Bill Shorten is coping some criticism at the moment for being too quiet. Let’s step back for a minute and think about what he should do. What should be the Labor strategy?
Labor has four basic options open to them.
1. Attack the government and deny support for anything they propose. This was the Abbott approach in opposition. Labor immediately opens itself for criticism. They are just another negative opposition with no answers. The credibility of that approach was destroyed during the last few years. Would the press and public treat him kindly if he became another “Dr. No”? Not likely.
2. Propose alternatives to what the government is proposing. Liberals would love this. It would give them something to attack and take the focus off the budget.
Suppose Labor said instead of a $7 payment for medical services, the first 20 visits should be free, or instead of a $7 payment for all visits, only the first 10 visits would incur a charge. Immediately the Liberal party and the Murdoch press would be tearing into the policy. Instead of Libs on the front page, it would be editorial comment about how Labor were wrecking the economy and filling up doctor’s waiting rooms with chronic hypochondriacs. Not only that, they are still the devils trying to wreck the economy which is being rescued by the angels of the Liberal party.
Please suppress any thoughts of Christopher Pyne and Joe Hockey as angels. It could cause deep psychological problems.
3. Support the government because they have a mandate. The Liberals wanted Labor to support policies around the environment claiming the Libs had a voter mandate to implement their policies. What if Labor said “Sure. Do whatever you want.” That would have two outcomes.
Firstly it would quickly become obvious how radical some of the policies are once they were implemented. It might even highlight some of the things they promised and had no intention of doing. Direct Action is one that comes to mind. It would certainly scare the horses in voter land.
The other outcome unfortunately would be that people would blame Labor for letting these things through. Labor would be seen as weak and not fit to govern. It would be a high risk strategy.
4. Lay low and say nothing. This strategy is the one they seem intent on following. There is almost a triangle of interaction here. On one corner you have the press. On the other two corners are the Liberals and Labor parties. All the action at the moment is on the line connecting press and Liberals. There is next to no action on the line connecting the press and Labor. The press is doing more damage to the Liberals than Labor ever could. Why interrupt them. Let the press spread the Liberal budget reaction all over page one, two and three.
The current strategy is the best path for Labor. Lay low for a while, and let the press do the damage. A new vision for Australia can be put forward nearer to the election. Hold it back now and not distract the press from the adverse reaction of the budget.
Maybe Bill Shorten is doing the right thing.