Opposition Leader Bill Shorten is also under the public’s sceptical eye. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Illustration: Michael Mucci Photo: Illustration: Michael Mucci
While some inside the federal Liberal Party and the media were in a state of leadership hysteria, the public was indeed having a sceptical look at the federal leadership, but its scepticism extended to Labor leader Bill Shorten.
While Shorten has been furiously playing to his audience inside the Canberra bubble, his tactical choices have had problematic impact outside the bubble. Hence his poor recent poll numbers.
There has been a trajectory of missteps by Shorten:
September 25: Shorten co-wrote an open letter to Muslims in Australia, apologising for their vilification:
“We have been very distressed by recent reports about the Australian Islamic community being wrongly blamed for the crimes of ISIL, including assaults and other forms of vilification. Labor stands shoulder to shoulder with Australia’s Islamic community and … [will] continue to work with you to stop misinformation, bigotry and prejudice directed at the Australian Islamic community. The Islamic story in Australia has a rich history and grows stronger each year…”
It was not clear what Shorten was referring to, as he gave no specifics, and the only serious, quantifiable incidents involving Muslims in Australia during the previous months had involved Muslims attempting to kill, or conspiring to kill, non-Muslims.
The subsequent Lindt Café siege in Sydney in December, the Charlie Hebdo massacres in Paris in January, the Copenhagen murders in February, and counter-terrorism arrests in Belgium, France, Britain and Australia have all followed this pattern.
September 25: His open letter also made the claim, since repeated, that Islamic State is not Islamic:
“We know that the twisted ideology of ISIL bears no relation to a faith of peace, love and tolerance which is followed by millions around the world – and we will continue to make this point. ISIL has no right to use the name of Islam.”
The electorate does not buy this. Islamic State may be a lure for psychopaths and a loathsome fringe of Islam, but it is self-evidently Islamic. It justifies all its actions by an ultra-orthodox reading of the Koran. It feeds off the injustice felt by Sunni Muslims at their oppression by Shia-dominated governments in Iran, Iraq and Syria. The Sunni-Shia schism now involves tens of thousands of fighters operating in five countries.
Islamic State is to Islam what creationists are to Christianity. The literal interpretation of the Bible may be medieval, irrational and dismissed by the Christian mainstream, but there is no question that creationists are Christians. There are tens of millions of creationists in the United States and Africa, but they are not waging holy war.
October 25: Shorten delivered a speech advocating a dramatic increase in Australia’s intake of refugees from the Middle-East:
“Labor believes Australia can play a greater role in the international effort to provide refuge to the persecuted. Nearly two million Iraqis have fled their homes in the face of the ISIL advance – and millions more have been displaced by the conflict in Syria…
“Given the scope and scale of the current crisis gripping the region, Labor believes that, as a starting point, those seeking refuge from the current crisis in Iraq and Syria should be taken in addition to the existing allocation…”
This is significant policy shift. Given that most asylum seekers who came to Australia during the Labor years came from the Middle-East, and the Sunni-Shia schism has displaced millions of people, this represents an open-ended commitment to accept “those seeking refuge”, which points to a massive increase in the intake from the Middle East.
February 9: On first day of the 2015 parliamentary sitting, Shorten asked a series of gloating questions of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull after a spill motion had been put, and defeated, in the Liberal Party room that morning.
Given that Shorten was active in deposing both the prime ministers he served under, his actions were not just petty and ironic but drew attention to his expertise in leadership coups.
February 19: Shorten expressed sympathy for the former prisoner of war, David Hicks:
“There is no doubt David Hicks was probably foolish to get caught up in that Afghanistan conflict, but clearly there has been an injustice done. There is an issue here for the Australian government to examine … did they really do all they could to ensure injustice didn’t occur and bring David Hicks home?”
Hicks was not “probably foolish” to go to Afghanistan and in the middle of a war, consort with the Taliban, and now claim he was “on holiday”.
February 23-26: Shorten led an attack in Parliament that claimed the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, had been bullied by the government.
The problem with this tactic is that Triggs set up an inquiry into children in detention after the newly-elected Coalition set up Operation Sovereign Borders on September 18, 2013, not while the problem became a national scandal under Labor.
Importantly, she admitted under questioning, on February 24, that one of her reasons for setting up a full inquiry was to confront the operational secrecy of Operation Sovereign Borders
February 25: Shorten claimed the government may have breached bribery laws in offering another job to Triggs. Labor even referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police.
The problem with this is that it looks like both a stunt and a very bad case of sour grapes after the Coalition quickly stopping the people-smuggling trade and largely emptied the detention centres that had filled under Labor.
March 5: Responding in Parliament to Intergenerational Report, Shorten asked a series of flippant questions which trivialised the significant challenges outlined in the report. It was not impressive, it was playing bubble politics, again, and the public has started to notice.
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