Media Watch, Four Corners, Foreign Correspondent, Q&A, The Drum, The Feed, Insight, Quantum or indeed, anything intellectually stimulating so are basically ill-informed.
    I would even say wantonly ill-informed.
    My sister despairs and often says: “And they vote!”

    • admin says:

      I had a go at the stupidity of the EV scare ‘campaign’ (actually a knee-jerk reaction). I could not believe that this actually happened given a cursory reading of developments in the field would show that the statements were drivel. It was mind boggling. I cannot but agree with your sister.

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