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Hoping for a better political landscape in 2016, Harrison Jones has thought of some ways Bill Shorten can claw back to relevance. At least with Harrison’s mum.
Yesterday, I asked my mum who Bill Shorten was. In return, I received a confused “Who is he again?”
Even more damning, is that when I prompted her, she replied with, “Oh, he’s not very good is he?”
Last week this exact sentiment seemed to be echoed by the respondents to a Seven News/ReachTel poll, of whom only 19.2 percent labelled Shorten preferred Prime Minister. When asked to rate his performance, 57.4 percent said that it was poor or very poor – a figure that seems to be continually heading in the wrong direction.
As someone who isn’t tied to a particular political party, but instead wants to see good government for Australia from whatever side can provide it, I hope that the summer break has been a time for Bill Shorten to plan the year ahead, and plan the rejuvenation of his image. Australia receives good government when the opposition is strong and forces the Government to hone its policy. Here are just some of the things that Shorten needs to address in 2016 to be competitive at the election, and to act as a formidable opposition to Malcolm Turnbull – a man 80.2 percent of Australians prefer as Prime Minister.
- Tax reform
For one reason or another, tax reform has been firmly placed at the forefront of the Australian political consciousness. With the nation’s current $154 billion welfare bill predicted to skyrocket to $270 billion by 2026, undoubtedly, the Government’s spending needs to be scaled back, and revenue needs to increase.
Turnbull in concert with Treasurer Scott Morrison has already flagged a desire for significant tax reform. They have been quite publicly parading the idea of increasing the GST to 15 percent and broadening its base. Additionally, at the Rebuilding Foundations for Reform Conference in November, Turnbull signalled a desire to address the tax system’s reliance on personal and company income tax as well as bracket keep.
Importantly, Turnbull has been consistently calling for a “grown up debate” and one without “hyperbolic scare campaigns.” For Shorten, this means he cannot continue to base his opposition to GST increases around his slogan of a “great big new tax on everything” and the fact that the price of lettuce will go up.
The only way Shorten will be able to beat Turnbull in the clash over tax reform this year will be to propose changes of his own, which need to expand beyond just his superannuation reform, to constitute meaningful change. Shorten isn’t Abbott. He needs to ditch his three-word slogans and meaningless rhetoric in favour of a more intelligent and comprehensive rebuttal of Turnbull’s GST proposals and other tax reforms.
- Tanya Plibersek
Undoubtedly, the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd era and recent Prime Ministerial change from Abbott to Turnbull have highlighted to the Opposition Leader the fragility of his position. His consistent poor polling since the September leadership change has conjured murmurs around the continued viability of his leadership. Despite this, instead of sheltering potential future Labor leaders, such as Tanya Plibersek, Shorten needs to use them to his advantage.
Plibersek is a formidable politician. Under Rudd and Gillard, Plibersek held a plethora of positions, including Minster for Women, Minister for Social Inclusion, Minister for Human Services and Minister for Health. She went on the record in 2002 firmly opposing the invasion of Iraq, even handing then US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice a petition opposing the Gulf War. She is a working mother and, from the accounts of others, quite humble and down to Earth.
Plibersek is a masterful communicator – as demonstrated by her recurring presence on Q&A – which is a skill that Shorten arguably lacks. It would be wise for him to present a strong, team-orientated image to the public in 2016, similar to Rudd and Gillard’s campaign in 2007. Plibersek can be the catalyst for the reinvigoration of the image of the Labor Party, and is likely to resonate well with voters much in the same way Julie Bishop does.
Over the course of 2015, every detail of Shorten’s tenure at the CFMEU was examined by the Royal Commission. Although there was “no submission that Mr Bill Shorten may have engaged in any criminal or unlawful conduct,” the Coalition has successfully tied Shorten’s image to the thuggery and corruption that was exposed.
In 2016, Shorten needs to act on his declaration that Labor will have “zero tolerance” for union wrongdoing and corruption, and properly address the findings of the Royal Commission. The first major test of this will be whether Shorten budges on his opposition to Turnbull’s proposed union watchdog laws.
A union man himself, and one who came to power largely because of the factions within the Labor Party, Shorten will have to walk a fine line around the edges of the unions this year. A failure to walk any line at all, however, will see Turnbull pounce.
- Stronger positions on policy
2015 was going to be the year of ideas. Looking back, sure, there were a few positive policies touted by Shorten and the Labor Party, but not many that gained much media and public attention. When running for the leadership, Shorten pledged to “carefully and thoughtfully develop the big ideas and policies to make Australia a better place.”
Since his ascension to power in September, Turnbull has been criticised for a lack of policy differentiation from Abbott. Shorten needs to make use of this lull before the budget in May to begin to release and promote some of his own policies and a broader vision for Australia.
Would it be too much to ask that he breaks away from political tradition and actually presents a constructive counter model to the budget in his reply speech?
As it became clear that Abbott’s Prime Ministership was simply a slow moving train being derailed, it appeared that all Shorten had to do was to make fewer gaffes, and he could expect to move into the Lodge in 2016.
Complacency is no longer an option for the Labor leader when he faces a Prime Minister as resoundingly popular as Turnbull. 2016 needs to see a reinvigoration of his image and a shift to a proactive style of leadership if is to have any chance at the polls this year.
Then, and only then, the question of “who is Bill Shorten?” will answer itself.