We’re less then 7 months out to this year’s election, and the leadership of Julia Gillard seems plagued with Labor doubt. But who else can save Labor from an election wipe out?
The options for a new leader seem to be three men: Kevin Rudd, Bill Shorten or Simon Crean.
Kevin Rudd has the experience of both leading and being kicked to the kerb; he knows how to challenge and he knows how to campaign. He’s popular with the people but not with the party or those he employed. But, most importantly, would it be a good look for the Labor Party to move backwards and support the former prime minister they chose to ditch?
Mr Shorten, on the other hand, while popular within the Labor Party was a relative unknown amongst the general public until Gillard got rid of Rudd. If Australians had heard of Mr Shorten before then, it was most likely due to the Beaconsfield Mine rescue. As National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, the union representing the miners, he played a prominent role as negotiator and commentator during the rescue operations.
Shorten, the Member for Maribyrnong (a Labor seat since 1969), was a key player in the removal of Rudd and has since profited from Gillard’s taking of the prime ministership. In December 2011, Shorten was promoted to Cabinet with the Workplace Relations Portfolio. He had been sworn into the Ministry following the 2010 election as the Minster for Finance and Superannuation.
The third candidate, Simon Crean has the experience of being leader in opposition, but with that comes experience of having the second lowest Newspoll preferred prime minister rating: 14 per cent.
Unlike Shorten, Crean has over 20 years of experience in parliament, having been the MP for Hotham since 1990. He has spent his entire parliamentary career on the front bench, and is the only person to have been a Cabinet minister under Hawke, Keating, Rudd and Gillard.
Crean has largely remained untangled in the Gillard-Rudd affair, until now, but Shorten, as a key member of the right faction, has been embroiled from the very beginning. Consequently, if Shorten were to give Ms Gillard the “tap on the shoulder” it would only achieve one thing: perpetuating Labor’s instability and give ground to the idea that the “faceless men” are controlling the ALP.
Shorten’s association with unions wouldn’t be popular with non-Labor voters – as noted, he worked at the Australian Workers Union prior to his entry into politics. He held key leadership positions including State Secretary of the AWU Victoria Branch from 1998 to 2006 and the National Secretary from 2001 to 2007. Mr Shorten has also been a director of AustralianSuper, Australia’s largest superannuation fund, and a director of the Victorian Funds management Corporation. Similarly, Crean has a similar union background: in 1981 became the Vice-President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and in 1985 he was made President.
But, is Shorten or Crean suitable prime minister material?
Shorten can claim responsibility for the development of a National Disability Insurance Scheme, a policy which has gained support from some Liberal supporters, having pushed for the policy during his time as parliamentary secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services. As Minister for Finance and Superannuation he spearheaded the Future of Financial Advice reforms (FoFA) and has worked to make key changes to improve Australia’s superannuation system through the Stronger Super reforms.
Crean stood up against John Howard during his time as Opposition Leader, openly condemning sending Australian troops to the Iraq War. His extensive experience in parliament, with both experience as a shadow minister and a minister, sets him up well for proving he has the experience to take on the top job. But like Rudd, Crean has proven he is also capable of losing the confidence of the Labor Party. Once again, if Crean were to be successful in a challenge it would only further demonstrate the instability of the ALP and suggest to voters that the ALP was reaching back to the past for a solution to the leadership problem.
While Rudd is an effective speaker and can handle the media deftly and with ease, Mr Shorten is less impressive. During an interview with Sky News’s David Speers, Shorten expressed his support for the PM’s statement regarding the return of speaker Peter Slipper amid accussations of sexual harrassment.
He said: “I haven’t seen what she said but let me say I support what it is she said.”
The Labor Party needs to stick with the leader they have chosen despite the polls. A change now will only remind people of how they felt when Labor decided to ditch Mr Rudd. Mr Shorten may be a good option, but he most likely will have to be an effective Opposition Leader before he can contemplate the prime-ministership.