Tony Thomas

The party that dares not speak its name

At 11 am on May 23, parked near Safeway just off Puckle Street, Moonee Ponds, was a Toyota van covered in signage. This was not just any van, nor just any signage. It was the propaganda pantechnicon of Bill Shorten, federal minister for employment and workplace relations and financial services and superannuation.

Bill is the member for Maribyrnong, and the sloganeered van is a natty and mobile device to freely advertise himself in one of Moonee Ponds’ main thoroughfares.

The driver was chatting to passers-by and handing out political flyers.

Now Bill Shorten is not just your common-or-garden Cabinet minister. From 2005-08 he was Victorian State President of the Australian Labor Party, he was on the national ALP executive until 2011, and is a former national secretary of the Australian Workers Union.

He played a leading role in ousting Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in favour of Julia Gillard, and 18 months later Gillard rewarded him with a promotion to Cabinet. Just for interest, and this is irrelevant to my little story of the van, Bill is married to Chloe Bryce, daughter of the Governor-General.

In the speculation about whether Julia will last the distance to the next election, Bill Shorten is often touted as her successor as leader of the federal Labor Party and Australia’s Prime Minister.[i]

Bill has sought to gee up members of the Labor caucus to take more pride in their party. As he told a meeting of the militant Maritime Union of Australia in Perth last February, "I wish we could bottle a bit of the spirit here and spread it on perhaps some of the members in the Labor caucus, because nothing is gone until it’s over."[ii]

Well, I noticed something odd about his van signage: no reference on it anywhere to a well-known group, the “Labor Party”. The signage was only about “Bill Shorten”, our local member here, “Delivering For Our Community” and so on. Just to be sure, I walked all around the van. Not on sides, or front, nor rear, not a mention of that certain party.

I chatted up his driver/publicist. “Hi, lovely day! Look, I am a stranger here [I lied], what party does Bill Shorten belong to?”

The driver gave a startle response, looking at me as though I was silly. “Labor! He’s in federal Cabinet, he’s minister for workplace relations.”

“Oh, thanks,” I replied. “But I don’t see any reference to Labor on the van.”

The driver joined me in a perusal of the signage. He had to concede my point. “Well,” he said, “this is a promotional vehicle. These,” he explained, waving at the red, white and blue paint job, “are the Labor Party’s colors.”

Tony Thomas enjoys making a nuisance of himself



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