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June 23rd 2013 print

Philippa Martyr

Aside from cold pies, what’s on Shorten’s mind?

Loyal backer of our beleagured Prime Minister? Numbers man with a shifty eye for the main chance? With apologies to the late Danny Kaye, the next few days should establish if he is prepared to grab the goblet or let this cup pass him by. Then again, maybe not


On the Bolt Report of Sunday 23 June, Michael Costa put forward the hypothesis that by the end of this week, Bill Shorten would be Prime Minister. He described this as a necessary ‘circuit-breaker’ in the ongoing won’t-serve-under-Rudd melee that’s engulfing the parliamentary ALP this week.


As any schoolchild knows, when there’s a chalice attached to a palace – in this case, leadership of the ALP and the job of Prime Minister – it should hold the brew that is true.

But alas, the ALP has very publicly broken the chalice from the palace. Now, the pellet with the poison is in the flagon with the dragon, and it’s this flagon which may be making its way towards Bill Shorten.

Costa put forward some reasons for Shorten taking the job – an acceptable candidate to both sides; a steady middle ground; a good union man with the numbers behind him.

None of these, interestingly, reflects things like ‘ability to govern’, ‘good leadership of the country’, ‘distinguished Prime Minister material’, ‘dignity of Australia’s reputation’ and other bagatelles like that.

Nope, Shorten is the one candidate everyone is the most scared of, and yet the one everyone seems to hate the least, and so therefore he’d really be an ideal Prime Minister.

I have my doubts about this happening, for a number of reasons:

1) Shorten has an immediate conflict of interest because his mother-in-law is the Governor-General (am I the only one in the country who sees this as a potential conflict of interest?) Ideally, one of them will need to step aside for a while. But which one?

2) Shorten also does not strike me as the kind of man who would be interested in this particular flagon with the dragon. Leading a party into the wilderness is hard going at the best of times, and those people generally don’t go on to become election-winning Prime Ministers. Not in the ALP, anyway.

3) I think Shorten’s plan is longer-term – let Gillard swallow the poison, and then let whoever wants it challenge for the leadership of the Opposition. Then, and only then, once the dust has settled, will the Pieman play his cards.

But in the meantime, it’s an interesting thought. What would happen in Election Land to a Shorten government facing a venomous public in September this year? Might Prime Minister Shorten put off the election till November? Would he immediately rush out on a tour of the US in order to try to shore up flagging domestic public opinion? Could he have a mystery ‘accident’ shortly before Election Day to try to score the sympathy vote? How will Tony Windsor / Rob Oakeshott / Bob Carr react?

The possibilities are endless. 

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City.