Bill Shorten can’t help himself. The Labor Party’s prince of privilege loves to play the class card.
The Conservative Party says Bill Shorten’s and Labor’s policies are right out of the socialist “class war” playbook while ignoring their leadership’s own Heritage.
The Australian Financial Review reports, in the Whitlam Auditorium of Western Sydney’s cavernous Revesby Workers Club – a monument to making money from the working classes – Shorten recalled some advice from his father, William Robert Shorten.
The elder “dock worker” imbued in Shorten an egalitarianism so pure that Marx would have been impressed.
“You shouldn’t doff your cap to people from the big end of town because quite frankly they are no different from the rest of us,” Shorten told some 300 Labor volunteers gathered for a pre-election talking-points rally. “No one is your superior and no one is your inferior.”
The reality – like communism – wasn’t so pure. Shorten derives class credibility from his late father’s proximity to the bluest of blue collars.
But Shorten’s father was a marine engineer who became a manager on Melbourne’s dry docks, where ships were repaired. His collar may have been smeared with grease, but it was white.
Shorten doesn’t mention that they were estranged either.
In a 2014 profile, journalist Jane Cadzow interviewed Shorten’s father’s widow, Helen Shorten, who said Shorten had cut off contact with his father for the last years of his life, and that the older man didn’t understand why. “He and I were supposed to be co-executors of his father’s will, but he just didn’t respond any time I tried to call him,” the article quoted Helen Shorten saying.
People who knew him at the time said Shorten, by then a union leader, was far closer to one of his members’ employers, Visy Group owner, the late Richard Pratt, one of the richest men in the country.
The Shorten family mythology – the cream of the working classes challenging privilege from inside – is a component of Shorten’s management of perceptions of his pro-union positions, which he believes could be an important factor in the election due next year.
One of the Shorten’s more radical promises, and one that enthuses a union movement in structural decline, is to “explore” the possibility of industry-wide wage campaigns – a step that could suck unsuspecting companies into mass strikes and reverse a decades-long trend in settling wage disputes in individual businesses.
Shorten’s pre-emptive response to an industrial relations counter-attack from Scott Morrison – whom he referred to as “that new fellow” – is to reframe the argument around gender. “This is about equal opportunity and fair pay for the women of Australia,” Shorten said.
Eliminating the gender pay gap is one of the Labor opposition’s stated priorities. The difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time base salaries, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings, is at 14.6 per cent, the lowest level in 20 years, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
The measure does not compare pay for similar or identical roles, and sexual discrimination is illegal.
But playing the feminist card is a pretty good riposte to Coalition assertions that unions would run rampant under a Shorten government. It also highlights the Liberal Party’s failure towards its own female MPs.
Once again, Shorten has demonstrated that he always thinks ahead, making it more likely after the election, thanks to homilies from his “dock worker” dad, that Australians may no longer have to “doff their caps” to their capitalist overlords.
Richard Pratt would be proud.