Shorten’s drive showcases a PM in waiting
WHEN you see Bill Shorten these days, you see a man on a mission. His confidence is noticeable. His ability to fend off tough questions is credible. And his ability to connect with voters is starting to become more visible. In essence, he is starting to look like a Prime Minister in waiting.
The Labor leader's message to Queenslanders during his pre-election blitz of the Sunshine State was inescapable - he's promising to deliver jobs and restore cuts to government services. (If it wasn't obvious enough, it was even written on the side of his bus.)
It's this type of populous messaging that helped Labor secure its two most recent state election victories in Queensland. Indeed, it could be argued that Shorten is leaning on the popularity and messaging of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who rode to power off the back of attacking an unpopular government that sacked public servants and planned to sell public assets.
With about 100 days to go until the federal election, the race to lure crucial votes in Queensland is certainly heating up. Shorten doesn't underestimate the task ahead of him and he insists he is taking nothing for granted. He admits that there is a pressure "not to let people down". And he would know that there is plenty that could still go wrong for Labor in a state with a conservative tinge. But with the polls pointing upwards for Labor across the country, the Opposition Leader has every reason to look as relaxed as he is.
THERE is a slight groan from the Labor leader when you ask him if the upcoming election will be a family affair for the Shortens. Married with three children, Shorten says the travel that comes with his job as the alternative Prime Minister makes life difficult as a father. He concedes that his job asks a lot of his family, but says whatever he's accomplished, he would not have been able to do so without their support.
"I love my family, and I hate being away from them," he tells The Courier-Mail. "(My wife) Chloe will be with me sometimes (during the election campaign), but we've also got a family to raise. I've now been doing this job as Opposition Leader since (my daughter) Clemy was three and she's now nine. My older two kids were in primary school. Now one of them has finished secondary school and the other one is going into year 11. I volunteer for my job, they didn't."
A very visible face during the recent 'Bill Bus' tour of Queensland, Shorten says his Queensland-born wife of nearly 10 years helps him to understand the swinging state. Daughter of former governor Quentin Bryce, Chloe has strong links to Queensland - something Shorten is happy to talk up, joking that he's a "Queenslander in-law".
"Chloe in particular is a great guide to Queensland," he says. "She helps me understand Queensland, (but) she leaves the politics to me. She's my advisor in-chief on Queensland, so I love having her around."
She also seems to play a role in influencing some of her husband's policies. Shorten says she has a passion for mothers and children, and spent time educating him about the importance of kids getting access to swimming lessons. An announcement of $46 million to ensure every primary school student learns to swim was one of the big announcements during his recent tour of the state. But he insists Chloe is not "overtly political".
More broadly, there is a family feel amongst Labor at the moment. United in their bid to take down the Morrison Government, they all seem tight, on message and as one. Once rivals for the leadership of their party, Shorten and his infrastructure spokesman Anthony Albanese looked at ease and were all smiles during a recent visit to Great Keppel Island. The leadership instability in Canberra over the past decade is something that Shorten is certainly trying to capitalise on, repeatedly reminding voters that he has just marked his sixth January as Opposition Leader. It means he has been Labor leader long than Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and even Paul Keating.
THE same question keeps on popping up during the Opposition Leader's visits to the Sunshine State, particularly when he heads to the regions. Where does he stand on coal mining? It's an issue certain to draw political fire from both sides of the debate - from green conservationists who want it stamped out for good and conservative politicians who believe it's the solution to the high unemployment rates gripping parts of Queensland. For now, Shorten's only answer is that he believes coal will play a role in the country for the "foreseeable" future, in both exports and Australia's energy grid. But he has avoided committing Labor to opening new thermal coal mines if they win government.
Expected to play a crucial role in Labor's future environmental agenda is their proposal for a Commonwealth environmental protection authority. Shorten says the move to open an authority would not have an impact on exisiting coal mines because it won't make any retrospective decisions. And he claims it won't pose a "threat" to new mines as well.
"We want to protect the environment," he says. "We also want to make sure that Australia is a place where you can have business certainty. And the current environmental law hasn't been seriously updated or overhauled in 20 years. And in that time we've become a lot more savvy about climate change and aware. So we do need to improve. We'll sit down and talk to everyone about how we will do this."
