Bill Shorten isn't any closer to winning the next election

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    Bill Shorten isn't any closer to winning the next election


    My political career started in opposition and, "thanks" to Bob Hawke, Labor kept me there for nearly 12 years. But unlike some I enjoyed those years partly because I didn't know any better.
    More importantly I also learnt that even from opposition any MP with good ideas and persuasion can make a difference. And an opposition leader can do even more by regularly moulding the public issues of the day.
    I can understand why Bill Shorten spent his first week back in opposition visiting new MPs. He certainly did better than expected, but for most of the last parliamentary term my guess is that he never thought he'd beat a first-term government. In that regard he was right.
    I suspect also that he knows the job of being in opposition is always difficult and hence he was in a hurry to activate the Rudd system which makes it difficult for the opposition leader to be removed. But for Bill he didn't need to rush, because the test of his leadership will not be decided by the 2016 election but by how he performs during the new term and particularly in the lead-up to the next election.

    It'd be a mistake if he thinks his chances of winning are now closer. In my early years we often did well between elections and then lost to Bob Hawke in the run-up to the next election. After every election we lost, especially in 1990, we consoled ourselves with how well we had done and how close we were to win next time. But we kept on losing for another six years. Not until John Hewson arrived as leader did we really appreciate that we needed to do more to persuade the electorate that we had what it takes to run the country.
    Governments usually lose office rather than oppositions win elections but at the same time the opposition has to be at least a viable alternative.
    That is the challenge facing Bill Shorten today. For starters, his next Medicare scare will have lost some of its bite, Labor's tax policy on superannuation will have been dealt with and, depending how the economy is going, I suspect that further commitments to even more spending will be even more difficult than it was for Labor in this election. Labor's refusal to constrain spending will remain Labor's biggest embarrassment of the last campaign and it will be a burden in 2019 if he can't walk away from Labor's spending addiction.
    For Turnbull going to the 2019 election, he will have at least four things going for him. He will have a record of managing the issues of the day, more time to put together his policy, the experience of being PM and the benefit of incumbency.
    Turnbull also has two other advantages. As the polls suggest, he presents better than Shorten, he has a better understanding of the economy, he is more articulate and comes across more like a statesman than Shorten the union leader. Second, he has the opportunity of implementing some party reform which so far has been beyond Shorten.
    When I was first asked to review the 2010 federal election I decided to read previous reviews. Nearly all the reports advocated significant reform and every report ended up gathering dust. The Liberal organisation today is run by the PM while the federal executive does what it is told and the rank and file are less representative of the electorate. What a contrast that is with the major parties losing support while the voters go straight to Xenophon, Hanson or McGowan.

    In my 2011 report I proposed that in seats where an independent has thrown out a Coalition MP we should run a plebiscite to determine who would make the best person to win back the seat for the party. The classic opportunity for the Liberals was Cathy McGowan who won the Victorian seat of Indi in 2013. It was blatantly obvious from the moment Sophie Mirabella announced she was going for preselection that the seat was going to remain in the hands of McGowan and that's exactly what happened at the election.
    My proposition was to invite anyone in that seat to seek preselection regardless of whether they were in the Liberal Party or not. It would be a genuine plebiscite and in its own way would have produced a candidate with real public support.
    The Nationals trialled the approach in NSW politics and it has gone very well. In Indi the party had nothing to lose and everything to gain. The result was McGowan was returned and, knowing her own electorate, she quickly offered support for the Turnbull government. The only reason the Liberal Party lost Indi again was the failure to reform. Now that is a task for the PM.
 
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