Despite the failure of the strategy in the Super Saturday by-elections, Malcolm Turnbull is more determined than ever to kill Bill. What drives this homicidal obsession?
Even the comparatively civilised Liberal, John Hewson, wants to kill Bill. The urbane Dr John, whom one could not imagine watching a Tarantino movie, admits that he advised Malcolm to assign the killing of Bill to the Liberals’ pit-bull assassin, Tony Abbot (Sydney Morning Herald 1 August). Malcolm did not take the advice, perhaps thinking voters might prefer to kill Tony.
The Liberals are scared of Bill Shorten. They think he is clever and they may be correct. Bill is on Labor’s Right but he may just have the quick mind, nimble footwork and cautious good judgement to steer the ALP ever so slightly to the Left.
In the ultimate Establishment nightmare, Bill may be able to work constructively with Sally McManus, the only political figure in Australia who gives the impression she knows what she is talking about when she talks about neoliberalism.
That is the standard political view of the Kill Bill strategy. Play on the mass media’s lazy habit of reducing politics to a personality clash instead of doing the homework on policy and ideology. Batter away at the personality with opinion polls until someone falls into the trap of offering an alternative, as we saw with Anthony Albanese’s unfortunate dog-whistling to the Right. Then promote the idea of a leadership challenge. Labor has maintained such tight discipline in recent years after collapsing around the mining tax in 2010 that I expect the Parliamentary Party will rein in Albanese and get back on track.
However, there is more than the usual political tactics at work in the Kill Bill campaign. There is a deep-seated savagery, reminiscent of Tony Abbot’s attack on Julia Gillard. A glimpse of footage from the “Ditch the Witch” days reminds us of just how low our political standards dropped in that period.
Soon after the Super Saturday by-elections Malcolm Turnbull gave a press conference in Perth and was back on the trail to kill Bill. For a Prime Minister of sophistication and education this was an embarrassingly low-class performance. Surely, we Australians would like to think these mean-spirited, gutter brawls do not reflect the character of the nation.
The iconoclastic Guy Rundle described the dark side of major Party politics in a piece published in The Saturday Paper on 9 June in which he shone the spotlight on Michaelia Cash and the Kathy Jackson trial, where he expects the Kill Bill campaign to reach its blood-curdling climax.
“You see,” wrote Guy, “the Liberal Party really, really hate Bill Shorten. This is not James Killen’s Liberal Party, nor even Billy Snedden’s. It is now almost entirely a network of the urban haute-bourgeoisie, the chino-and-pearls mafia, an intersection of private-schools-called-public schools, sandstone uni student politics, the IPA, Freehills et al, a sort of Biosphere 2 of perfect bourgeois stupidity. This is my tribe – alliances and marriages formed at parties on soft summer nights poolside in Double Bay and Brighton, as early Madonna played and pushy mothers brought out endless trays of pigs in blankets.
“The Liberal Party is now a cult within a class, rather than a Party organically expressing its values. They police their borders, chant their mantras and keep the faith. And they hate Bill… They hate him not because they suspect he is bogus but because of the haunting fear that he may be at least partly genuine, that it’s possible to cross class, and recognise an unanswerable call for justice, and want, amid ravenous personal ambition, to do something about it”
Of the other side, Guy Rundle writes: “Labor is the sort of place where two men who look like accountants for a regional hospital can acquire the status of charismatic superstars.” He describes a factional “pincer movement” on Bill Shorten that began with the break-up of the Shorten alliance with the Conroy Right that is now in de facto alliance with the Albanese NSW Left and hence with the mainstream socialist Left in Victoria.
“Labor knows there is one big thing coming; the Kathy Jackson trial. Jackson has applied to call more than 60 witnesses, as is her right, given the number of charges. That would amount to a real Royal Commission on Victorian Labor and Shorten’s base, with the potential to take the whole sucker down.”
There you have the underbelly of Australian politics. I dare say the story is much the same in London, Rome, Washington and Moscow, which is why I prefer the more gentlemanly debate at the great lecture theatre in the sky between Keynes, Hayek and Polanyi.
At the more prosaic level of the Australian Parliament honourable members are contemplating something called the NEG, which looks harmless enough, though I can’t see how it has anything to do with electricity prices.
As one who never accepted the gospel according to Fred Hilmer, let alone Margaret Thatcher, I blame the electricity shambles on the same factors that destroyed everything else in the last 30 years. In a nutshell, the exploitation of public services and public assets for private profit by parasites.
This is the real problem, not Malcolm’s bad breath or Bill’s dandruff, and neither Party wants to know about it. Perhaps they don’t know where to start cleaning up the mess. In recent correspondence with honourable members I suggested Centrelink as the starting point. Double Centrelink staff and stop pretending that on-line services are a substitute for (humane) human beings on the front line.
Doubling Centrelink staff may well be the simplest and quickest way to rebuild morale and restore at least a little confidence in the role of government.
Jerry Roberts is a member of the Australian Labor Party