Twenty years ago, Trade Union legend Bill Ludwig introduced me to Bill Shorten, telling me that here was a young guy who was going places.
Shorten and I met for coffee at Melbourne University where he was studying part time to get his MBA. I liked him and asked what were his future plans for his life. Without hesitation , he replied.
“I intend to become Prime Minister of Australia”.
We have met a couple of times every year ever since and I became an honorary independent adviser to him in his quest to achieve his life’s dream.
Not being a member of the ALP (or any other political party), I did not get involved in his factional battles to get to be the leader of his party. My advice concentrated on his development of policies. Sometimes he took my advice and sometimes he didn’t.
We had dinner at Parliament just after he became Leader of the Opposition and he told me that he did not just aim to be Prime Minister, he wanted history to record him as one of the best. He did not just want the title. He wanted to leave a mark.
Down the years, we had only two major clashes.
I was very angry when he was one of the key leaders in the coup to bring down Julia Gillard (a person for whom I have a high regard) and told him that he had embedded in the minds of the voters the negative thought that he was a political assassin, having already destroyed Rudd in a high profile manner.
Then we differed over Franking Credits. He took my advice to exempt pensioners and part pensioners, but he refused to exempt self funded retirees with a moderate capital base. I forecast that it would cost him dearly, but he was immovable on the rightness of that policy.
I still thought he would beat Scott Morrison because the Coalition was so hopelessly divided and I reckoned that Australians were ready for a change. But, I got that wrong. The election results showed they were running away from change at high speed.
On Election night, I really felt for him. All the polls had said he would win, including the exit polls on that very day, but twenty years of relentless endeavour went out the door. He had put in 16 hour days for as long as I can remember. In sixty years of visiting Parliament, I have never seen another politician work so hard.
Why did he fail?
The undeniable fact is that the voters never ever fell in love with him, while his Shadow Treasurer, Chris Bowen, came over as a real cold fish. They did not present an attractive image.
He also scared the daylights out of too many voters with too many policies that they could not understand and were frightened of.
In addition, many felt (incorrectly I might add) that Trade Unions controlled him.
In the end, he did not lose by all that much. It was far from a landslide, but it was enough.
He has since sent me a message to say that he wants to stay in Parliament and serve as a Minister in a future Labor Government.
I think he feels that one day he will stage a Lazarus type resurrection similar to John Howard who regained the leadership of the Liberals eight years after Bob Hawke had crushed him in a general election. He then tipped Paul Keating out of the Prime Minister’s Lodge.
Will that happen?
I don’t think so as the ALP has too many young hopefuls in its ranks who want their shot at the top and they reckon that Bill has already had two shots at it.
But, I hope he can serve Australia in a meaningful way. He has had enormous experience of public life that should not be wasted.
Perhaps he can teach young Australians never to run away from their dreams. Always have a shot at the top prize. If you lose, you still know that you gave it your best shot. This is better than spending your life wondering what might have been.
But, for the moment, my good wishes go not only to him, but to Scott Morrison, even though I am not a fan.
I believe in democracy. He won the election and is entitled to a fair go.
Yours at large
You can go to my website to buy my book THE MAN ON THE TWENTY DOLLAR NOTES.