Shorten's first 100 days : the 'BRB' problem

The corporate world tell their executives that because of the learning curve the "first 100 days" are key to any leadership position. You don’t jump in on day one, you need to learn where your previous administration got it wrong (and by extension got it right) and you need time to strengthen key relationships, and you need time to develop a vision for the future. At the end of the first 100 days, though, you have everything together to formulate the strategic trajectory that will determine your success or failure in the coming cycle and you will have implemented key aspects of that new vision, allowing others to see what your administration “stands for”. The US political analysts have borrowed this and applied it to Presidential cycles for decades. And since the election of Abbott in which every social media political analyst and then every MSM did a “first 100 days” take on Tony Abbott, it looks like it will be an important part of the Aussie cycle as well, in the future. 

Recently the SMH did one for the new Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten.
I hadn’t seen one for a LOTO before then, so I thought I’d have a go and see how close we were:

If the corporate world is correct, then it applies as much to Shorten as it does to Abbott; and things don’t look good. And the “one term Abbott” proponents on Twitter are dreaming. My message to my Twitter followers: Better get used to it. Whatever you think about what Abbott “stands for”, Abbott will be around for two terms; maybe more. The reason I can say that has nothing to do with Abbott; it’s all about Shorten.

Broad generic

The broad generics describing the Shorten ALP opposition at the end of its first 100 days is 'gutless'; 'apolitical/technocratic'; 'uncritical'; “unconcerned”; "incapable of coming to terms with past failures"; and "no vision for the future"!

Why do we need to have a ‘vision’?

The end of the ‘BRB’ era for Shorten

Shorten is suffering from an inability to perform because he is the Back Room Boy (BRB) par excellence. A key decision maker in Victorian and federal union strategy & tactics and Victorian and national/federal ALP strategy & tactics since the turn of the millennium, it was always assumed he was going to lead the parliamentary Labor Party; the question was never if, but when. Under this assumption, he took an immediate and major role in the parliament (when elected in 2007) in determining the character of the Labor brand and a key role in the murder of Rudd and his replacement with Gillard 2010 and a key role in the murder of Gillard and her replacement with Rudd 2013.

This means that many of the mistakes made by the PLP during the years of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments ultimately find their way back to our little ‘key BRB’. This means that it is difficult for Shorten to clean the slate and get a new beginning because to do so he would have to admit to his own complicity in the mistakes, not something a key BRB is want to do.

So it means he has commenced his new position as LOTO largely unable to perform.

The end of the ‘brand’ era or a “brand new day”?

Before I go on to look at Shorten and his political problems, I want to make a few remarks on ‘brand’, because I feel they will be necessary to understand where Shorten finds himself at present and his failure to perform in his first 100 days.

The ‘brand’ era (which I associate with the influence of Tony Blair and (British) New Labour on Australian politics) was a huge mistake and the ALP allowed ‘brand’ to completely dominate their life for more than a decade, paid the ultimate price for it at the polls, twice, and are still paying for it in their everyday routines, even as we speak.

The best place to get a glimpse at the enormity of this, is to look at the way the electorate warmed to Shorten when it became immediately clear that Abbott had misrepresented his true intentions in the run-up to the vote and the role that Murdoch played in that misrepresentation,

and at how quickly they dumped Shorten when they realised that he represented not a brave new world but more of the same.

Labor’s use of ‘brand’?

For 10 years up to the election 2013 the ALP spoke about ‘brand’ over and over until it became impossible to get any comment about ALP policy or ALP political strategy without some reference to ‘brand’. For me, sitting on the sideline, these references were idiotic and a sell-out of the history of Labor. But the PLP seemed (to someone completely outside Labor, at least) to cop 'brand', hook, line, and sinker. Rudd seemed to be into it, in a big way. And any reference to broad strategic decisions seemed to coincide with some reference to BRB and ‘brand’. There was a moment that Julia Gillard brought the use of the marketing schema ‘brand’ into clear focus:

but Gillard was as much subjected to ‘brand’ by the BRBs as anyone. For instance, it was clear to everyone when she first debated Abbott in the in the run up to the election 2010 that, despite her unfortunately messed up claims to the contrary, she was speaking with a voice that had been designed for her by the BRBs based on ‘brand’ analysis.

What is ‘brand’?

