I watched the first of three televised “debates” between Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten the other night. They will meet again in Melbourne tomorrow night and appear together on Q&A on Monday night.
One of the interesting things about this exercise in democracy (which I won’t call an experiment, because I hope and trust it will be permanent) is that we don’t have a lot of experience in formulating yardsticks by which to judge the candidates.
Some are asking both to take positions on particular policy issues. I respect those initiatives, but I’m not sure that’s what the process should be about. It’s not a general election, and in a democratised Labor party, the membership should have ongoing avenues to contribute to policy (as should caucus). It’s not just about what each candidate thinks. Nor am I certain that the contest need be about “big ideas”. I’d be happy with basic communication of principle and direction, and a judgement of character and capacity.
Obviously, the desire of the media to stage a fight where there isn’t one (and Jon Faine was particularly obnoxious and wrongheaded in his interview of Albanese) should be resisted. Probably that’s exacerbated by The Great Disappearance Of Tony Abbott. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t maturely assess the actual points of distinction between the two candidates.
I hope Chris Bowen is right and the Right faction isn’t rigidly imposing its will on caucus members (and maybe Wayne Swan’s Facebook update on Sunday is a positive sign). I am also thinking that there should be disclosure of funding for the two campaigns – there are a lot of reports of expensive mailouts of glossy pamphlets from the Shorten camp. Obviously that’s not cheap. Transparency would be good.
It would also be good if unions were upfront about who they are supporting, and the degree of internal democracy that has factored into such decisions. This has been a big issue in UK Labour, and I think – if anything – I am more convinced by reports of AWU and SDA financial support for Bill Shorten that Kevin Rudd made the right decision in leaving their block votes out of the process. Again, we need transparency.
Back to the debate! While Bill Shorten certainly sounded many convincing notes, for me they jar with his record. (I make an exception for his views on disability, which I am sure are sincere). There is, of course, nothing wrong with a genuine change of heart, but it needs to be signalled as such. Too often, Shorten, whose presentation I also found rather odd (alternating between somewhat overcooked intensity and soft spokenness), seemed to me to be trying to “out-Left the Left” as someone else has put it.
Since Labor is well placed to win the next election, presentation and sincerity in presentation also matters. I think it would be helpful for Shorten to address openly his role in two Labor leadership changes, and also to justify his support for party democratisation in light of his history as an AWU “powerbroker”. Perhaps he can. But I do think he really does need to. Just saying “I’m drawing a line” is not good enough when your own level of personal involvement, and thus credibility, is so quick to everyone’s memory.
Obviously, I am much more sympathetic to the Labor Left than Labor Right, and that’s been the case for a very long time. But I think there is a genuine case to be made for consistency in principle being one of Anthony Albanese’s strengths. I can also readily believe him when he says he didn’t enter Parliament in order to scheme to be PM. His life experience, and his clear compassion and care for others, speak well of him and of the authenticity of his Labor values.
I also think that he would be a most effective opposition leader.
But the Labor party first needs to redeem itself. For mine, Albanese is the candidate who is most committed to broader engagement, to further democratisation, and to leading a movement rather than leading a shell of cabals. That engagement is already happening via social media. Bill Shorten, by contrast, seems to be running a campaign led from above. That matters.
I am supporting Anthony Albanese for Labor Leader.