For the Common Good by Bill Shorten

As Australians will know, we have a double dissolution federal election coming up on Saturday,  2 July 2016.  A few months ago, I would have tipped that Labor had absolutely no chance of winning any federal election and of forming government for at least another three years.  But things change quickly in politics, and the current government looks far less convincing than it should.  So, I’m reading about Bill Shorten.  I’m trying to get some sense of whether Labor has learned from its mistakes during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd era.  I’m trying to get some sense of the man who might be our  prime minister after 2 July 2016.  I’d recommend this book to anyone who is trying to decide best (or perhaps, least worst) options.  It’s  largely a job application, so  while I don’t believe everything I read, I’m pleased to get some sense of who Bill Shorten is and what he stands for.

For the Common Good by Bill Shorten

‘Who is Bill Shorten, and what does he stand for?’

In this book, which is part autobiography and part a statement of Labor’s platform, Bill Shorten sets out his application for Australia’s prime ministership.  He mentions the influence of the Jesuit dictum – ‘To be men for others’ on his life, and also touches on the political assassinations of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

‘This book is my take on where Australia is right now, of our nation’s place in a changing world, and the direction in which I believe it should be headed.’

As Australians approaches a double dissolution federal election on 2 July 2016, the issue of leadership is critical.  If Labor forms government after the election, then Bill Shorten will be the next prime minister of Australia.  Not all that long ago, it seemed highly unlikely that Labor could be serious contenders to occupy the treasury benches for at least another parliamentary term.  It may still be unlikely, but it’s a lot less unlikely than it was.  And if the current government continues to stumble, well, it’s possible.  And so, it’s important to know more about what the next potential federal Labor government might stand for, might look like.  Especially given the debacle of the last Labor governments (Rudd-Gillard-Rudd).

‘Australians have a right to know what a newly elected Labor government will mean for them, their families, communities, workplaces and businesses.’

Bill Shorten touches on his Labor upbringing, his experience as a lawyer and as a union organiser.  He observes that institutions that played an important part in his own early life, such as the (Christian) church and the trade union movement seem less significant these days.  Bill Shorten downplays his role in the Rudd and Gillard coups, especially in 2010, less so in 2013.  While I’m not convinced, it is ancient political history now.  He also states that: ‘The Labor Party is united.’  While I choose to read this as an aspirational statement, there’s no doubt that Bill Shorten has been a beneficiary of the Kevin Rudd initiated leadership changes.

In summary, Bill Shorten addresses a number of issues that have concerned Labor supporters, although there’s no joy for those seeking changes to asylum seeker policy.  I’m left wondering, too, whether the factions of the Labor party are actually less dominant, or just appear to be so for the sake of presenting a more unified public front.

While this book will be of particular interest to Australian voters seeking to know more about Bill Shorten before deciding who to support in the forthcoming federal election, it will also be of value to those readers who are interested in political leadership, and the Labor Party.  We don’t directly elect the prime minister in Australia, but increasingly we have presidential style election campaigns.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Melbourne University Publishing for providing me with an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith



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