The British New Labour idea was to incorporate modern professional marketing skills and concepts into Labour policy formulation and the delivery of policy to the voters, necessary these days, they said, if you want to get elected. Political parties and political policies they argued are like any other brand being delivered to the consumer; the voter goes through the same process as any consumer who receives, understands, rejects or becomes loyal to a particular brand and this means you can use sophisticated marketing skills & techniques to understand how to get through to voters; you can carry out market surveys; you can recruit a scientifically significant group of punters and run your ideas past them and use them to measure the result of a whole series of changes, internal brand modifications or external economic, political or social changes, and their likely impact on the final brand that goes to the electorate. It also means that you can employ professional gurus trained in these marketing techniques to make sophisticated decisions on behalf of the party. If you do this right, you are virtually assured of success at the polls.

What’s wrong with ‘brand’?

Yeah, right!

Truth is, Labor is the only party to be taken in by the simplistic marketing ploys being sold to them by marketing gurus. Other parties might listen to marketing gurus’ techniques, claims, and suggestions. But generally speaking, their political decision will be taken based on old party political alignments/commitments, long-standing power structures, moral and political ideals, ideology, and pragmatic compromise. You won’t find other political parties going on and on about ‘brand’ the way the Labor Party did over the last decade.

(PS, Even in the corporate world, in which every corporate entity playing in the market understands the need for brand and the need to employ the marketing gurus to do their thing, the corporate decision-makers never give over the key decisions to be made by marketing managers; the role of the marketing manager is to provide some analysis to assist decision-making; key product and brand-related decisions are made by the board, on advisement, often based on other more tried & trusted formulae in which ‘brand’ only plays a minor role, if any at all.)

Does ‘brand’ play any role at all in democracy?

While today marketing techniques are used by all parties to contact and engage the potential voter and transfer information to them, political ideals and related policy objectives are not anything like a ‘product’ being sold to a consumer. Those players who think they are are weak and simplistic and see the voter’s head as a blank space waiting for ideas to be written into it. Truth is, democracy doesn’t work like that. And the voter is and always has been (at least since Europe 1848, anyway) more sophisticated than that. Voters don’t always get it right, but they understand that their vote needs to be determined by completely different factors than they might use to decide on a brand in a market place.

A political vision

The voters, when they go to the poll, are being asked to determine the character of human life in Australia in the coming 3 years, and setting off changes for the mid and long term. This is life in a multitude of different arenas with detailed interaction and increasing complexity. While some simplistic formulae do play a part (such as how did my father vote?), in order to make a proper decision on how to vote the voter needs in a real sense to be able to “see into the future” and have some confidence that if they vote that way this will be the outcome. This is where the honesty, integrity, openness, transparency, and ability to communicate a “vision” of a new Australia plays an important role.

Anyway, enough said. My message to Shorten would have to be, if you are going to have any chance of winning in 2016 you are going to have to dump ‘brand’ in the dustbin of PLP history (which is where it always deserved to be), and start to put together a vision of the future, so that voters can be coopted to take a big step with you. To get that vision right you will need to openly, honestly, transparently understand the failures of Labor over the last 10 years or so, and re-write Labor policy accordingly.

In his first 100 days, none of this seems to be on the agenda. So it’s hard to say anything else than Abbott is here to stay.

Shorten's recent use of 'brand'

A little review of ‘brand’ since Shorten became LOTO: When Shorten was elected October 13, 2013 he said it was a “brand new day”:

and key party players such as Kelty and Katy Gallagher told him he was the right man for the job because of the need to “rebuild the Labor brand”:

There were also assumptions that this would be his key role in academia:

But we haven’t heard Shorten going on and on about ‘brand’ as you might have expected. So that might be a good thing. But of course we haven’t heard of lot from him, so we will have to wait and see. (PS, I am not optimistic, which is why I have gone into it above in some detail.)

The intervention

Howard introduced the Intervention, in 2007, an open attack on human rights (a failure to respect those as detailed in the UN Charter), in a cynical manoeuvre, similar to the 'Children Overboard' fiasco, an attempt to use racist history to shift the blame for failures of his government.

When the Rudd got into power in 2007, he continued the Interventionist policy, as if Howard had had proper intentions and had gotten the policy framework right.

On June 29, 2012 Gillard pushed through an extension of the Intervention for the Northern Territory for 10 years with a ‘Stronger Futures’ enhancement.


“…Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation National director Jacqueline Phillips said the passage of the  bills defied the aspirations of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory …

“Indigenous leader Djiniyini Gondarra from east Arnhem Land and Rosalie Kunoth Monks from central Australia have jointly declared a day of mourning for Aboriginal people following the passing of the laws.

