...and any comparisons to Marx are simply spurious (Image via @BlairRhys)

Rightwingers think painting Bill Shorten as a radical will scare voters away from Labor. They're wrong on all counts, says John Passant.

The Australian, not known for its rational discourse, but rather for reactionary rants to its base, has of late been painting Labor leader Bill Shorten as Jeremy Corbyn. I assume this is meant to frighten the horses, but in all likelihood all it will do is set a few more roos loose in the top paddock.

You can’t read their articles because they are behind the paywall of the $50 million a year loser. But if you Google "The Australian Corbyn Shorten", you get five headings linked to paywall articles from The Australian on the subject in three days between Wednesday and Friday. 

They are:

  1. 'Bill Shorten accused of plagiarising Jeremy Corbyn';
  2. 'Bill Shorten in Corbyn-like populist class pitch';
  3. 'Shorten Corbyn-copy "dangerous"';
  4. 'Corbyn copycat: Bill Shorten has seen the future and it looks like 1970s London'
  5. 'Shorten "feels like" Corbyn, says ABC host'.

On Saturday they ran a piece by Brian Loughnane, former Federal Director of the Liberal Party and campaign director from 2004 to 2013, highlighting the rising threat of the activist Left’.  If only….

So there is a surprise. A Liberal Party heavyweight, writing in a conservative newspaper, warns of an activist left in Australia about to take over society. It is crap and if the best they can come up with is Jeremy Shorten, or Bill Corbyn, then they live on another planet. This alienness might help explain the lack of policies that benefit working Australians and the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged.

Certainly people in Australia are not supporting the traditional parties of left and right in the same numbers they were a few decades ago. This is because both are parties of neoliberalism. Instead, people are turning to groups like One Nation, which despite all the ridicule directed at it, won 20% of the vote in the seats it stood in during the recent Queensland election.

After South Australia goes to the polls in March, Nick Xenophon and his SA Best team could hold the balance of power. He could become Premier.  In the Batman bye bye Feeney by-election, the Greens could win the seat from Labor. The centre – the Liberals and Labor – cannot hold.

Let’s be clear. Bill Shorten is no Jeremy Corbyn, as Lee Rhiannon in the Australian Financial Review, Charlie Lewsi in Crikey, and Martin Hirst (along with this author) in these pages have all pointed out. He has no programme of nationalisations, of taxing the rich till their pips squeak, of renewable energy, job creation, or of a national health system, rather than the private dominated one we currently have.

Of late the only talk of nationalisation has been by Adam Bandt, a Greens MP. Bandt suggested the Government re-nationalise Australia’s electricity grid over time.  

I look forward to Shorten announcing he will renationalise the electricity grid, set up a new government owned bank and health insurance provider, impose a 100% income tax on those earning more than $300,000, begin a program of converting Australia to renewable energy under government ownership, end the gender pay gap, remove the 3 million Australians from the poverty they currently live in, end Australia’s participation in imperialist wars, close the concentration camps on Manus and Nauru ….

There is a reason he won’t. He doesn’t want to frighten the horses of the 1%. He wants to give the impression of a "left" turn without actually turning to the left. He wants to be a Corbyn in style, not in substance.

Jeremy Corbyn spent his 30 years or so on the backbench fighting for the many and against the Blairites. Shorten is a rightwinger who, to continue the British analogy, is the son of Tony Blair. Corbyn wants to build a movement outside Parliament that keeps the pressure on him and his colleagues in Parliament and that can help challenge the powerful capitalist interests he will take on. Shorten has no such ambition.

Shorten talks of doing things at the edges that don’t really frighten capital too much, like a 2% limit on private health insurance premiums, rather than a national health system that enables everyone, rich and poor, to get fast and up to date treatment. Markets in medicine – even private public partnerships – disadvantage the poor and open the door to a U.S. style free for all, eventually.

In light of the Batman by-election, Shorten’s latest manoeuvre has been to back a little bit away from Adani. Call me cynical, but even the Government is now doing this. Of course, the big issue, moving as quickly as possible to an Australia run on renewable energy, is not on Shorten’s radar. 

So if Shorten is not Corbyn, why the jihad, or more accurately jeremiad, against Shorten? First and foremost, this nonsense from Rupert’s waste recycling plants is to try and bolster support for the Turnbull Government. It will not work. The media does not determine how the majority of people vote. Indeed, arguably, painting Shorten as Corbyn might improve the Opposition Leader’s standing. Let’s see.

The real issue is the cost of living and that includes falling living standards, rising prices (for example the 3.95% government approved price rise in health insurance premiums), stagnating wages, the increasing casualisation of jobs and growing inequality.

These are systemic issues and neither the Liberals nor the ALP have answers to them. They go to the heart of the problem for capitalism — making profit, not satisfying human need. For individual businesses, lower wages mean higher profits — at least in the short term.

At the National Press Club, in what appears to have been a headland speech, Shorten said that a future Labor government would

"… restore Sunday penalty rates. We will crack down on the exploitation of labour hire, we will put the bargaining back into enterprise bargaining and lead a new national push to close the gender pay gap."

Fine words that will in all likelihood further cement Labor’s lead over the Turnbull Government.

Even the Government recognises that not many people believe their $65 billion company tax trickle down, so it is also promising a tax cut for low and middle income earners. Such a tax cut is nothing more than a return of the bracket creep extra tax we have paid since the Howard tax cuts over a decade ago.

Labor is giving the impression of a step towards the left to try to pick up votes and cement its 54% to 46% two party preferred lead over the Turnbull Government. Given it has run a mile to the right over the last 35 years, one step to the left means it has another 5,279 feet to go before it is back to a modern day version of its old social democratic self. I do not see that happening, especially since there is no mobilisation by Labor of forces outside Labor to radicalise it. 

And that is the key point. There is a correlation between falling strike levels and falling wages. To address this a true Corbyn figure in the ALP would be campaigning for workers to smash the restrictive industrial relations laws and to strike for big wage increases.

The silence of the ALP caucus on this is damning. We will have to do it for ourselves. Over to you, workers — and your unions.

Read more by John Passant on his website En Passant or follow him on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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