IT’S a sad day for the Federal government when their best electoral asset is the Leader of the Opposition. Yet that’s where Malcolm Turnbull’s Coalition colleagues find themselves in the early months of 2017.
And no one knows it better than Turnbull himself.
At every opportunity he focuses his criticism on the former trade unionist and factional boss, Bill Shorten. The issue itself hardly matters, from the TPP where Turnbull labelled him “the greatest example of Labor gutlessness for generations” to the refugees on Manus and Nauru, where he’s allegedly “soft on border protection”. Invariably, the villain of the piece is that nondescript character in the fluro jacket with his Elmer Fudd forehead who can’t quite pronounce his “th’s” (“wiff” instead of “with”).
Truth is, Turnbull’s on a good thing (for a change). Labor has been consistently out-polling the Libs 54 to 46, yet the prospect of Shorten as PM changes the voter preference radically. People remember that it was Shorten who handed Julia Gillard the factional knife to take out Kevin Rudd. And when the political wind changed, it was that same numbers man who plunged the dagger into Australia’s first female prime minister, giving Kevin the chance to “save the furniture” for a Shorten takeover in the wake of the Abbott victory of 2013.
They also remember that it was Anthony Albanese who won 60 per cent of the popular vote among Labor’s rank and file in the subsequent leadership contest, only to be trumped by Shorten’s factional mates in the Caucus.
Since then, Albanese has been a good soldier, only occasionally giving glimpses of his real ambition to take the top job. And Shorten has finessed the only other real contender, Tanya Plibersek, by persuading her to take the Shadow Education portfolio rather than Treasury where Chris Bowen is doing a serviceable but unspectacular job.
Tanya has been too mindful of Bowen’s feelings; if she took over the oleaginous Scott Morrison would be shown up as a witless and heartless Tory functionary, and she would have positioned herself nicely for the leadership when the Caucus realises that only Shorten is standing between themselves and all the perks of government.