Shorten's PM potential

Bill Shorten is too clever to contemplate an imminent challenge to Julia Gillard but if, or perhaps when, he gets control of the Labor Party, the Coalition will have a fight on its hands.

Watch out Tony Abbott. You could be facing a very different opponent in Bill Shorten. Shorten’s KGB interview is a fascinating study of political views rarely seen from either side of the house. Shorten is too smart to contemplate challenging Julia Gillard unless, perhaps, if the election is imminent and she is doomed.

As I prepared for the interview I thought I would have Shorten on toast given what he appeared to say in the morning newspapers on bank profits. But in his KGB interview Shorten talked about bank profits and the interests of retirees who have bank shares. In terms of retrenching people, he appealed to banks to think about the longer-term but there was no call to cut bank profits.

As you will see, almost in disbelief, I came again with another question.

And then later, when we talked about interest rates he brought up the question of bank depositors and their interests. It’s very rare to hear politicians on either side of the house talking like this.

Steve Bartholomeusz raised the question of the union moves to try and be more involved in management, citing the Qantas situation. Shorten dodged the question by focusing on Qantas. But the attack on Qantas was carefully targeted. If Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and Shorten debated the issue it would be a very close tussle. Joyce might lose.

And of course when it came to occupational health and safety issues, in my view there is an overwhelming desire from everyone to have uniform rules. The problem is that while most of the proposed Commonwealth legislation is good, inexperienced drafting makes the Commonwealth proposal uncertain and it will require long court battles to determine what it means. This will reduce productivity and threatens voluntary bodies (Hard lessons in Canberra's safety laws, January 18; Staving off an OHS catastrophe?, January 17; OHS law tied in knots, January 17).

Shorten now has the chance to fix the bad drafting (it will take about two hours) and he was careful not to engage me in debate. This will be a major test for him. If Shorten fixes the drafting errors and the states are still opposing the uniform OHS legalisation, then he can fire all guns at them. But at the moment they are in the right. It will be a major test for him.

My final question was to probe Shorten’s view of Abbott’s weakness because this is where he will attack. In the answer you will see that Shorten now believes the government will run its full term and he has time to exploit what he believes are Abbott’s weaknesses.

Shorten clearly fears some tough times on the employment side and he must be overjoyed by the Coalition problems with auto industry policy. The Coalition must win in Victoria which is where the ALP’s auto policy will gain the most votes.

I am sure as readers watch the interview they will come to their own conclusions.

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