Bill Shorten A Dead Man Walking
Paul Zanetti is a Walkley award winning syndicated cartoonist with over 30 years in the media. He blogs at www.zanettisview.com
BILL Shorten's decision to play the class envy card last week magnified the hollowness of the opposition leader. Shorten doesn’t have class envy but that doesn’t mean he won’t have a go at playing the dud cards of jealousy, resentment and covetousness for all they're worth. Or not worth.
The politics of envy is the oldest trick in the book for an aspiring politician, as nakedly ambitious as Bill. Baiting the envious by pointing to an opponent with money is both low and desperate.
It exposes Bill as having not much in his kit bag for anyone.
He reaches in to pull out old school Marxism, which may have worked a treat a century ago, but we’ve come a long way in the past few decades.
Shorten’s attack on Malcolm Turnbull for being successful and rich has backfired spectacularly on an opposition leader with a reputation for having no ideas and no strategy.
Those harbouring resentment of others’ success are already rusted-on Labor and Green voters so it's a futile exercise. The reasonable, smart Australians aren’t sucked in.
That’s because most average folk are aspirational - wanting a better life for them and their kids, achieved mostly through study, long work hours, opportunity, risk…and a little luck.
You most often make your own luck. The harder you work, the luckier you get.
But you won’t hear that from Bill Shorten. Nor will you get that from Bill.
The evidence at the Trade Union Royal Commission (TURC) is peeling layer after layer from Bill’s past. If Bill was your union boss, the harder you worked the unluckier you got.
The picture emerging of union leader Bill Shorten is he was too ready to screw over union members for the union and his own career gain.
Deals after deals are rising to the surface, where Shorten traded away workers’ entitlements for financial gain to the boss (or companies), who then ‘donated’ considerable sums of money to Bill’s union and his political aspirations. It looks bad because it is bad.
While Shorten was the head of the Australian Workers Union, the AWU signed a deal with Australia’s largest mushroom producer, Chiquita Mushrooms, saving the company $3.5 million a year. The deal had the mushroom company pay $4,000 per month to the AWU while cutting workers’ conditions.
In 2007 Shorten did a deal with a labour hire company, Unibilt. Evidence at the TURC shows he represented the workers in wage negotiations, cutting a deal to pay $40,000 to fund an election campaign manager who actually worked for him. This was only disclosed recently when the deal was about to become public. Shorten denies this.
Last week, company executives from construction partners Thiess John Holland told the TURC hundreds of thousands of dollars were made in disguised payments to the AWU when Shorten was heading the union. The payments involved alleged sham invoices.
The week’s hearings at the TURC ended with another revelation. From 2003 to 2005 ACI Glass paid more than $450,000 to the AWU under Shorten.
As the evidence rolls out, Shorten continues to say, “I done nuffink wrong! Wasn’t me.”
But the evidence is the evidence. Bill was supposed to look after the worker. That was his job.
Since Bill was a boy he dreamt of being Prime Minister, joining the Labor Party in 1985 at the age of 17.
But this is not a man you want for Prime Minister.
He was educated at the privileged Xavier College, one of Melbourne’s most exclusive and expensive Catholic private schools.
His climb to the top has not been one of working up through the sites, yards, or mines. Bill’s never lifted a hammer or shovel for a living. He's not one of the workers. He's one of the chosen few.
Bill’s move up the Labor career ladder has been one of a privileged education then making and dropping friends, cultivating only those of most use to him. You might hang around for a while, but he weighed you up and if you didn’t hold a key to his political ambition, you were forgotten. He was also very close to one of the country’s richest billionaires, cardboard king Richard Pratt, a political and financial benefactor.
Aaron Patrick, who was at Monash University with Shorten, now at The Australian Financial Review says he was charmed by Shorten at uni.
He says, ”I loved the guy. He was fantastic. But then, when I was no longer of use politically, he ended the friendship and we didn't have any contact after that." A former federal Labor MP says that fits with a pattern: "Bill has a capacity to burn people relatively quickly after they've delivered what Bill wants."
He’s also a pretender if he sees an advantage. A fake.
When Shorten appeared on Kitchen Cabinet, the ABC show where politicians are showcased cooking a dish for journalist Annabel Crabb, Shorten cooked ratatouille.
Yossi Berger, a former AWU union colleague says, "He's pretending to cook ratatouille, which he hasn’t a bloody clue how to do. This is a charade. I mean this is a rubber ratatouille or something.”
Berger said Shorten's whole performance was fake, adding "He puts his arm around Chloe, he kisses her on the cheek. This is all role-playing. You don't see the real person."
Shorten also became estranged from his own father who divorced his mother in 1988 then remarried two years later.
His father’s widow, Helen says that Bill snr never understood why his own son had cut him off. After his father died, Helen said, “He and I were supposed to be co-executors of his father's will, but he just didn't respond any time I tried to call him. I had a few personal things of his father's that I thought might have been of interest to him in the event that he eventually had some children, but I'm still holding them here."
Shorten first came to the public’s notice during the Beaconsfield mine collapse where two miners, Brant Webb and Todd Russell, were found to still be alive two days after the collapse on Anzac Day 2006. The nation became transfixed as media crews scrambled around the mine opening as rescuers worked to free the trapped miners, buried alive a kilometre underground.
