With most political pundits putting their money on Bill Shorten to be our next PM after the expected May 18 election, the question is: Does he really have to keep up his anti-big business and anti-wealthy persona? And the question we have to ask after 12 years of failed leadership from both Labor and the Coalition (and that was primarily poor leadership of the Prime Ministers’ own parties) is: do we need a divided Australia or a unified one?
And maybe the other question that Bill needs to be clear on is: Did his party become popular because of what he stands for in the eyes of the public, or did he become the frontrunner for the keys to The Lodge because his rivals screwed up and look like a team of losers?
I asked a sanguine business leader during the week if he had ever voted for Labor and could he do it again? His answer was: “Yes and yes, if it was the right one and if it had the same approach as the Hawke-Keating era.”
Like all governments, Bob and Paul had their moments but in their early governments they solved problems and brought business and unions together with the industrial relations plan called The Accord. A lot of the 28 years of economic growth we’ve seen was because a business-considerate Labor Government cleverly brought us all together in, as Hawke called it, “a spirit of cooperation”.
Aided and abetted by the union boss, Bill Kelty, smarter wage deals were struck, productivity was raised, better budget outcomes were delivered and even a budget surplus showed up! Inflation fell and unemployment dropped but a Wall Street crash and the failure of central banks to understand monetary policy in a new, global, deregulated financial system resulted in ridiculously high interest rates and a recession in 1991.
Still, those Labor Governments laid down the foundations that were added to by John Howard and Peter Costello, who also learnt to unify and gain support from one-time Labor voters to remain in power for 11 years and 267 days. And it’s no surprise that Bob Hawke was the longest-serving Labor PM, coming in third behind Bob Menzies and Howard.
Australians will support special leaders and we even give first-term PMs the benefit of the doubt, as Julia Gillard found out by the skin of her teeth, and some independent supporters in 2010. And Malcolm Turnbull discovered it as well in the 2016 with his one-seat majority, which was the smallest win since the 1961 election!
Now I don’t want this to be seen as an anti-Labor diatribe but more a “kill Bill’s tribal persona” not only for the sake of the economy — which is my main interest, as it affects all our jobs, businesses and wealth-building, but for the sake of the ethos that will rule the country after Labor wins in May.
Scott Morrison is doing his best to bring us altogether in the short time he has to rebuild his Coalition’s battered reputation. He’s shown he has learnt from the Hawke approach of getting out there and looking like a good bloke with brains. Bob did that in spades and it worked for quite a long time and helped win elections because deep down we Aussies like “bringing us altogether” leadership.
What Bill has to remember is that we might prefer Labor over the Coalition in The Australian’s Newspoll but we’re still not Bill Shorten fans!
The December 2018 Newspoll said the Coalition continued to trail Labor on a two-party preferred basis — 55 versus 45! And while Shorten has narrowed the gap as preferred leader, the actual love-hate score is 44 to 36 in favour of a new boy leader in an unpopular Government! Yesterday, Bill got stuck into his election campaign bussing it around Queensland, ripping into BHP and the wealthy. As the AFR put it today: “In an attack that had shades of US President Donald Trump targeting individual companies for offshoring jobs, the former union leader later chastised one of Australia's largest companies, BHP, for axing 70-80 jobs on ships that transport iron ore from Western Australia to Wollongong, and replacing workers with foreign crew.”
I’m not saying he can’t call out bad behaviour by big business and the wealthy but right now he’s creating a conga line of hated targets from property investors, to retirees who get tax refunds, to any investor who gets a capital gains tax discount, banks, retail super funds…and the list is growing.
The Bill Shorten who impressed me was the one who put on an impressive scene rivalling Eddie Maguire and David Koch at the Tassie coalmine disaster at Beaconsfield in 2006 and the one who was Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, when FOFA — the future of financial advice — was introduced to try to improve the honesty for financial advice.
That Bill Shorten was not Trump-like and I hope it’s the Bill Shorten who re-emerges after the election or else we might have a Bill ‘Short-term’ as our next PM. This country needs a leader of a Hawke or Howard stature, and fast!
Great leaders deliver a growth dividend and it comes from everyone — business, unions, consumers, investors, job-creators, etc. — all buying into a dream that can be sellable to as many people as possible.