Sam Dastyari: Voters Taught Bill Shorten A Brutal Lesson. Here's A Kinder One

Dear Bill,

Power bleeds.

A week ago you were expected to wake up as the Prime Minister-elect of Australia.

None of us really knows what you are experiencing.

I know you are putting on a brave face. Joking. Laughing. Smiling. But I also know there is a pain underneath that.

Your friends and colleagues will pretend they know what you are going through. That they understand your sense of loss. But they will be lying; both to you and to themselves.

Bill Shorten
Bill Shorten lost the federal election on 18 May. Photo: Getty Images.

No one can really comprehend what it is like to be within a whisker of power. Of being in a position to achieve a life ambition to lead the nation and have it slip away. You will receive condolences, like your loss is a death to grieve, and then they will move on. They are busy people. Self important. They will move on to focus on "what’s next”... always "what’s next.”

Your dreams, aspirations, hopes; they will all be there... but the path to achieving them has died. Like cutting a vine from its roots, over time the whole plant will shrivel away. There is a sadness to that. A darkness that only you will experience.

You will learn how quickly power bleeds.

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That’s what they never teach you on your rise. That the dissipation of power is sudden. The rise takes years -- even with one as meteoric as yours. Running a union, President of Victorian Branch of the Labor Party, a seat in Parliament, a Ministry and then Opposition leader. That was 30 years of work. When it goes, it goes in hours. The ‘high’ of the rise is spread over time, the collapse of the ‘low’ is immediate.

Lord Acton wrote that “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Orwell obsessed over what happens when power is obtained and then misused. But no one, no one really writes about what happens when it vanishes moments before it can be grasped.

Bill Shorten
Bill Shorten's power vanished in a second. Photo: Getty Images.

Today you would be Prime Minister. Your 100 day play already in implementation. Today was the day, on your own plan, that your Ministers were to be sworn in. A team of fresh faces. Beaming with their families in tow. A group photo would taken out the steps of Yarralummla, the Governor General’s residence, that would adorn their offices and houses forever.

READ MORE: A Letter To The New Prime Minister, By Lisa Wilkinson

The Party will try and pin much of the blame on you. They will claim it was ‘your’ policy agenda. That ‘you’ weren’t popular enough. That is bullshit.

The Labor Party collectively chose unity over disunity. The party chose you through its processes and no one, no one, could have united the party the way you were able to do. The policy agenda was big, brash and... I believed...right.

History will be rewritten by the victors. The Party will place as much responsibility for the loss as it can on you. It’s far easier to say ‘it was Bill’s fault’ than face hard truths. You know that. You know how brutal this business can be; but still, when it happens to you; it will hurt.

Sam Dastyari's press conference when he quit as a Labor senator. Photo: AAP Image.

I thought you were going to win. I thought you deserved it. That you had done the work. Built the team. Developed the right agenda. That you have the temperament, stamina and character to be a great Australian Prime Minister.

I still believe that.

But elections have consequences. And one consequence is that the path of history will take a different route.

There will be moments, too many unfortunately,  when your demons will set in. When it will be just you with your own thoughts. Unusually in the middle of the night. When you are away from the welcomed distractions of family, or television, or media. When there is just the darkness of self doubt. It is at those times that you will start wondering; “What if I had done this or that?”

They will be the hardest moments. That is when you will be most alone.

Bill would have made a fine Australia Prime Minister Image: AAP Photos

The old adage is that a week is a long time in politics. This week certainly has been.

Perhaps over time it will hurt less. The sense of loss will lessen. Things will brighten up. Improve.


But power bleeds. And that is a terrible lesson to learn.