Bill, their union boss, got himself, lighting quick, to the eye of the media spotlight. The second most dangerous place at the Beaconsfield mine site was between Bill and a TV camera.
What’s not well known is Bill didn’t fly to the Tasmanian mine site on an economy ticket, but in billionaire Richard Pratt’s private jet.
Portraying Turnbull as un-worker like is as disingenuous as he gets. Shorten has never been one of the ‘workers’. He’s been an organiser, dealer, number cruncher, branch stacker beneficiary and back stabber.
Never one to let an opportunity go by, his Beaconsfield ‘celebrity status’ leveraged him into parliament in the 2007 federal election.
The sitting Labor MP, Bob Sercombe, pulled out of the contest saying it was a stitch-up. "Bill will win simply because of the deals that have been done, and the locals will be ignored," a bitter Bob Sercombe said.
Internal party emails suggest Shorten was the recipient of a voting block organised by George Seitz, a Labor member of Victoria’s parliament, a notorious branch stacker.
Shorten who was also the Victorian ALP party president at the time chaired a meeting which exempted Seitz from a party rule that says state MPs must retire at 65. When asked about this later, Shorten refused to comment saying any comment would “just give the allegation oxygen”.
His legacy as chief architect in knifing two sitting Prime Minsters is perhaps the most glaring and unedifying example of self serving ruthlessness. The only regret he has is that the episodes have tarnished his image.
Image is everything to Bill. He loves pretending he’s the defender of the worker, while history tells a different story.
Even personally he has questionable morals. Image being the dominant factor.
He left his wife for Chloe Bryce, blonde haired daughter of then Governor General, Quentin Bryce. Shorten and Chloe had been seeing each other while he was still married.
Shorten and Chloe Bryce had dinner together at Quentin Bryce’s home on September 5, 2007, when Quentin Bryce was Queensland Governor.
Shorten went on later to win the Victorian seat of Maribyrnong in the November 2007 federal election.
In his maiden speech on Valentine’s Day February 2008, Shorten thanked his wife, Deborah Beale, four months after he had dinner with Chloe at Quentin Bryce’s home.
"Above all others - and I can say this on Valentine's Day - I thank my wife, Deb Beale, an endlessly intelligent, supportive and loving woman,'' he said.
Shorten didn’t tell his wife he’d been seeing Chloe until almost a year after the dinner with Chloe at Chloe’s mum’s house.
He dropped the news at a Collingwood game at the MCG in August 2007 when he told his wife, “I don't think I want to be married any more,” according to an insider.
"She was totally shocked," said the insider.
Chloe Bryce became pregnant to Shorten while both were still married. When contacted to comment, Shorten's wife, Debbie Beale, said, "You're tempting me", then declined to comment further.
That tells you as much as you really need to know about Bill.
Which gets us back to Bill’s nasty streak, his politics of envy.
He could pursue policies in the parliament, for the betterment of the nation, but chooses the politics of smear. From a man who has so many skeletons in his closet this is a highly risky strategy.
Attacking the PM because he has investments in funds based in the Cayman Islands is about as dumb as it gets.
Bill and his own Labor MPs have their own money tied up in superannuation funds which invest in holdings incorporated and registered in the Cayman Islands including funds used by the Labor frontbenchers who led the attack on Turnbull last week, Chris Bowen and Sam Dastyari. Just about everyone who has money in a super fund in Australia has some links to the Caymans.
But worse for Shorten, he used to be a director of the fund that chose the entity that uses the Caribbean tax haven.
Shorten’s days are numbered for myriad reasons.
In the preferred PM polls he lies in a political graveyard since the Turnbull-Abbott coup. Turnbull leads Shorten as preferred prime minister by 57 per cent to 19 per cent.
Shorten opts for nasty, uninspiring, personal attacks over positive solutions for the country’s challenges.
By comparison Turnbull is buoyant, witty, charming, positive and constructive. The left love Turnbull yet look sideways at Shorten out of necessity, not hope.
The one saving grace for Shorten is ‘Rudd’s Rule’ which the resurrected KRudd put into effect to ensure no sitting PM could be knifed by a handful of backroom faceless men in an overnight coup.
The caucus-approved rule says that a prime minister can only be removed if 75 per cent of MPs agree to force a ballot, or 60 per cent of caucus for an opposition leader.
Labor did not endorse the rule in the national constitution at the ALP national conference in July this year, meaning caucus can reverse Rudd’s Rule any time it likes - or needs to, without needing to go back to the party.
This has left a nervous Bill Shorten very exposed.
The latest Fairfax-Ipsos poll makes Shorten’s bad position worse.
PM Turnbull’s popularity has given the Coalition a commanding lead of 53 per cent to 47 per cent against Labor on a two-party preferred basis.
The gap is even wider, 54 to 46 per cent, when voters are asked where they'd place their preferences.
When Turnbull got rid of Abbott five weeks ago, a grinning Shorten beamed, “One down, one to go.”
Little did he realise that 'one to go’ will most certainly be Bill Shorten.