Labor Wants You To Know Bill Shorten Really Respects Women
ANALYSIS: His wife joked she was his “feminist conscience”. A slick video talked about how well he can work with women. Amid Bill Shorten’s star-studded Labor campaign launch, one message was clear.
Labor really wants to make clear the gulf between their frontbench of female all-stars, and -- as Julia Banks put it -- the “male, pale and stale” Coalition ranks.
The centre of the ALP universe was Brisbane on Sunday, as heavyweights past and present converged on a nondescript convention centre for the party’s campaign launch. By any count, it was not a sparkling blockbuster affair -- besides a few large stage signs, and the obvious sea of red party t-shirts, an uninformed onlooker could have mistaken the room for a motivational speaking engagement or a sales conference.
It was fitting for a campaign that has tried to run on policy and ideas, not photo ops and trivia, that the focus would be on the speakers rather than the pomp and ceremony.
Because looking at the speaker’s list -- QLD premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Pat Dodson, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek, Chloe Shorten -- it wasn’t until it got to the headline act, the Opposition Leader himself, that a middle-aged white man got to take the microphone.
Earlier, Wong had literally read out a list of Coalition heavyweights. Looking down the row, from Tony Abbott to Peter Dutton to Michael McCormack to Scott Morrison to Barnaby Joyce (a man she joked was “a gift”, after his bizarre ABC radio interview on the water buyback controversy), it wasn’t hard to see the common theme linking them.
“Small men with small ideas,” Wong said with a trademark wry smile, as the bumper crowd giggled and hooted.
In contrast, Shorten was held up by his female colleagues as a feminist champion. A pre-packaged video, featuring interviews with his frontbench team -- who were, in reality, sitting just metres away from the screen on stage -- talked up his ability to work well with women. His wife Chloe, arguably the breakout popular star of this campaign, showered him with praise for how he could empathise with women and children.
“The choice for working families is crystal clear,” Shorten said midway through his keynote speech, to fervent head-nodding and clapping.
For while Labor was keen to paint Shorten as a voice for women, especially as the Coalition struggles with its own internal gender issues -- said to have contributed to the departures of Julia Banks, Kelly O’Dwyer, Julie Bishop and more ahead of this campaign -- they also wanted to talk up the ideas of choice, and trust.
The Coalition still licks its wounds from the August leadership spill, divisions between conservatives and moderates barely papered over. Morrison has largely been a one-man band this campaign, hitting the road alone, making big announcements by himself, a presidential-style campaign. In contrast, Shorten’s entire team sat on the stage behind him, beaming at the crowd, the theme of unity and teamwork clear.
If that wasn’t obvious enough, someone in Labor HQ managed to move heaven and earth to bring Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd together again -- not just in the same room, not just sitting together, but smiling together in the front row.
It was a mea culpa moment, especially with the acrimonious pair staring up at her, as Plibersek admitted Labor needed “unity and discipline” when Shorten came to the leadership in 2013.
“We’ve achieved that, because of you, our members and supporters,” the deputy Labor leader said.
Because Sunday was also about trying to show that Labor could be the adults in the room.
Listening to various speeches, the Coalition was derided as “delinquent”, “petulant”, led by a “failed ad guy” in Morrison, who spent his time in “silly hats” and “shearing sheep”. In contrast, Labor was regularly described as having “respect”, being united, responsible, all under a banner of “A Fair Go”.
Hell, even bitterly estranged Rudd and Gillard could get together and find common ground -- a Shorten Labor government.
The Liberals and Nationals were slammed as a “coalition of chaos” -- a borrowed moniker last used by conservative British politicians -- for their dalliances and flirtations with the parties of Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson. Most speakers, in the home state of both right-wing luminaries, mentioned the minor party leaders. Each time, it was met with loud booing.
Wong called them “haters”, claiming they were “giving a nod and a wink to the extreme right”.
“They don’t cherish the progress I’ve seen in my own lifetime,” Wong said.
“They will compromise it all. They will give it all away.”
Shorten’s speech was strong and powerful. It was largely a collection of greatest hits from the campaign and recent years, rattling off a list of priorities for government and reminding the party faithful of the unpopular moments of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government.
He announced an interesting new program to give tax deductions to small businesses who employ young or old jobseekers, but largely, this was a moment in the sun for Shorten -- a brief respite from the harshness and glare of the campaign spotlight, away from journalists peppering tricky questions, a time to speak to friends and family and soak up the applause.
He enjoyed it. He entered and exited through the crowd to a rockstar welcome, shaking hands and smiling widely. It might be the most comfortable day he has for the next two weeks, as the final countdown to election day begins.
With 13 days left before May 18, Shorten and Labor want you to think they’re the adults in the room. Sunday’s campaign launch was a strong showing of exactly how they would operate in government -- as a large, diverse team.
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