Bill Shorten is on a rant about how Australia will do over the next 20 years and is ticking off targets: aged care, gender equality, Asia development. He ends his passionate tear by making the point that Australia must finally break its ties with the UK monarchy – and punt the Queen.
“It’s the whole argument for the republic: We can stop borrowing the monarch of another country, we’re probably ready to stand on our two feet,” says Shorten, whose mother-in-law is Quentin Bryce, Australia’s first female governor-general and the first Queen’s representative to call for a republic.
In a sit-down interview with BuzzFeed News in his Canberra office, a calm and confident Shorten considers whether this long-term vision means scrapping the infamous “knights and dames” reintroduced by prime minister Tony Abbott if Labor wins next year’s election.
“Oh yeah,” he says, looking incredulous.
“We’d scrap it in our first 100 days. It’s ridiculous.”
Shorten’s new found voice on the republic question lets the Labor leader assert his personal vision for Australia. It contrasts wildly to the much ridiculed views of monarchist Tony Abbott and might even draw Malcolm Turnbull kicking and screaming into a national debate.
But almost 18 months into his tenure as leader, Labor’s “faceless man” continues to grapple with an image problem. Shorten’s political enemies – internal and external – criticise his clinical approach to opposition and question his ability to articulate who he really is.
The former union man cannot shake off the animated GIF of a Melbourne press conference that shows him confidently saying “I believe” and then checking his notes. It’s a classic meme.
This cringe continued last week when ABC host Jon Faine asked Shorten, “What does Bill Shorten actually believe in?” Shorten replied, “Everybody is somebody.”
“Well the Labor Party believes in lots of things and it’s a great opportunity this morning to talk about some of them,” Shorten replied. “What I fundamentally believe and I think it was Martin Luther King who said this best, but it’s, I think it’s true now, is everybody is somebody.”
When Shorten registers with the disengaged public it is because he is the master of the heavily scripted, dad-joke zinger.
So it should surprise no one that his favourite TV show is Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom.
“I love The Newsroom because it really paints how the media is,” he says. “I love the idea of a media team wrestling with an ethical issue on the fly.”
And if a TV shows reflect a leader’s personality this one could not be a more perfect choice.
Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard nominated Game of Thrones as her favourite: a show about power-hungry leaders literally backstabbing their way to the top job.
Abbott says Downton Abbey is his most beloved show; an upstairs-downstairs tale of class and privilege set in a Victorian England that the prime minister must wish still exists.
“I’m also a huge fan of Aaron Sorkin scripts,” says Shorten.
He raise his hands in acclaim: “Sorkin! Love his scripts!”
In the coming weeks the Labor opposition is expected to join the government and pass new metadata retention legislation angering journalists, privacy advocates, and freedom-of-speech campaigners.
Shorten is focusing his fight on universities in the short term and battling the government on social issues from now until next year. He maintains the looming spectre of the “socially progressive” Malcolm Turnbull doesn’t worry him.
“He’s had a historical instinct for a republic, but I don’t see changing the leader of the party encouraging that debate. Marriage equality, climate change, the republic. I think the problem with Australian politics is that the Liberal Party has just gone so far to the right.”
The republic discussion is back and looks set to remain a key part of Bill Shorten’s script.
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