"’For those of us living in the Northern Territory the anguish of the past five years of intervention has been almost unbearable,’ Dr Djiniyini told AAP.










“Independent MP Rob Oakeshott said he did not support the Stronger Futures bill. […]

“Greens senator Lee Rhiannon said Labor was trashing its proud history in indigenous affairs, particularly the goodwill from former prime minister Kevin Rudd's apology and Paul Keating's Redfern speech.


“National Congress of Australia's First People spokeswoman Jody Broun was disappointed the government did not allow a parliamentary committee to subject the laws to a human rights test.

“Australian Lawyers Alliance national president Greg Barns said the Stronger Futures laws were further disenfranchising indigenous communities.”

Abbott recently told parliament that Intervention was to continue under him but driven at the personal level by “individual champions in communities who can achieve cultural change partly through the respect they command. So now the thinkers and advocates who have led a rethink of policy over the past decade or more are in the driver’s seat. The Prime Minister has found practical and leading roles for Mr Mundine, Ms Langton and Mr Pearson, among others.”

Bill Shorten’s only input into the discussion on Intervention that I have seen was him warning during the Closing the Gap discussion “… that the Coalition shouldn’t rewrite indigenous policy but build on Labor’s gains. ‘Closing the Gap should not be an achievement that belongs to a Coalition government or a Labor one,’ the Opposition Leader told parliament, ‘but indeed be a monument to the decency, compassion and imagination of the modern Australia.’ “

This means that the delusion that Rudd and Gillard suffered from that the Intervention was somehow right for the Australian Aboriginal community when it was not right for anyone else in the world (and so should not be subject to a test of human decency and the UN human rights test), Shorten has inherited, without question. He sees it as a Labor achievement and is more worried that the LNP will adopt those achievements as their own, than its impact on human life in the Northern Territory. The racism built on a genocide of a people during the colonial era lives on unabated in the ALP.

Asylum seekers (& Manus Island)

Like the leaders of the PLP that go before him, Shorten seems unable to take a progressive stance on Australia's UN responsibility to offer asylum to a proper share of the huge populations on the move around the globe.

Illegal? No, cannot be!

It is not illegal to seek asylum. On the contrary, it is a human right. But Abbott has issued clear instructions to his ministers that they will be referred under his government as “illegals”.

Scott Morrison issued a directive to his department to institute this and uses the word “illegal” at every opportunity. Abbott uses “illegal” when referring to groups on the high sea, and those transferred to Manus Island. Shorten has allowed this to happen, without comment.

When he was elected as LOTO, Shorten “…vowed to be pro-immigration and more sympathetic to the plight of asylum seekers, including a willingness to revisit the issue of extending working rights to those found to be refugees ‘at the first pass’.”

Since then, Shorten has concentrated on criticising the silence of the Minister and his unwillingness to involve the Opposition.

He has said very little else.

But his shadow minister has shown us clearly where his policy resides:

Transcript - ABC NewsRadio - Richard Marles

Dec 6, 2013

“RICHARD MARLES: Once the PNG arrangement came into effect you really do see a very sharp decline in the boat arrivals. So there has been a decline, but it doesn’t date from the 7th of September, it dates from the 19th of July and it dates from a policy that Labor put in place and that Minister Morrison himself at the time criticised severely.

“MARIUS BENSON: Apart from arguing over who originated the policy and when it became most effective –

“RICHARD MARLES: Well there’s no argument about that Marius


“RICHARD MARLES: That policy was put in place by Labor and Minister Morrison at the time, obviously accepts that, but criticised it heavily. The one good thing that Minister Morrison has done is continue to put in place the PNG arrangement. Now, despite all the criticism, he went to PNG in the last few weeks, not a clause of the PNG arrangement has been changed, not one clause. So it is the Labor Government’s, former Labor Government’s policy, which is now being prosecuted by this government and that’s what’s making a difference

“MARIUS BENSON: So it’s a unity ticket on asylum seekers?

“RICHARD MARLES: Not entirely, but it is important that we do try and stop the boats coming to Australia from both Sri Lanka and Indonesia. The significant piece of policy which has been put in place to ensure that that occurs is the PNG arrangement. We are glad that this government has continued to prosecute that policy.”

Since the unrest on Manus Island and the killing of asylum seekers Marles has continued with this clear support for current mistreatment of asylum seekers, telling us that the PNG detention centre was the linchpin of Australia's strategy of stopping asylum-seeker boats, and there was no need to stop transferring asylum seekers there.

