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Labor betting it all on red in ‘big ideas or bust’ plan

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Labor’s Jenny Macklin is no tyro politician, she’s a policy buff but with her nose to the ground. When she was confronted with yet another abysmal poll for the Opposition leader she went for the safe ground.

She told ABC Radio National’s Fran Kelly that one of the messages journalists have been passing on is that people are crying out for more policy.

“And that’s exactly what we’re doing,” Ms Macklin said.

And true to her word she and her unpopular leader announced policy with real merit.

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Labor, if it wins government, will make available $33 million to give a framework for churches, institutions, state and territory governments to pay compensation to abuse victims, satisfying calls from the Sex Abuse Royal Commission for a National Redress Scheme.

Justice Peter McClellan is leading the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. Photo: AAP

Tony Abbott as Prime Minister was unwilling. Malcolm Turnbull has said nothing. Bill Shorten has jumped into the breach.

The government, through the Attorney-General’s office, is now carefully considering the issue. No doubt prodded by the Opposition’s initiative.

But herein lies the problem with the Macklin prescription for Labor’s recovery of political ascendancy: no matter how many announcements it makes or policies it puts out there, not enough people are listening.

It comes back to the salesperson. When a political leader is on a roll, voters seem to listen to the music more than the lyrics.

The Opposition is utterly frustrated that Mr Turnbull has shamelessly stolen their vision for the future – and their rhetoric – on a number of issues.

Labor can list 11 major policy announcements in this, its year of ideas, in areas of tax reform, innovation, education, the environment, the republic, submarines, marriage equality and infrastructure funding.

While Mr Abbott was there it was working to the extent Mr Shorten was mostly the preferred prime minister and Labor was well ahead.

But one niggling fact was true even then. Mr Shorten was never out of negative territory in any of the polls for his performance.

Dyson Heydon
The PM describes Commissioner Dyson Heydon as “the ultimate straight-shooter”.

How he came to be in this position is hard to explain, but if his time at the Australian Workers’ Union has anything to do with it the news just got worse.

At the weekend in an interview with The Australian, Mr Turnbull hopped on board Mr Abbott’s controversial Unions Royal Commission.

He defended Commissioner Dyson Heydon, who he’s known for 40 years, as “an austere, impartial intellect, towering in every respect, and he is the ultimate straight-shooter”.

Brushing aside Labor and the unions’ attacks on the Commissioner as a Liberal cipher he said: “Dyson Heydon has been very clear and he will expose the facts.”

Already in parliament Mr Turnbull has run the same line as his knifed predecessor, accusing Mr Shorten of putting the union’s interests ahead of workers.

If the “straight shooting” Heydon reaches the same conclusion in an unequivocal way, the Prime Minister is sure to use all his rhetorical skills to ram home any negative perceptions voters already have.

David Briggs, the pollster now behind Newspoll, believes his third survey since Mr Turnbull arrived in the top job confirms a seachange.

The new Liberal leader is consolidating as the runaway preferred national leader and he has substantially lifted his party back into a winning position.

Labor now trails for the first time in months and Mr Shorten’s personal popularity has plummeted to an all-time low.

So far policies, rather than panic, is Labor’s answer.

Paul Bongiorno AM is a veteran of the Canberra Press Gallery, with 40 years’ experience covering Australian politics. He is Contributing Editor for Network Ten, appears on Radio National Breakfast and writes a weekly column on national affairs for The New Daily. He tweets at @PaulBongiorno

Read all of his columns here


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