Shorten's pitch to deliver jobs in Queensland has steered clear of talking about future mining projects, including the Adani Carmichael Mine. He acknowledges that the resources sector has significantly helped the country's economy and says miners will have jobs for "a long time to come".
Instead, one of Labor's biggest jobs announcement in Queensland in the lead up to the election is a plan spend $1 billion supporting hydrogen development. This includes plans to spend $3 million on a National Hydrogen Innovation Hub in Gladstone, opening up Queensland to an export market set to be worth $215 billion worldwide by 2022. The proposal was slammed by Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who claimed it would fail to deliver jobs in the immediate future. It also came off the back of the Palaszczuk Government releasing a discussion paper on the issue last year.
Another policy look-a-like was Labor's 'Local Projects, Local Jobs' plan. It's intended to give Australian firms a better chance of securing a slice of the $50 billion in government contracts awarded each year. It's a policy also reminiscent of the Palaszczuk Government's 'Buy Queensland' procurement strategy. But Labor say the two policies are different and are simply "complementary". Premier Palaszczuk made a couple of appearances with Shorten during his recent visit to the north. Based on these policies, as well as the Premier's personal popularity, it can be safe to assume that Queenslanders will see more joint appearances in the coming months. X
Shorten has also promised to create 200 jobs in Townsville and 100 jobs in Cairns in the Department of Human Services. It was an announcement right at the heart of the Labor leader's pitch to both deliver jobs and restore government cuts. Shorten dismissed suggestions that the public sector roles were not "real jobs". "Let's stop this attack on the public sector," he declared, in another move mirroring the State Labor Government.
SHORTEN looks comfortable when he is spending time with punters at the regular town hall meetings he holds around the country. He has held dozens of them since the last election, and they would no doubt be good practice for when the next election is called. It gives him a chance to listen to voters and is a good testing ground for the messaging that can work for Labor. The issues raised are wide and varying.
At recent town halls in Yeppoon and Bundaberg, Shorten was asked about the NDIS, superannuation, his views on cannabis, what he'll do to help New Zealand residents in Australia and the cost of private health insurance. It's anyone's guess what will come up next. He takes time to answer each question, and will often speak openly about his opinion on the issue. Sometimes he will admit Labor doesn't have an answer to the problem being posed.
Shorten takes time to ensure that those people with personal questions about personal issues affecting their lives are given assistance. You can see Labor staffers circling the room, exchanging contact details to ensure the questioner's matter is attended to. It's politics at a very personal level.
He is also promising to take a personal approach with cross benchers in the Senate if he becomes Prime Minister. The long list of minor party politicians and independents sitting in the Senate has continuously proved to be a political headache for the Coalition Government. It's a problem that will likely continue if Labor wins power this year. Shorten says he's up to meeting with the Senators to get his agenda through the Parliament, insisting that you never solve anything "sitting in two different rooms shouting at each other".
"Approach will be professional and steady," he says. "The other way we're going to work is I'll listen. We don't think that we know everything. We don't think that other people aren't entitled to their ideas and observations. But I've always found in a lifetime of negotiating and listening you always get a better deal for everyone if you shut up and listen to the other point of view rather than just lecture them."
But he also points out that Labor will not be compromising on their principles.
ONLY this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison claimed that Shorten was acting as if his feet were already across the "threshold in the Lodge". It was a stinging remark, suggesting that Labor were already showing signs of arrogance before they are even elected to government. The PM also suggested that punters were "wising up" to the Opposition Leader.
As the election draws closer, more and more voters will inevitably begin wising up to both leaders and the policies of both major parties. Expect many more visits to Queensland, where there are eight marginal seats at play that Labor are keenly eyeing off.
Since John Howard's government was swept to power in 1996, Labor has only managed to continually hold one of the 30 federal seats in Queensland. It's a tough state for Labor at a federal level, despite the party only losing one state election since 1989. Only time will tell if Shorten can emulate that success of past Labor Prime Ministers and turn the state red once again.