Who is he?
Bill Shorten was born in 1967 in Melbourne to a British dockworker father and a union official. He became involved in the Labor party at a young age and after obtaining degrees from Monash University and the University of Melbourne, he followed his father into union work. He was first elected to parliament as the representative of Melton, Victoria in 1999, however he stood down in order to concentrate on his work with the Australian Workers Union (AWU). In 2001 he was chosen to be the union’s national secretary.
Shorten started to dedicate himself fully to politics in the second half of the last decade, and became the Labor party’s representative for Maribyrnong in 2007. He quickly rose to prominence and held several cabinet positions until, in the aftermath of Kevin Rudd’s decision to step down as party leader in 2013, Shorten announced he would run for the leadership. He won the contest with 52.02% of the vote and has lead the party ever since.
Shorten is married and has three children. He lives in Melbourne with his family and his wife’s daughter from a previous marriage.
What are his policies?
The Labor party is – along with the Liberal party – one of the big two mainstream political parties in Australia. While they sit to the left of the Liberals and have close ties to the trade union movement, they occupy the political centre and argue for fairly conventional policies.
While few Labor member’s hold especially radical views, there are different factions within the Labor party – with some advocating a more left-wing socialist stance than others. The Labor party is unique in that these factions are given formal and structured expression rather than being informal groupings.
Shorten is a member of the Labor Unity faction and as such represents the moderate and politically central side of the party. As such, he is unlikely to present any policies that stray too far from the accepted centre, and although he supports strong public services, he does not advocate the socialist ideas of some within the party.
So far in this election campaign he has given some indication of the policies that he might enact if elected. He has declared himself a supporter of state run healthcare and education and has promised to protect the Medicare system from privatisation and cuts. He has pledged to resist an increase in university fees and to increase the number of students enrolling. He also plans to increase spending on infrastructure with rail and road projects projected as a way to increase economic efficiency and provide jobs.
Shorten has also placed environmental policies at the forefront of his campaign and wants to take steps to tackle climate change. He hopes to produce 50% of Australia’s energy from renewable sources by 2030, and plans to invest money into protecting the Great Barrier Reef.
Can he win?
While currently trailing incumbent Prime Minister, Shorten and the Labor party have made gains in the opinion polls recently. His personal approval ratings are still lower than Turnbull’s – although not by a significant amount as Turnbull’s ratings have fallen significantly in recent months.
Whether Shorten can continue this trend and overtake Turnbull may well depend on his ability to win the battle of public perception on finances. Shorten paints himself as the defender of public services against the cuts of the liberal party. Turnbull on the other hand, argues that Labor’s plans are financially irresponsible and that the funding for them has not been properly thought out. While Australians are generally supportive of socialised public services and the idea that everyone should have a fair chance to make something of themselves, polls show that overall they trust Turnbull and the liberal party with the economy – even if this means cuts to these services. Furthermore, while much of the public supports progressive environmental policies, Turnbull questions whether the country can afford to invest money in areas like this at a time when Australia’s government runs at a deficit and that too many restrictions make it too hard to do business – something that is bad for the economy. If he can convince enough people of his economic competence then he may put people off voting for Shorten and the Labor party.
While there are other factors in play, Shorten’s success may well depend on his ability to win this debate and successfully convince the public to trust him with the economy. He will need to be careful not to show any signs of financial ignorance and to emphasise the importance of public services. If he can do this successfully, he could well overtake Turnbull and become the next Prime Minister.