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Bill Shorten Fails To Answer A Question On Electric Cars -- Five Times In A Row

ANALYSIS: Pulling answers from politicians is like extracting teeth from a flailing shark.

When caught in a pickle, Scott Morrison's jaw clenches. He belligerently rejects its premise, then quickly accepts another question from the opposite side of the press pack, turning his back on the journalist.

It was a tactic used deftly by Malcolm Turnbull whenever things turned rough. The smaller press packs are always the most prickly. There's nowhere to hide.

However, Bill Shorten is employing a very different strategy on the heavily stage-managed election campaign, one that is far more frustrating -- and it's not just me who thinks it.

Image: AAP

Each media conference, the Opposition Leader takes a solitary question from each journalist. He then delivers his answer slowly and methodically, chewing up large amounts of time, intentionally denying the reporter any chance of a follow-up question and with it, the opportunity to pin him down on detail.

"No, I've taken your question, I'm going to give someone else a turn," he says, shutting people down. "Who hasn't asked a question?"

We have many topics. One question is rarely enough. Imagine being offered a single Skittle. If he faces a curly one, you'll hear Shorten say something like, "Let's be straight here," as he shifts to one of several pre-prepared responses, often unrelated to what was asked.

That's exactly what happened on Tuesday. Tired of health, I asked what Labor's cuts to carbon emissions would actually cost the economy.

Shorten didn't attempt to answer the question. In fact, he spoke about everything but.

He even rejected the notion that Labor had spent the past few days focusing on health, despite multiple announcements, two in front of hospitals. (It's no secret the Labor Party believes health is a winner. It's also in some ways a distraction.)

For three years Labor has pledged if elected to cut carbon emissions by 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. It's a vote winner in many circles -- and a loser too, especially in the swing state of Queensland. What Bill Shorten won't say, and has repeatedly avoided revealing, is what the policy will cost the economy and the average Aussie.

Put simply, to reach that ambitious target of 45 percent, there will have to be changes to not just the electricity sector but the agricultural sector, the mining sector, and the transport sector.

So, when Shorten refused to answer the question, just as he has avoided before,  I interrupted him.

READ MORE: Leaked Labor Plan To Build Electric Vehicles In Australia

"You're not answering the question," I pointed out. It was blunt and rude, but honest. Shorten's built a reputation on being unflappable. He is a union official, with a reputation forged in the fires of conflict. He smiles and grins.

Many, many years ago, I opened my question to him with, "With due respect Mr Shorten..."

He answered, "Well, with due respect...."

It beautifully neutralised my offensive. I didn't have a comeback.

On Tuesday, he tried to shift on to the next journalist five times. I wouldn't let him.

Image: AAP

Media outlets pay tens of thousands of dollars to join our leaders on these campaigns, gaining access to not just staged street walks but press conferences to filter the porkies from the pork-barrelling.

On Monday, I asked Bill Shorten for the "truth" on hospital funding. Labor will never say that it's at record levels, only that it would be greater if they were still in office. It's their point of difference. To them, funding has been cut.

To be clear. I don't oppose Labor's carbon emission plan. That's not my job. I merely believe Australians have a right to know if their future car will be more expensive. If their beef will be more expensive. If their electricity will be more expensive. And if it's costing the economy, who will pay for it?

There are other questions, too. How does Australia reach the Opposition's electric vehicle target by 50 percent new cars by 2030? Where will all of those charging stations come from? Will the government subsidise them? What about people who don't have the luxury of a powerpoint and garage?

READ MORE: The Reality Of Getting Half Of Australia Zipping Around In Electric Cars

Again, I'm not opposed. We need vision. Just think of all the clean air when alfresco dining with your yet as born kids. But what's the cost, Shorten, of the green dream?

In many respects, Labor should be applauded for presenting one of the most ambitious agendas since John Hewson's Fightback. There's changes to negative gearing, the scrapping of franking credits and the rejection of the government's plans to slimline future income tax. Labor wants those with money to help those who don't have it, improving education and health.

We just need answers. And it's not just Bill Shorten who isn't giving them. All sides have questions to answer.

Listen to Hugh Riminton and Peter Van Onselen in The Professor and The Hack discuss all things #Auspol. 

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