Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – Fairfax war party takes aim at Bill Short’n sweet

Only a few months ago, Fairfax Media newspapers were stridently calling for the removal Prime Minister Tony Abbott. This week they shifted their attack to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
Thursday’s edition of The Sydney Morning Herald was a collector’s item. The front page blared: “Shorten and the AWU deal”. In addition, it promised a four-part series exposing “the man who would be prime minister”.
There was more. Most of Pages 4 and 5 were devoted to Shorten. One eye-catching headline read, “ALP’s right wing loses its grip on conference”, breathlessly revealing: “Opposition Bill Shorten’s right-wing faction has lost control of Labor’s national conference for the first time since 1979, opening the way for a big push on traditionally left-wing issues such as party reform, same-sex marriage, tax asylum seekers and trade.”
The authors of this mega-Shorten coverage, Ben Schneiders and Royce Millar, are unknowns who appear to rely on other unknowns to supply anonymous quotes to support their stories.
But there is still more. Thursday’s editorial, “Bill Shorten should be considering his future”, opened with these solemn lines: “The position of Bill Shorten as federal Labor leader is becoming untenable. The latest revelations of his union past published by Fairfax Media on Wednesday afternoon raise further doubts and questions about his suitability as alternative prime minister.”
The editorial pomposity concluded: “The coming days will determine whether Mr Shorten, the ultimate political operative, can find the numbers to survive.”
The anonymous leader writer completely ignores the fact that the incumbent prime minister, aka The Mad Monk, is a pathological liar whose term in office is littered with lies and broken promises, breaches of Westminster convention and, more recently, criminal complicity in paying cash bribes to people traffickers.

Time for Burke

I carry no brief for Shorten. He is an intellectual lightweight burdened by over-ambition. He talks the talk – in a muffled kind of way – but is incapable of walking the walk.
However, internal ALP discussions are taking place about Shorten’s future. Many of his comrades believe next year’s federal election is winnable. But they are equally convinced that Shorten cannot defeat the pugilistic Abbott.
Labor’s backroom boys dream of repeating Labor’s success in recent state elections in Victoria and Queensland when the ALP rose from the dead to win office.
The question is being repeatedly asked: “If Shorten can’t beat Abbott, who do we have that can?”
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus and shadow treasurer Chris Bowen are both ruled out as being “unsaleable”. This has focused interest on Tony Burke, MP for Watson in Sydney’s inner-south since 2004.
As a schoolboy Burke organised paper boys into a union to demand more pay for delivering Sunday papers. He graduated from Sydney University with a law degree and later worked in the electorate office of Senator Graham “Richo” Richardson, the NSW ALP’s former general secretary.
Graduating from the NSW Upper House, Burke has staged a mercurial rise in the party’s ranks since entering the House of Representatives in Canberra.
In the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments between 2007 and 2013 he held a series of portfolios. He was a capable and diligent Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Minister, Minister for Sustainable Population, Environment Minister, Arts Minister and Immigration Minister.
He is currently shadow finance minister and manager of Opposition business in the Reps.
A Catholic right-winger, Burke emerged in Part II of Sara Ferguson’s ABC telemovie, The Killing Season, as a key player in the Caucus overthrow of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He operated with chilling effect to recruit backbenchers to take part in the putsch.
After more than half a dozen leadership changes in the past 15 years – Kim Beazley, Simon Crean, Mark Latham, Beazley (again), Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Rudd (again) and Bill Shorten – it seems utter madness to be considering yet another Canberra coup. However, if Shorten is considered to be a sitting duck who will be plucked by Abbott in a torrid election campaign, I suppose it is only natural that alternatives are being considered.
But the ALP’s reasons for wanting to dump Shorten are very different from the ones being advanced by the decrepit Fairfax group. The SMH’s anti-Shorten war party is taking its directions (and story lines) from the Liberals.

Green machine heading for crash

During the week I ran into a group of Greens engaged in an intense discussion about Senator Richard Di Natale’s decision to support the Abbott government’s budget plan to reorganise pensions.
Their mood was aggrieved and confused. It was summed up by the observation: “What on earth does Di Natale think he’s doing? He should not be offering any kind of support to Abbott. It makes the Greens look ridiculous.”
Di Natale sought to justify his deal with the Coalition by saying that he had obtained a commitment that superannuation inequities would be reviewed in the coming months.
But only a few hours later Abbott and Social Services Minister Scott Morrison specifically ruled out any changes to super, leaving Di Natale up a creek without a paddle. If the Greens ever had pensioner voters, they just left.
As I’ve noted previously, Di Natale and his new chief of staff Cate Faehrmann are instinctive coalitionists. They’ll deal with anyone.
Melbourne’s female journalists have formed a Di Natale cheer squad with front-page articles in consecutive Morrie Shwartz publications: “Richard Di Natale’s plans to reboot the Greens” by Sophie Morris in The Saturday Paper and “The new Greens – Richard Di Natale and a new leadership team hit the mainstream” by Amanda Lohrey in The Monthly.
The “advice” of these fair weather friends will propel Di Natale and his party into electoral catastrophe. It can’t be long before there is an internal blowback against the new leader’s lovey-dovey leadership.

Winter Balls Up

The National Press Gallery is a disgrace. With rare exceptions such as Channel Nine’s political editor Laurie Oakes and one or two others, the gallery is infested with self-preening midgets.
This week they staged their Midwinter Ball at Parliament House. All the blokes climbed into dinner suits and bow ties and the womenfolk poured out of hire cars in gowns and fur wraps.
It was a laughably pathetic imitation of Washington’s annual media dinner hosted by the US president. Choking on their own self-importance, the Canberra gallery doesn’t seem to grasp the essential role of a political correspondent.
It’s very simple: the job of journalists is to represent the public interest. This is not to be mixed up with the practice of politicians who are supposed to represent the public interest but in fact represent vested interests.
Between journalists and politicians there is a fundamental antagonism. While media proprietors and the political class frequently share common interests, it does not follow that journalists have common interests with the political class.
The gallery’s “Winter Ball” is a sickening exhibition of all that’s wrong with the old proprietorial media: journos all dolled up to the nines dancing and singing for the entertainment of the politicians most of whom remain sober and leave muttering their contempt for their “hosts”. They even put on a musical show for the politicians: they’re like dancing bears performing for the whip-cracking ringmasters.
No wonder readers, viewers and listeners regard today’s political journalists as hacks who recycle press releases, operate as a pack and serve the interests of either proprietors, parties or politicians.
Why don’t they shift the venue to Canberra’s National Press Club and stop behaving like embedded hacks?


  1. The information about Shorten and the AWU deals appears to be coming from inside the AWU.
    Are the young guns of the National Left getting impatient?

  2. Couldn’t quite put my finger on why the Winter Ball caused me to gag. Thanks Alex, you said it all.

  3. Dear Alex

    Here we go again. We know from previous experience that sections of the press love nothing better than a leadership struggle. Even if there isn’t one – they’ll keep on writing about it until there is.
    Just what Abbott wanted when he set up his Royal Commission into trade unions. The key question is: Did shorten enter into a deal with employers that watered down the conditions of his members to further his own career? If the answer is:yes Shorton could easily put the leadership story out of its misery by falling on his sword.

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