Last Man Standing
An inevitability has struck me about the reconfigured Federal Parliament this week. Despite a plethora of political issues gaining all kinds of traction, despite the Hollywood spotlight on the new Senate superstars, and despite Malcolm Turnbull’s audible attempts to take down Bill Shorten, the man who almost stole his office, the much maligned Opposition Leader is destined to become Prime Minister. I don’t write this conclusion to shock. I write this from watching closely the direction taken in week one by all parties. The first Parliamentary sitting week should reveal a plan, an indicative strategy for the term ahead. Firstly, let’s lay out the cards after Election 2016: Turnbull almost lost the unloseable ballot. He’s just 1 seat in the black and it won’t take much for the grandstanders in the Coalition, to ‘chuck a tanty’ on the more edgy issues, and block his agenda. Even considering that majority, can we really expect Turnbull to increase his support and numbers by next election? Really? According to the ABC’s Antony Green, only seven prime minister’s in 45 elections have increased their lead at their second election. That’s an unlikely 15 per cent. History is against him. God help Malcolm if one of his team ‘do a Slipper’ and defects to the dark side, or exits stage right, under personal pressure. Even an act of impropriety will immediately corner the PM into a position of having to act, but having no room to act. Then we cannot ignore that first week in the polls; the first since the election has seen the PM’s public support drop further. It’s a trend which will be awfully difficult for him to arrest. Who’s likely to shine in the day-to-day rumble? Whose messages will stick? Shorten has decided to continue the campaign, travelling, pressing his points home and remaining on an aggressive front foot. This is his ultimate strength, a skill honed from years rising and fighting through union ranks. Bill has simply ignored the AEC count and carried on scrapping and swiping at the ailing Libs; reaffirming his election platform on a myriad of policies. The ‘early mark’ debacle of last Thursday night, with eight MPs exiting Parliament House, some even boarding planes before the final session ended, highlighted Shorten’s shrewd and relentless mindset. For the Coalition, it was a classic early own goal which could have seen a Royal Commission into the Banks made law, with the government powerless to stop it. The public meanwhile, watched Shorten wipe the floor with his opponent during this year’s election, and the public now knows he has a plan. The same can’t be said for Turnbull with his bland catchcry of ‘jobs and growth’. It didn’t work during the campaign and it won’t work without substance over the next three years.Are you sensing the same inevitability? Shorten’s mere presence as Opposition Leader guarantees him recall. If he’s not a household name now, he will be by the time we come to the next Federal election. So back to the 3 years ahead: the Prime Minister has clearly staked his reputation on tackling budget repair, which he says is the Government’s greatest moral challenge. I wish he wouldn’t channel Kevin Rudd so often. We still remember. This mission is fraught with mutiny. He’ll lose public support because the mainstream mob have shown a great dislike for sacrifice. The newly reconfigured Senate, with its superstar crossbench, have only one thing in mind; to force the government to take up their own niche policy platforms and increase their re-electability. With so many egos now dominating the red seats, do we really expect them to come on board the Budget Repair train? Good luck. Are you feeling the inevitability again? I am. I’m sensing that in 2 years time, when the public starts to assess who’s worthy of forming the next Government, the Coalition will be heaving under the weight of more debt and deficit and the usual internal scandals that plague an arrogant Government. Move over skaters, step aside all you soiled pretenders, the Steven Bradbury of Australian politics is ready to govern. It’s Bill Shorten, the Hawke-like unionist, (without the charisma of Bob), ready to lead. Yes we may witness a bloody Coalition coup twelve months out, aimed at refreshing the Government, but no one feels secure under that scenario. The Italian model of leadership by bloodbath has not taken on in Australia and never will. We stand by our team and captain in this country, no matter what. So, in the final countdown, Malcolm slips off his skates and crashes into the Right. The economy stumbles on thin ice and pummels all around it. Which leaves… Bill. I sat on a VIP table with the Opposition Leader at a function in Melbourne last week. It was private and our conversations will not be revealed. But he’s forseen all of this, way before anyone else. Not that he let on. But its written on his face. Like me, he can’t see any other outcome. He did say he won’t be facing Turnbull at the next election. How could you argue? As I said to the him, he has one last hurdle. Not Turnbull, not the polls, not the Senate, not the aspirimg Anthony Albanese. He needs to demonstrate to Australians that he can show economic nous and spending restraint, because Labor’s history has been dominated by economic mismanagement. I told Shorten this and he even acknowledged that exact challenge. The closer we get to the next election, the more probable this inevitability will become. There’ll be magazine profiles on Bill and Chloe at home and they’ll want to know about his two British bulldogs. Watch it happen. And sooner than that, the polls will force us all to face the fact that our next PM will be a bloke called Bill Shorten; the last man standing.
Chris Smith presents The Chris Smith Show Monday to Friday 12:00pm to 3:00pm on 2GB, 4BC & 2CC Radio