On SkyNews he reiterated his support February 17, 2014 2:22PM

"’This is now the second serious incident which has occurred at the Manus Island detention facility since the Abbott government came to power,...

"’We need to hear from the government what steps they are going to take to ensure that this kind of incident never happens again.’

“Mr Marles said the Manus Island detention facility is fundamental to Australia's asylum-seeker policy, having had the biggest impact on stemming the flow of boats than any other measure.

“He said Australians need confidence it is being run properly.”

Truth is, the LNP and Labor are closer now under Abbott and Shorten than they were before the election.


When elected Shorten indicated top priorities:

  1. Climate Change
  • oppose the Abbott government’s plans to abolish the carbon tax.
  1. Same-sex marriage
  • create a shadow ministry for equality.
  1. Paid Paternity Leave
  • open minded about the new government’s paid paternity leave scheme.
  1. Modernise the ALP
  • internal party democracy and of the need to “modernise” the ALP’s relationship to the union movement.


“I am sufficiently ambitious for Labor and for Australia that at the next election people will seek the Labor how-to-vote card because we do have the best policies on science, research, innovation and higher education, because people do see our policies as speaking up for those who don’t have a voice in society.”

Albanese said the ballot - the first in which Labor’s grassroots has been given a vote - had been a success. This was not the end point for democratisation of the ALP, he said: “This is just the beginning.”

In an interview (SMH) to mark the 100 days in office Shorten outlined the following:

For a full account READ

  1. Opposition focus
  • “the government (is) vulnerable on jobs, health, education, climate change and the implementation of its ‘stop the boats’ policy.
  1. Indonesia
  • ''I'm amazed at how our relationship with Indonesia went from hero to zero so quickly,'' he said before four days campaigning in Brisbane for the February 8 Griffith byelection.
  1. Street violence
  • a plan to tackle street violence and called on the government to fund ''one punch can kill'' advertisements.
  • ''Young men need to see other men condemning this street violence,'' Mr Shorten said. ''They need to know it's completely uncool and unacceptable.''
  1. Climate change
  • put the government's ''direct action'' policy under greater scrutiny.
  1. Fight for existing jobs
  • ''I'm very concerned that this government won't fight for existing jobs, on the one hand, and, on the other, it doesn't have any idea what Australia looks like in 2020,''.
  1. Build the Labor Party
  • After campaigning for the leadership on the promise of party reform, Mr Shorten said a priority for this year would be to get more people involved in the Labor Party.
  • One focus would be to get the broadest possible range of candidates for marginal seats.
  • ''The party that can field more female candidates in my opinion does better,'' he said.


Oh no! my niece, reading over my shoulder just asked "does that mean he will be a BRB doll? Hahahaha!!!" Since she has never had one, wants to be a scientist, and has never believed in God in her life, even dismissive when she was 3YO, I knew exactly what she was saying! My how the world has changed!

Excellent analysis Steve.

The banal use of the term 'brand' is akin to finding the spin doctor's fingerprints on the murder weapon that has progressively bludgeoned Labor's credibility to death. In Labor's game of Not-A-Cluedo: Mr Shorten did it in the Party Room with the Branding Iron.

As you imply, those who were part of the culture that threw out substance in exchange for media fairy floss and one liners cannot be trusted to reform themselves & then get around to their own party sometime in the next decade. The ALP has a cultural problem of massive proportions and everyone knows it. New Labor marketing died. Its rotting memory and rancid odour should only remind us that it's now substance or oblivion for the ALP. Take your pick. 

It can either be a quick brutal purge, that puts the members back in the drivers seat, or a long drawn out and undignified implosion of the bullshit deathstar where among the wreckage and splatter Bill shakes the drool covered 'Labor Brand' like he might a babies' rattle in front of increasingly embittered and cynical electorate.

What is that expression about red rags and bulls again?

I agree, self interest will act like the political force of gravity. As the equal and opposite reaction, the current PM will be the incumbent for a very long time, or at least until ALP ideology is wrest from the cold dead hand of the Apparatchiks.

WANTED: Untarnished men and women of principle. 

I once supported the ALP as better than the Menzies mob, but the ALP have done more to trash human rights than anyone else in this country and our media in general have helped.

Unfortunately and depressingly I agree with the comments in the article. Having just read 'In the shadows of Gallipoli selecting elite'; and a cabal of political apparatchiks, I don't hold much hope for Labor's future at all. Geoff Gallop has called for a democratic progressive new party. Albanese has called for more democratisation. I don't see that happening. Abbott will surely rule for several terms.