Letter To The Editor
There is no tougher, more thankless job in politics, so conventional wisdom has it, than leading Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition - the more so when the party in question has been pummelled by the electorate and faces years in the political wilderness. Nonetheless, the job has always attracted interest from ambitious politicians - of which there are many on all sides of politics. One of the Federal Parliament's more renowned go-getters, and a man touted as ''a future Labor leader'' even before he entered politics in 2007, Bill Shorten, has said he intends to stand for the vacant leadership at Friday's caucus meeting. Indications are he will be duly elected, perhaps unopposed.
Labor's elder statesmen (and Mr Shorten's factional warriors) want a seamless transition in power from Kevin Rudd to their man, the better to impress on voters the party's determination to be a unified team in opposition from day one. That being the case, Anthony Albanese, the only other possible candidate, will have to keep his field marshal's baton in his haversack for the time being at least. Labor's rank and file, who would have had a say in a leadership contest under new rules ushered in by Mr Rudd, will also be denied, but complaints may be muffled in the interests of solidarity.
If Mr Shorten wanted to enhance his credentials as an alternative prime minister and cement his authority within the Labor Party, he would better off achieving it by force of personality, intellect and rhetoric than by arranging it behind closed doors through factional wheeling and dealing. It was arguably Labor's penchant for arranging secret leadership agreements in 2010 and 2013 - deals that, incidentally, featured Mr Shorten in key roles - that brought the party undone on Saturday.
For Labor to be preparing to go down that road again will cause party stalwarts and loyalists to wonder just what lessons, if any, have been learnt from the tumult of the past three years - and whether or not their leaders are truly committed to the structural reforms that will enable the party to reconnect with its membership and voters more generally. Worse yet, Labor is engaged in another stale public debate about Mr Rudd's loyalty to the greater party cause, and whether or not the new leadership team would be better off if the former leader were shown the door.
Mr Shorten's leadership would undoubtedly benefit from clear air, and the obvious way to achieve that would be for his predecessor to resign from the Parliament. Mr Rudd might harbour ambitions of becoming Labor's eminence grise, but so low is the regard in which he apparently is held by many colleagues that such a scenario is far-fetched. There is a belief that a former leader is entitled to leave the Parliament at a time of his own choosing, but only one or two of Mr Rudd's most loyal acolytes are pushing this line. The only justification for Mr Rudd staying, therefore, is to ensure his seat of Griffith is not lost in a byelection. Even this outcome seems not to trouble his detractors, however. While he is not one for taking hints, Mr Rudd should depart the Parliament after a decent interval. He owes his long-suffering colleagues (and the wider Labor movement) that much at least.
What kind of persona and style Mr Shorten adopts as Labor leader remains open to conjecture, but a makeover of some kind will be required - not least to counter Coalition accusations that he was one of the key ''faceless men'' in the leadership coups against Rudd and Gillard. That he switched allegiances so readily from one to the other and then back again may mean he struggles for credibility in the wider electorate too. If the Coalition makes mischief over corruption in unions linked to the ALP, as it probably will, then Mr Shorten's AWU background could prove troublesome, as could his adequate but hardly polished presentation skills.
Mr Shorten's success in the first instance will be determined by his ability to land punches on the new government and to limit dissent or disunity in his own ranks. This was the pattern established by John Howard and Tony Abbott, the two most successful opposition leaders in recent years. That this has been conspicuously absent among recent Labor opposition leaders suggests Mr Shorten has his work cut out.