Shorten's goal poses conflict of interest for Bryce

Shorten's goal poses conflict of interest for Bryce

Just to make it absolutely clear, Quentin Bryce should resign immediately. This is not a comment on her personal appropriateness, or otherwise, for her position. The crucial point is that being Governor-General is not just a day job. It's a 24-hour role as the country's head of state.

It is not Bryce's fault that she has a daughter, Chloe. And it is not her fault that Chloe fell for a young, ambitious politician, Bill Shorten. And it is not his fault that he is crawling his way to the top of the Australian Labor Party over the bodies of other people who he first installed, then trashed on his own path to the top.

Bill Shorten and partner Chloe Bryce.

Bill Shorten and partner Chloe Bryce.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The ability to step over the fallen bodies of colleagues is perfectly acceptable for a modern politician: after all, everyone knows the sort of ruthless ambition behind their drive to thrive. Propriety, integrity, constancy; these are all just commodities to be jettisoned if they get in the way of personal advancement.

Nobody admits that, of course. Just look at Shorten's own personal rationale for publicly abandoning Julia Gillard one hour before he committed to reinstalling Kevin Rudd. It was all about preserving the party, holding enough seats to win government after the inevitable defeat - by which time he hoped to be leader. No element of policy, or what is best for the country, factored in his analytical processes.


It was all about preserving the party within striking distance of government. And why? Because he had done the numbers. Shorten knew he would have a good chance of becoming the next leader and wanted to make sure he would also have a good chance of moving into The Lodge at some point in the future. So he didn't allow anything to stand in the way of his own ambition. Certainly not any feelings for our beleaguered first female prime minister, a person he had personally installed and then backed through two challenges.

Again, let's be quite clear about another point. The only reason Rudd challenged was because he knew Shorten had changed sides. His small group of backers changed their votes. This made all the difference. Treachery justified in the name of keeping the party together.

But that is all fair enough. What is unforgivable is the timing. Shorten changed at the last minute to ensure Rudd wouldn't really have time to alter the overall political dynamic, introduce new policies or lock the party into any positions that might later affect his own ability to manoeuvre.

If Shorten really wanted to save the party, he would have acted earlier. Instead he waited until the very last. He chose his time to strike carefully, when Gillard was at her weakest but Rudd wouldn't be able to rebuild. Allow the old warriors to battle themselves to exhaustion and then come through the centre.

What is truly amazing about Shorten's meteoric rise is the way he has remained untouched by all the blood he has waded through. There is no doubt he is a charming person. I suspect he does, also, really believe what he says and that he is acting in the best interests of others and the party. This doesn't prevent the eventual outcome from being rather unfortunate though, particularly for anyone who gets in the way of these desirable outcomes. And this is why Bryce must announce that she must step down.

The minute Shorten becomes opposition leader he will change his focus - ruthlessly - to winning office. Every fibre of his being will be directed to this one purpose. And that is how it should be. If Labor is to survive it is vital that the party's next leader demonstrate the tenacity and determination that Shorten displays. This is not a column about his suitability or otherwise for the leadership. That is for party members to decide.

But how, possibly, could Tony Abbott go to Yarralumla and speak frankly with the Governor-General when he knows that he is supping with his opponent's mother-in-law. It is insupportable.

I have no doubt that Bryce has, and will continue to demonstrate her own political impartiality. That was possible when her child was married to a government minister. But the situation has changed and she is the head of state. It is impossible for her, no matter how she tries, to develop a good and proper relationship with the new prime minister when she is so intimately connected to a potential opposition leader.

Any failure to offer to stand down would simply prove why she absolutely must do so. If we are to retain any confidence in our constitution, the impartial, apolitical role of the governor-general must be preserved absolutely. Any contamination, no matter how small, compromises the entire edifice.

Bryce must, immediately, make her position on this matter clear. She must resign. We have established, already, that Shorten will do anything to become PM. Bryce must not stand in his way.

Nicholas Stuart is a Canberra writer.

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