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Bill Shorten Might Have Sealed The Election With His Q&A Performance

Monday's Q&A may be remembered as the moment Bill Shorten won the election.

In the lead up to his appearance, Shorten and Labor labelled Prime Minister Scott Morrison a “chicken” for not subjecting himself to the live TV microscope of the ABC’s Q&A, so it was imperative the opposition leader himself put in a strong showing.

He easily cleared that bar, turning in a clear, articulate, positive and mature showing on the national broadcaster, continuing the theme of framing Labor as the adults in the room, to the Coalition’s “delinquent” bickering and backstabbing.

“My style of leadership is to listen,” Shorten said midway through his final statesman-like answer, and it showed through the debate. Taking notes with pen and paper through each question, addressing questioners by name, he showed off the chops gained through the constant town hall meetings that his supporters like to keep mentioning.

Tonight there weren’t any curly questions.  While the Labor leader is perhaps not as blessed as some colleagues in the contemporary political art of six-second TV soundbites, Shorten seems to relish taking a bit more time to explain things in detail.

On negative gearing, he denied Labor wanted to make this election “a generational square-up” between young and old, but conceded some tax laws -- disproportionately benefiting older Australians -- were “an intergenerational scam".

On claims of a “housing tax”, he batted back a question by saying “if I'm not giving you a subsidy for you making a loss on an investment property, that ain't a new tax.”

On Newstart, he conceded the welfare payment was “too low” and gave his strongest indication yet Labor would boost it -- but still stopped short of a concrete commitment.

On outrage over Labor’s proposal to restrict franking credit payments, he said bluntly “when you get an income tax cheque in the mail and haven't paid income tax, it's a gift.”

On the environment, he said “you can't have a debate about climate change without talking about the cost of inaction”, calling the debate around costs of action “dumb”. Shorten said Labor couldn’t “squib” this issue.

“Future generations will look back at this current election and they will wonder why on earth people are arguing against action on climate change,” he said to applause.

On the whole, it was largely a recap of Labor policies -- not a rigorous interrogation or a room full of gotcha trick questions, but simply an explanation, in possibly the format most suited to Shorten’s particular speaking strengths, of how a Labor government would work.

But it was the very last question, about trust in politics and leadership, where Shorten delivered the kind of answer which will make highlight videos and be meme-ified in Labor online and TV content in days to come -- the answer that summed up how Shorten wants Australians to think about him when they head to the ballot box on May 18, and the contrast (he keeps talking up “choice”) between Labor and Liberal.

“I'm not a lone ranger. I'm not going to be a Messiah. Don't believe in the authoritarian strong man that ‘I'll do this and everyone will follow’. That doesn't work,” he said, a barely-veiled rebuke of Tony Abbott and his infamous “captain’s calls”.

After nine years of political chaos, six Prime Ministers, four bloody leadership spills, and a general rapid uptick in the disdain most Australians hold for politicians, Shorten’s aim was clear -- to try to heal those wounds, bridge divides, mend things.

Tonight’s performance won’t answer the lingering questions over Shorten’s lagging personal popularity and didn’t give us much more new information that we didn’t already know. But it set out a strong agenda for what Labor would do if handed back the keys to the government, and staked out Shorten’s ambition to be the man to start patching holes in the battered shell that is Australia’s political establishment.

“When we are equal and get equal opportunity, we'll be the best country in the world with no arrogance,” he ended his last answer.

“That's my leadership style.”

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

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